Tag Archives: Electronic Literature Collection (Volume 1)

Denied Choice: Review of Interactive Fiction in the ELC

Katherine Hayles’ Electronic Literature Collection (ELC) carries a variety of literature in different electronic forms.  Authors come together utilizing different elements of fiction/poetry with the use of computer programs.  Different writers use Flash Media as a way of expressing their works not only through words, but with music, images and animation.  There are specific writers that utilize a certain program that allows the reader to interact with the work itself.

Jon Ingold’s All Roads is one story where the reader has certain command words to continue it. Unfortunately, the reader doesn’t know any of the key words so they fumble to find the correct words to continue on.  There is some difficulty to this considering the list of initiating words is unknown.  There’s a sense of instinctual word choice.  The reader is to assume what the next word would be such as, “walk” or “jump”.  There was one instant in the scene of All Roads where the character is hanging from a rope tied around his neck and one wrong move, the reader’s decision, to commit suicide.  In some points of this work, the frustration sets in when one decides to stray away from the hidden keyword selection and tries to make the story go in their direction.  Again, they are denied this choice.

Aaron A. Reed’s Who the Telling Changed is a slightly better version of this concept.  Reed’s piece asks the user whether they want the key words emphasized to point them in the right direction.  Also, if the user were to type in the wrong instructional word, a suggestive list of words appears on the screen to help progress the story.  It is aggravating because the reader only has a few options to choose from in order to continue. Ingold and Reed have the commonality in where they want to direct their reader to a certain point but still have the control to manipulate the story to the way they want it to go.  Reed has an advantage because he aids the reader on how they would like to end the story.

The frustration of interactive fiction is the disability for the reader to choose the next step to continue the story.  It is difficult for the reader to choose the next option because they are denied by the program.  If it is interactive fiction, why can’t the reader decide their character’s fate in the work?  Why advertise to the population of readers that they are able to control fiction?  It’s misleading.  At the same time, it’s understandable that the author still wants the control as the manipulator of the story.  This only teases the reader to have this option; but allowing the reader to have complete control of it would defeat the purpose.  The author pushes the user to believe they have the directions to manipulate the story, but in the end, the author has complete hold over his/her work. In this case, it does seem have an advantage; it’s like the Choose Your Own Adventure books in electronic form.

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Review – Urbanalities: Anything but Banal

Review of Urbanalities: Anything but Banal
Sophia M.

Described by its creators as “a short story-poem-comic strip-musical, with randomly generated text” “Urbanalities” is a 10 minute generative Flash piece created by writer-artist-composer collaborative duo babel and escha that depicts the opposites, dualities, ambitions and contradictions of contemporary life.

Divided into seven segments that can be viewed consecutively or individually (accessed by a drop-down menu that appears along the top of the screen), each of the “moments” of “Urbanalities” combine randomized text and images with music and animation to create scenes that range from the changing hours on a clock, to rolling assembly lines, to a swimming sperm, to the selection of a target through the sights of a gun. The work draws much of its visual elements from dualities and pairs, as well as the iconography of urbanized life, using images of city skylines, streetlights and bustling crowds. Classic opposites such as male/female and creation/destruction are paired with observations on hope, understanding, hopelessness and miscommunication to create scenes like the melancholic third segment, where a female face appears on a clock along with phrases such as “no time for love”, “anywhere but here”, “out of time”, “time for no love” and “sigh”, or the seventh segment, where a sperm swims through a sea of contraceptives, pushing words like “boastful”, “destructive” and “violent” through bubbles of “male sterilization”, “safe sex” ands “extended pill”.

Authors/artists/composers/creators babel and escha describe “Urbanalities” as a “mash-up of Dadaist technique and VJ stylings.” The breadth of this description makes the piece difficult to classify, and it is listed under no less than ten tags on the Electronic Literature Collection website, with classifications ranging from “animation/kinetic”, “audio”, “music” and “visual poetry.” However, what makes “Urbanalities” special is its generative quality. The randomly assembled text and images of each segment create a unique, unrepeatable reading experience that is slightly different every time the piece of accessed, successfully recreating the multi-faceted unrepeatable cacophony of urban life. However, the same generative quality that makes “Urbanalities” a success is also part of the work’s biggest weakness: due to the limited vocabulary of each segment, certain phrases can become stale and repetitious. While the words selected by babel and escha are quirky, enigmatic and often assemble in surprisingly profound ways, with too few words to draw from, the randomized quality of the text quickly becomes less and less random. This predictability means that what first appears to be witty or insightful can become marginal and dull by its fifth or sixth appearance on screen.

Unpredictable and unrepeatable, “Urbanalities” is a quirky-yet-profound piece that offers a variety of views into the quiet and chaos of contemporary life. Though the piece is visually engaging and has a strong soundtrack, the work is limited by its vocabulary, and suffers from moments of repetition. However, as a commentary on the existential mêlée of contemporary life, “Urbanalities” is a success, the generative nature of the work creating a constantly shifting, unrepeatable audio-visual experience.


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E-Lit Forum 2009

In Fall 2008, English 214 – Technology + Culture was offered for the first time at Capilano University.  A small group of students came forward to explore the world of digital poetry and electronic literature.  Over the course of the term, the students had the opportunity to work closely with J.R. Carpenter, Donna Leishman, and Brian Kim Stefans in a series of blog-based exchanges focusing on the respective author’s work being studied in the course.  These exchanges were so positively received that this Fall we are hosting a second E-Lit Forum.

We are thrilled to announce this year’s lineup of guest E-Lit bloggers: Megan Sapnar Ankerson, Sharif Ezzat, and Chris Joseph.

Megan will kick off this year’s three week series with an opening post on Sunday, October 18th.  On Tuesday, October 20th, the students will discuss Megan’s post alongside an in-class analysis of “Cruising”.  At the end of class, they will post of series of questions for Megan.  Look for Megan’s response to their questions later that week.

Megan Sapnar Ankerson

Megan Sapnar Ankerson

E-Guest Blogger 1: Megan Sapnar Ankerson co-founded the new media poetry journal Poems that Go in 2000 in order to explore the intersections between motion, sound, image, text, and code in electronic literature.  She has been an invited artist at the Electronic Literature Organization‘s Interactive Reading Series at the University of Chicago and at the Electronic Literature Speaker Series at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.  Her co-authored piece Cruising was anthologized in the Electronic Literature Collection, Volume 1.  She is currently a PhD candidate in Media and Cultural Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where her dissertation historicizes the visual culture and industrial logic of web design practices in the dot-com era.

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Deviant: The Possession of Christian Shaw / Under the Skin

By Donna Leishman

Firstly, thank you Aurelea for the invite to submit a post!
I find the process of fielding questions especially interesting and productive, it almost always allows me to realise and reflect in new ways on my artworks. So I will await with keenness the students insights and questions.

Some background: I came to the field of digital literature in 1999 from the position of a visual artist/ designer. My formative training in illustration grounded an interest in sequential art and literary themes. My work then and today draws on literary subject matters, contains chronological cause and effect, and strongly features protagonists. I am a thematic recycler similar a re-framer of often folkloric motifs – with an aim to renew, revitalises, or debunk, the pre-existing content.

I often start with what I do not want to achieve, rather than what I do – the standard provocative stance of a non-commercial modern artist perhaps. This quote from Pierre Bourdieu (1979) communicates this feeling well:
“In matters of taste, more than anywhere else, all determination is negation; and tastes are perhaps first and foremost distastes, disgust provoked by horror or visceral intolerance of the tastes of others.”

Initially I was anti: Generation Flash’s neo-minimalist tendency for abstraction, anti the gaming paradigm of win or lose. I found the latter too simplistic and capitalistic as the way to premise the emergence of a new creative field (digital auteur interactive literary environments). Then anti an elitist aesthetic where the work, imagery and references where highly specialised and culturally insular which to use a semiotic phrase can result in a null condition (Josephs and Valsiner 1998) where there is no tension between certainty and uncertainty, usually because the participant sees the artefact or expression as totally alien and more importantly does not care to find out its meaning.

Deviant: The Possession of Christian Shaw  is a historical based work of narrative hypermedia that plays with expectations of both narrative and hypermedia. It was ‘born’ within my PhD: Creating Screen-Based Multiple State Environments: Investigating Systems of Confutation, which covers in detail the aesthetic, poetic and narrative choices of the piece.

*It is still opposed to filmic,
*It returns to the same tableaux rather than new destinations,
*It has little variability in its interaction structure,
*It requires re-readings to access all nodes, as there is no route to traverse backwards to key narrative stages.
“In “Deviant: The Possession of Christian Shaw”, the artist defamiliarizes her previous attention to plot and linearity and focuses more on the unfolding of micro-scenes that never congeal into what we usually call story but operate more as an interactive experiment in moving visual art…”(Mark Amerika 2004).

Interaction, Interface
This project represents my first move towards a more fully distributed characterisation, where the world interface is conceptualised as an extension of the protagonist Christian. In historical documents Christian was described as being between ten and eleven years old. Her youth  is in part represented by the inherent anti-logic of the readers interactions, the literal playfulness, and the imaginative flora and fauna foster all combine to create sense of the child / childishness. The primacy of ‘the child’ invokes the role of reader as adult protector and jars with the yet to be discover historical narrative.

Folkculture, Themes, Non Fiction,
I authored the title to read as: Deviant: The Possession of Christian Shaw. This was devised both as a thematic indictor and also to highlight the subject matter e.g. ‘Christian’ as a man/boy, ‘Christian’ as woman/girl, or possibly ‘Christian’ as an adjective relating to Christianity. Another reading may link the church to the term ‘deviance’. The term ‘possession’ has connotations of mental illness and/or supernatural acts of foreign control. The project refers to applicable grand narratives such as the Scottish and New England (Salem) witch trails. It also has links to historical horror and pulp archetypes of malevolent or evil children e.g. Damien in the book /film The Omen by Richard Donner in 1976.

The project is intentionally frustrating, reflecting the notion that the events are ‘trapped in history’, trapped in historical texts. The character of Christian cannot be physically helped and I do not present other more positive outcomes. Instead I have designed the project to utilise the reader’s frustration as a springboard in which they realise the horrors and travesty of the ‘real’ story.
The historical account was written by an anonymous author, thus arguably turning the narrative  into a work of un-interpretable fiction as the historical author may or may not have been a first hand witness. The narrative turned fiction is in itself now deviant, allowing for creative closure and personal interpretations. This notion links to the larger argument of society’s belief in history as irrefutable truth. Within this situation a historical distortion is also found within the contemporary ‘living memory’ of Christian Shaw, who is mainly seen as a tainted and manipulative child and not as a heroine of the Church (the view presented at the time of the said events). See: Hugh McLachlan, H.V and Swales, J.W, (2002) The bewitchment of Christian Shaw: a re-assessment of the famous Paisley witchcraft case of 1697, Brown Ferguson (eds.), Twisted Sisters: Women, Crime and Deviance in Scotland since 1400. Question of living memory and ethics.

Through a recent period of reflection I’ve come to realize that I am keenly interested in characterization by which I mean the narrative environment and the psychology of protagonists rather than the full dynamics of the narrative plot / chronology machinery. In creating characterization I used the pictorial communication, the invisible rules of engagement and the structural shape. I am interested in the notion of archetypal protagonists as historically trapped artifacts, fossilised. I often use flawed protagonists who I conceptualize as a double signs, on the initial or quick reading these characters may confirm the participants expectancies but underneath or as the narrative structure chips away they show either multiplicity a self-reflective unease about their adopted persona or occasionally strong subversive themes.

Recent research has me thinking about the position of a de-powered participant/reader in digital literature (I would argue the normal position) and how you as an author can sustain interest and commitment in such an exchange. Part for this concern is the particular qualities that a visual environment and audio can offer in enticing a reader in a ‘difficult’ text…

Deviant: The Possession of Christian Shaw, online October 2004 – Pres.

Deviant has been exhibited as installation:
Aug – Sept 2008  ALT-W Retrospective, Deviant: The Possession of Christian Shaw (Installation), Centre for Contemporary Art Glasgow Scotland. Alt-w: New Directions in Scottish Digital Culture,

Feb – Mar 2005
Scottish Show Comes Home, group show, The Lighthouse, 70 Mitchell Street, Glasgow.

April – Sept 2004      The Bloody Chamber & Deviant: The Possession of Christian Shaw (Work In Progress) The Scottish Show supported by The Lighthouse & the Scottish Executive, DesignersBlock , New Oxford Street London, also , Studio Zeta, Via Friuli, Milan.

Critiqued in
May 2008     The Aesthetic of Dissonance in 6amhoover.com.
Electronic Literature Organisation: Visionary Landscapes Conference. Vancouver USA.

2008 forthcoming
Will Internet Art Ever Grow Up? Essay in Cross Media Communications: an Introduction to the Art of Creating Integrated Media Experiences. New York: Delmar Cengage Learning

April 2007
Harnessing Disorder and Disaster in Reponsive Narrative Systems. EDA2007 7th International Conference of The Design Academy, Izmir University of Economics, Turkey. 3650 words paper [undelivered due to bereavement]

Spring 2007
TIRWEB Vol 9. No1 Multimodal writing. Online publication specialising in electronic literature and experimental writing.

Oct 2004
Textual Play: Woman’s Work In Literary Hypermedia. Presented by Strickland & Luesebrink, virtual content collaboration. Society for Literature & Social Science Annual meeting, Duke University, USA


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Memories of the White Darkness

By Joseph Gunulfsen

“In the White Darkness” by Reiner Strasser and M.D. Coverly is an interactive piece consisting of different words, images and sounds that appear and reappear on the screen. There are about twenty dots that sort of throb like pulsating hearts. When each dot is manipulated, a certain sound, image, or phrase is triggered. It may be the sound of the jungle, or a picture of the desert. It may a picture of a canal accompanied by the phrase “déjà vu?” The visual and audio stimulations can coincide. There are also roughly 30 dots that do not throb like the others; they are just there, seemingly dead. There is a dot on the bottom, right corner of the screen that when clicked on offers a map of the throbbing dots, connecting one to another. Some of them are actually part of a chain of three, and all of the lines that connect the dots are arc shaped. There is also a dot on the bottom, left corner that when clicked on causes the phrase “Just a whisper, at least, of the persistence of this memory, this forgetfulness” to appear . Continue reading

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Looking at the Subtle Celestial

By Chris Wilcox

The medium length, story-poem Like Stars in a Clear Night Sky is a poem that shares several narratives from the third person view. The poem is by an Egyptian designer and artist, Sharif Ezzat and presents a very simple interface but suggests a vast, complex idea for a theme. It starts off with a short narration by a man speaking in Arabic which is done by someone other than Ezzat.

After the short narrative introduction, we are taken to this star-speckled canvas in which there are nine blue stars to click on. Each one presents a vague mini-poem that starts off with “Shall I tell you about…” and has some hidden connection to the rest of the poems. This hidden connection will be the soul reason I believe Ezzat’s work to be so astounding.

These hidden connections I’m talking about give rise to the overall theme which are built upon two founding reasons; subtlety and the idea of the celestial. Subtle, because of the use of simple repetitive words and sounds as well as the short sentence length that builds the theme. Then celestial because that theme is tied into the vastness of the whole poem collectively and appears beyond instant comprehension. It’s almost as if Ezzat contrasted it against the starry-night sky on purpose to show how vast something simple can be.

The vastness that I’m talking about is hinted in several instances throughout Ezzat’s work and ties back to the idea of the celestial. Probably the two most prevalent examples are when the narrator talks about his love and how the world is to become his family. When describing his love he says he doesn’t understand how he could appear to be warm as he “was painted all in black”. This alludes to the notion that the narrator isn’t just a man, but more like the starry night sky itself.

Now keeping that in mind the same idea is present when he talks about how the whole world is to become his family. The narrator talks about how “They are knocking on the door now.” which seems suggest that people are always wanting his attention. So taking a step back and applying the concept that the narrator is the the heavens and the stars, the quote still makes sense. In fact it makes more sense as it almost gives the imagery of people looking up to the stars for answers and prayers. This unifies the vastness and again really drives that idea of subtlety presenting a complex almost un-comprehensible theme.

Comlexity through subtlety is how Ezzat seems to prefer to work. The poem has several grand concepts hidden throughout itself and as you look deeper into each selection, you find that there are more phrases that suggest that the narrator is the celestial rather than just the individual. Like Stars in a Clear Night Sky is an intriguing poem as there’s almost too much to try and understand, yet anyone can admire it’s simplicity. Ezzat has truly created something in which you can look at forever and see something new every time.

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Marsha’s Site Falls

“The Fall of the Site of Marsha” is an interactive homepage created by Rob Wittig. The page is devoted to Marsha’s favourite subject, angels, specifically throne angels. Marsha invites other people to share angel stories on her site, and she invites throne angels to come and play, which is a big mistake, as these throne angels are not friendly. Continue reading

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