Kathleen Zoller Presentation

Two Worlds is an interactive fiction that explores the web and the physical world to tell a story. The goal of the player is to explain to their friend that they are in danger. However, the specific danger their friend is in will ultimately be determined by the player’s research in-game and the conclusions they draw from it. 

 The player begins in a room with two main components  a computer and a telephone— which they interact with to progress the story. By incorporating a computer, the player has an opportunity to explore a fictional internet by selecting various hyperlinks leading to different “pages” on the web, which are indicated by a change of color, font, and a gif. Whereas the telephone allows the player to communicate with NPCs (non-player characters) that track the decisions they make throughout the game, in addition to presenting dialog trees that the player may choose to follow. 

The game itself was inspired by electronic works such as Galatea by Emily Short and Howling Dogs by Porpentine, but also reflects an experiment involving IF games and visuals. Galatea inspired the creation of complex NPCs that track the dialog choices made by the player. These choices are compiled and reiterated in a list of results shown to the player at the game’s conclusion. Numerous dialog trees were also created, which the player may fully explore after 18 runthroughs of the game. These trees allow players to make choices that influence the outcome of the story and reveal different paths, representing themes commonly found in interactive fiction. 

Howling Dogs inspired the work’s changing background colors throughout the story, which occur whenever the player engages with the fictional web. These transitions serve to reinforce the idea that the web is a separate space from the physical world, differing in appearance, navigation, and content. Despite this difference, the player comes to rely on it as a primary source for understanding the world they live in and for informing their decisions. When the player steps away from their computer, they are transitioning from the world of the web to the world they live in. This central idea is what influenced the title of this piece, “Two Worlds”, as well as a creative way to integrate colors within the narrative. 

In addition to drawing inspiration from Galatea and Howling Dogs, the work experiments with combining text and visuals within an IF game. It seeks to find a balance between these two factors while also finding a logical way to blend it within the story. While interactive fictions tend to place emphasis on the text over aesthetics, this work incorporates visuals such as colors and gifs. The gifs represent the multimedia aspect of the web, and how the internet can act as a window into other parts of the world.  

In sum, Two Worlds is an interactive fiction game that explores two different environments— web space and physical space. This is done by indicating transitions from one world to another through the use of hyperlinks, colors, and moving images. It was inspired by Galatea and Howling Dogs, in addition to being an experiment that combined visuals with text-based games. 

Game Link

Presentation Link

Exploring Pry

After replaying Pry, I think I’ve formed a more solid (if not yet complete) understanding of what the work is about. From what I can see, the protagonist is a soldier named James who becomes jealous of his brother because of his relationship with a woman named Jessie. What exactly happens between these three key characters is not all that clear, especially since James is constantly modifying his memories and remixing the events in his head. But that’s part of what makes the story so intriguing. Exploration is a key component in navigating the work, and having all the answers would defeat the purpose of the piece. For instance, I went through chapter 6 four times and found that every traversal was different. This may be because the chapter automatically ends at a certain point and forces the user to move on before they’ve fully explored it. Whatever the case, I was discovering new content every time I visited that section. After this experience, I feel that exploration is a key component that drives the user through the piece and solidifies their understanding of the narrative. 

I would argue that one of the stronger themes in this piece is blindness. As we fight to keep James’ eyes open, we are constantly reminded of his failing sight. Like him, we are sometimes forced to withdraw from the present world and reside in the realm of memories and his subconscious. His innermost thoughts are communicated with us in text, sometimes in full paragraphs or in fast-paced fragments flashing across the screen. Through these, we can theorize the causes for his failing sight (a fire, a disorder inherited from his mother, and Jessie’s violent outburst are only a few of these.) By constantly going back and forth from what James’ sees in the real world versus what he sees in his mind, blindness becomes one of the more prominent themes in the story (though it is certainly not the only one.) 

The form relates to the content by using unique features offered by touchscreen devices to reflect the depth and complexity of the story. By allowing us to “pry” open text and video, we may choose a direction and follow it for as long as it permits us. It presents us with seemingly endless seas of text and layers of video that create a sense of mystery, as well as a desire to investigate further. By presenting the content in this form, we feel a drive to engage with the work as the two components play off of each other in a well-balanced manner. 

One of the sections I found intriguing yet puzzling was when Jessie begins accusing James and tears apart his photo album. Though James said she didn’t find it very flattering to have her picture next to his mother’s, I get the impression that the wound goes much deeper than that. During this scene, she blames him for being deported, possibly because James told on her relationship with his brother (the story makes a point that relationships in the military were not allowed). The fact that this scene was shown numerous times throughout the second half of the story also implies its importance, and I am curious to hear other people’s takes on this particular scene. 

Source: Pry by Tender Claw

Pry’s Immersion

Pry is unlike any work I’ve ever seen. It utilizes the affordances of a touchscreen device to tell a story through tearing, pulling, pinching, and spreading out. It also reflects the nonlinearity of digital information (as many of the works we’ve previously examined have) by telling the story in seemingly random fragments. By combining video and text, Pry reflects the differences between memory, imagination, and present reality, which are the three things that James is trying to come to terms with. 

One of the moments that intrigued me was the moment that James falls off of the bridge and into the water below. For a moment, I had tricked myself into thinking that I was actually falling off the bridge. I think that after playing the story for a long period of time, I began to feel like I was the main character. I could relate to the protagonist’s struggle by having to trudge through the work: to progress the story, I had to physically pull text apart, fight to keep the character’s eyes open, and try to mentally piece the story together. These three factors created this sense of immersion that I have yet to experience in games that aren’t VR, and I found it rather enjoyable to play.

I found the text to be just as intriguing as the video montage. I usually find books to be immersive because it engages with the imagination, but having to physically manipulate the text took it to a whole other level. It added another layer of conversation about the narrative itself by reinforcing my understandings of the text. It also helped maintain my interest because I could choose which topics to more deeply explore (one of my personal favorite ways of doing this was by tearing open the text). 

Overall, I found Pry to be an incredibly immersive work and intriguing to explore. I look forward to seeing the direction we’ll take literature from this point. 

The Exciting New World of Augmented Reality

Image result for augmented reality storytelling

One of the new divergent streams that captured my interest are locative projects, specifically Augmented Reality. In my gaming experiences, there has always been a constant reminder that my world is separated from the setting within the game, and I find it incredibly fascinating that AR can make this difference almost invisible. Though it is still in its earlier stages, I believe that it has the potential to become very immersive as the technology improves.  

“Electronic Literature authors have begun to explore how locative technologies can enable us to layer narrative and poetic experiences on the world around us.” (Rettberg 2019) 

As Rettberg says in the above quote, there are many literary possibilities within virtual and augmented worlds, possibilities that are presently being explored. The prospect of telling stories in unique and immersive ways is always exciting, and I look forward to seeing them discovered and implemented. As Rettberg pointed out, we will be reframing environments we are familiar with and reimagining them, reigniting out interest in what we may otherwise find to be commonplace. This sort of storytelling will be more engaging than most other modes because it involves—even relies on—the interactors ability to actively navigate a physical space and possibly experiment with it.  

In the case of Augmented Reality, the narrative would need to build itself around the player, and it will be interesting to see how creators choose to manifest this idea. Perhaps the story unfolds as the player approaches certain landmarks, or maybe s/he must actively pursue the characters as the narrative is being told? Is the story shared solely through audio rather than animations, so that the viewer may focus more on their actual environment? Is the player a key character in the game, or merely an observer? Can they influence the direction the story takes by physically choosing which direction to go? Will the narrative be shown through an iPhone, tablet, glasses, or some other device? Can the player virtually perform actions, such as digging or moving objects? There are many literary possibilities within virtual and augmented worlds to explore, and I am excited to see where these possibilities take us with storytelling.  

Sources: Scott Rettberg Electronic Literature


This week, I watched I Love Alaska by Submarine Channel. It is a documentation of search queries by an unknown user (which were unintentionally leaked by AOL), and then put together to create a narrative. The online network is made visible within the presentation through these search queries, whose familiar broken appearance are common in most online platforms. This user’s search history was unique in that the queries were long and specific, revealing to us a clearer picture of what was going on in their life. Indeed, Rettberg noted that 

“[Network Writing] may interrogate the nature and materiality of the network itself” (Rettberg 2019, p.152) 

This was especially true with I Love Alaskathough it was represented as a video, it felt like a commentary about the nature of search history. The choice to tell a narrative was eye-opening, as it caused me to reflect on my own search queries and wonder how I could create a story from them. It made me realize how much can be revealed about someone just through their search history, and how it can sometimes be a serious breach of privacy if recorded and used by someone else (even if only to sell products.)  

In addition to raising points about search queries, this work has literary value as an unusual yet effective way to tell a story. The creator didn’t have to invent anything at all—they simply stitched pieces of reality together and left it up to the readers to interpret it. In this way, the narrative was a mystery, while also being a romance and a drama—all while drawing on a true story. Personally, I found I Love Alaska to be emotionally engaging because it was so dramatic. Most everything that happened to this user (as far as I could tell) seemed like it came right out of a movie, and I was constantly reminding myself that it was based on real events. It reminded me of Bigelow’s work How to Rob a Bank, which was also told through search queries (though the narrative was much clearer since it was an imaginary story.)  

Rettberg, Scott. Electronic Literature. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2019. 

“88 Constellations” and “How to Rob a Bank”

This week, I explored “88 Constellations” by David Clark and “How to Rob a Bank” by Alan Bigelow. In Clark’s work, a fictional world is generated as the user navigates a constructed space by choosing from two different circles of constellations. They can also follow a stricter path by selecting a star from the next constellation in line. In addition, the work generates fictional worlds by employing multimedia, as it reinforces ideas and major parts of the story through imagery and audio recordings.  

Though the work is nonlinear and presents the narrative in fragments, the work can be understood as fiction because it contains multiple narratives that all form a larger whole—a story detailing Wittgenstein’s interesting life as a philosopher. Throughout the work, snippets of his experiences are shared with the reader, as well as other characters and major events that share a relation with him. But because these snippets are told in a nonlinear fashion, the users must take an active role in determining which direction to explore the story. This makes the work highly immersive, which is deepened with its interesting theme, the user’s freedom of choice (the user chooses how to explore the work) and a captivating story presented in an original and thoughtful way that sparks the user’s thinking. 

Despite being an immersive work, one could argue that “88 Constellations” is also an abstract piece. Each fragment within the story is linked to another based on associations Clark made between them. Though it is sometimes obvious why two fragments are linked together, it is not always clear why the artist connected them (though the user may discover this meaning on their own.) “88 Constellations” can also be seen as abstract because it acts as a metaphor for creating constellations in the sky by connecting dots, making associations with them in the process: 

“Join the dots together. Make pictures in the skyConnect the muddle of our thinking to these drawings in the sky.” -David Clark’s 88 Constellations 

Like Clark’s work, Bigelow’s “How to Rob a Bank” generates a fictional world through interactivity and multimedia. The work is presented through a series of social media platforms and apps on a mobile device, and includes visuals and sounds. Users also interact with the work by swiping left or right, mimicking how mobile devices work. This adds a level of immersion to the story, as users feel the presence of a mobile device and are prompted to interact with the work to progress the narrative. 

The story itself is presented through the dialog of different characters and their interactions with mobile devices, who often project their thoughts and habits onto them. In this way, Bigelow lists a chronological series of events through various character’s uses of social media. These events cover one main plotline (a man who makes a living off of robbing banks), though the side characters also have their own stories to tell (for instance, a jealous sister wanting as much attention from adoring fans as the robber’s wife.)

“Softies” and “The Ballad of Sand and Harry Soot”

Image result for the ballad of sand and harry soot

SOFTIES by David Jhave Johnson is a web-based work, comprised of a series of videos and short poems. Each video contains a phrase related to one of the poems, which are manipulated in a program known as Mr. Softie (hence the title of the work.) However, Jhave’s mesmerizing animations were what caught my attention. By utilizing the Mr. Softie program, Johnson was able to manipulate the phrases through squashing, stretching, twisting, shrinking and expanding the text in ways that communicated the ideas of the corresponding poem. In his poem “Stand under” for instance, the word “under” is placed far above a stack of the repeated word “standing”, which strains and pulls at “under” in an attempt to rise above it. Fittingly, the corresponding poem to this video was one about humility, which would explain the struggle of the words lower down vs. the superiority of the word near the top. In addition to animating the text, Johnson also supplemented his work with music to set the mood of each video. Taking the above factors into account, it could be argued that SOFTIES is a work of concrete poetry—it treats words as tangible, manipulable objects and makes a clear connection to the program it was made with. It is also a multimedial work, as it combines text, sound, and on occasion imagery (in certain poems such as “Unity”, the background layer of the animation is another video.)  

The Ballad of Sand and Harry Soot is a web-based hypertext that is composed of web pages rather than traditional “nodes”. A ballad is a song or poem telling a story in short stanzas, which is exactly what this work is mimicking.  A love story about a man named Soot who longs for a woman called Sand, Strickland describes her work as the symbolic relationship between technology and man. She saw the sand as silicon, which can be found in sand as well as in microchips, “and by extension the entire online world.” (Word Circuits Stephanie Strickland). As for Soot, Strickland described him as 

“a man made of carbon, biochemical man, a man of flesh and mood, a person.” (Word Circuits Stephanie Strickland).  

This work seems to follow a more traditional presentation of poetry than SOFTIES by placing text in stanzas, using colorful wording, and presenting ideas as riddles. One of the less traditional aspects of the work was the use of hidden hyperlinks within the stanzas to other parts of the story, adding a new layer of meaning, interactivity, and mystery to the piece. One might argue that The Ballad of Sand and Soot is a visual form of poetry because it is accompanied by images, but these are separated from the text and do little to aid the reader’s understanding of the poem (most of the images are nonspecific pictures of sand.) Thus, simply calling this a multimedial work might seem more appropriate, as it is merging multiple forms of media (images and text) into one.  


Word Circuits Stephanie Strickland 


How types of interactivity can portray a message

Image result for howling dogs porpentine

For this post, I will be analyzing Howling Dogs by Porpentine and Galatea by Emily Short. Porpentine’s work imposes ideas of struggle and hopelessness by using darker tones. Through artful writing, Porpentine engages the imagination by painting gloomy pictures with words. Though she experiments with a range of themes by including multiple narratives within the story, they all imply a darker message. The work is also engaging because she utilizes various techniques that help move the narrative along, which Rhettberg states can be represented 

“through shifts of narrative voice and point of view… pacing… use of grammar, and its patters of association.” (Rhettberg, 56)  

In addition, Howling Dogs portrays struggle and hopelessness by presenting repetitive actions and responses to the user. Despite the player’s attempts to improve the quality of their character’s deteriorating life, the drudgery of the same daily routine eventually takes its toll on the users, who lose hope of finding any meaning within the story besides the themes I listed. A third technique Porpentine uses is offering limited options when it comes to navigation. Users can only click on the hyperlinks shown on screen, limiting their ability to explore the world freely. By utilizing repetitiveness, a dark tone, and limited freedom for exploration, Porpentine imposes ideas of struggle and hopelessness upon the user.  

However, Emily Short utilizes interactivity and exploration to portray hopeful ideas. Because Galatea is an interactive fiction, players can enter their own commands, involving them more deeply with the story’s possible meanings. In addition, Galatea’s personality and reason for existence are not initially specified, offering the player power over determining these factors through the dialog choices they make. And when Galatea relates her personal experiences to the reader in fragments, the player is further engaged by trying to put the pieces of the story’s puzzle together in their imagination. By allowing players freedom and providing a complex NPC to interact with, Short portrays the idea that fate is not predetermined, while simultaneously encourages them to seek out conversations and establish new relationships. 

One similarity between these works is the lack of a player “goal”. In Howling Dogs, the player merely watches on as things decay around them. And in Galatea, the player simply speaks to Galatea until some conclusion is drawn. The works are mainly focused on using their frameworks to explore literary ideas. Porpentine’s goal was to experiment with presenting multiple narratives to the player that were different yet cohesive to the story. And Short’s goal was to explore the potential of NPC interaction as a deeper, more complex process. 

To conclude, both Howling Dogs and Galatea utilize varying levels and modes of interactivity to get their messages across. Despite being so different, I found both works equally intriguing to explore.

A Refreshing Take on Hypertext

Image result for my boyfriend came back from the war

Recently, I have had the pleasure of exploring a work titled “My boyfriend Came Back From the war” by Olia Lialina. In doing so, I saw many themes that harkened back to previous hypertext works. Multilinearity was the most evident of these, as the reader is presented with multiple paths to choose from in the form of hyperlinks. Another theme I noticed was the use of fragmented text; the idea of presenting a story in only small passages at a time is not commonly found outside of hypertext works. Third, the reflexivity— the author’s awareness of the medium—was very evident. Lialina saw the affordances provided by HTML and capitalized on it, presenting multiple blocks of text at once to the reader and utilizing customizable line bars. Like some hypertexts, it was also a multimedia work, and contained images that helped to enhance its meaning to the reader (the darker tones and blurry images enforce the idea that the union of the lover and the boyfriend was not a happy one.) 

Despite the references to earlier hypertext works, Lialina’s piece also differed from them in key ways. The first thing that caught my attention was the ability for the reader to slide various bars across the screen to enlarge or shrink the text within a given cell. This strongly contrasts with my past experiences with hypertexts work, where the reader is usually presented with a single, unmoving cell at a time. This work allows the reader to not only customize their experience, but to also experiment with a work on another level not offered in earlier hypertexts like “Uncle buddy’s Phantom Funhouse” or “Afternoon: A Story”.  It invited me to not only view the work, but to also participate in its creation by reorganizing the cells. I found this to be quite engaging as a reader, as I could position the texts in ways that changed my understanding of the story being told. By allowing the reader to engage with the work in this way, 

“Lialina aptly uses the web to interrogate our understandings of the production and organization of memory.” (Rhizome.org) 

Another aspect I noticed about this piece that differed from earlier hypertext works was its small size. Most of the published hypertexts that I have seen are larger and more complex. I have a feeling that if Lialina had run this work by a publishing company, they may have been slightly underwhelmed. Though her work does deserve attention, it made sense to me that she would choose to post “My Boyfriend Came Back from the War” online rather than attempting to impress various publishers. 

To conclude, I found Lialina’s work to be a refreshing break from the conventionalities of hypertext while also following traditions that had been previously set in place. Though the piece is small, it introduces new ways for readers to experience hypertext that makes her a true pioneer in the field.

Reemerging Hyper(text)

Hypertext is currently rising in popularity. Twine is one of the contributors to its recent comeback, as its intuitiveness and free access has made it a convenient and useful tool for people to tell stories. As Rettberg pointed out, 

“Twine has a user-friendly browser based authoring environment…The platform is also open source.” (Rettberg 2019).  

It seems most popular among the younger generation. My sister is currently teaching high school English students, but when she asked them if they were familiar with hypertext all she received were blank stares. So she and I created a Twine tutorial introducing the concept, and it was met with great excitement. Since then, several students have approached her and enthusiastically shared their current projects.  

While it’s evident that hypertext is a popular concept among this generation, I have my doubts that it will thrive as a literary form (Afternoon: A Story might still be known by this generation if it were.) Instead, I think it will become more prevalent in non-textual forms, placing a heavier focus on visuals and sound. This form of hyper(text) is emerging as a new way to present storytelling even now, with the introduction of multilinearity in games such as Life is Strange, or in shows like Black Mirror. Just as books were more-or-less replaced by cinematic films, I think hypertext will likely be overtaken by interactive, multilinear digital media. 

However, hypertext is powerful in that it can express things about our world that print cannot, one of these being that the world is open for us to explore. (Most of us) are not locked in a single space, which print tends to enforce upon the reader. Rather, we are free (within reasonable constraints) to explore the world as we please, which hypertext demonstrates by linking to other lexias—or “spaces”—for us to roam. Another aspect that print cannot express is that our world is multilinear. We’re offered many pathways and shown different outcomes, as well as more than one person’s point of view or story. Print has a harder time portraying this sense of multilinearity (the closest that comes to mind is Coover’s The Babysitter), yet hypertext does this with ease by presenting various pathways leading to fragmented text, each containing a different aspect of the story. Lastly, our world requires us to participate in some way. Similarly to clicking links in a hypertext, we must make choices and follow through with our actions. Whereas print is a passive experience that only asks one to read (or simply listen to) the narrative being told. In hypertext, the reader is no longer in a familiar, comfortable environment, but is instead present and at the ready (Interview with Shelly Jackson par. 18). At no point in a print story will the reader have to make decisions that alter the course of the narrative (“Choose Your Own Adventure Books” are the exception) like a hypertext would because it does not offer the reader any freedom to do so.