Final Project


My Twine work, “Vivid”, is a multilinear look at the concepts of intrusive thoughts and maladaptive daydreaming. Taking heavy inspiration from Robert Coover’s work “The Babysitter”, I wanted to make a work that dips in and out of reality as a serene way to explore the topic of mental illness. I felt that this would be effective because of the often random and unpredictable tendencies of mental illness.

Maladaptive daydreams are extremely intense daydreams that can often be confused with reality by the sufferer. Combined with intrusive thoughts, involuntary thoughts that are upsetting or distressing, these maladaptive daydreams can be extremely intense and disturbing for the victim. With my work, I attempted to recreate this sensation in a written form in order to raise awareness of what living with mental illness can be like.

“Vivid” is an interactive fiction that also has some combinatory aspects at its core. The multilinear structure of this work makes it participatory, immersive, and experiential, allowing for the interactor to influence how the story progresses. However, the interactor does not have complete control, as my work also uses randomly generated story progression. These two mechanics combined allow for multiple playthroughs that each detail how mental illness is both the same and different on a daily basis.

My goal with this work was to raise awareness about mental illness by writing about a topic that everyone experiences. Everyone has had thoughts about harm to themselves or a loved one, but it can be much more intense when combined with mental illness. I wanted to create a piece that could combine both the experiences of those who suffer from mental illness and those who do not. In doing this, I aimed to make a work that everybody could understand and that created an immersive representation of mental illness that those who do not suffer from it could better understand.

Achieving a work that could explore mental illness while still being relatable and understandable to those who do not suffer from mental illness was both easy and difficult. As someone who does not suffer from this kind of mental illness, I was able to make sure that the work was easy to understand, but actually writing about the mental illness was challenging. My girlfriend, who suffers from mental illness, was a tremendous help in describing how it manifests and what kinds of maladaptive daydreams she has experienced. She was also able to make sure that the way I approached mental illness was accurate and respectful, which was extremely important to me.

The biggest challenge with this project was definitely finding a stopping point, Often the problem that writers can find with Twine and multilinear fiction is making too large of a web that eventually becomes daunting and impossible to finish. I attempted to avoid this problem, but I would love to expand this work at a later date if it seems necessary or potentially beneficial. Getting lost in a multilinear, interactive work can be an amazing experience, such as in Porpentine’s works. I wanted to create a similar experience while adding a powerful, important message to the heart of the work.

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Pry, Chapter 5 – Epilogue – April 5, 2019

The second half of Pry continues the themes of the first half with James struggling with poor eyesight, PTSD, and his internal struggle with the mysterious character Jessie. As the second half goes on, however, Jessie becomes less of a mystery and more of a tragedy. By navigating through the three stages, the struggle that James faces both with Luke and Jessie is explained, with James’ eyes open by talking to Luke, his eyes closed by thinking of Jessie, and in his subconscious with the guilt he feels about Jessie’s death.

Chapter 6 marks the point in Pry where everything begins to come together. The expanding wall of text allows the reader to pry through the sentences to reveal that Luke and Jessie developed a relationship, which James reported after his love for Jessie grew into jealousy. Jessie found out and lashed out at James. Still upset, Jessie sat out of the poker game happening later. As a result, Jessie was outside during the game, when their base was attacked. Jessie died in the attack, and James blames himself for her death.

The second half of the story also goes into further detail about James’ deteriorating eyesight, which was likely caused by the attack. He’s afraid to tell Luke that his eyesight is poor, causing even more internal conflict.

Above all, the second half continues to be about PTSD, with James becoming even more distraught internally, his subconscious turning into an obscure collection of words. James’ depiction of PTSD becomes much more personal, however, with the addition of the guilt he feels towards Jessie and betraying his brother, which was hinted at in Chapter 3 with James reading about Jacob and Esau.

Pry is a commentary on a multitude of things: war, PTSD, love and jealousy, coming to terms with blindness, and more. It feels overwhelming, which is the point. James is overwhelmed by everything that is crashing down around his life.

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Pry, Prologue – Chapter 4 – March 29, 2019

From the prior research that we have done on Tender Claws’ piece Pry, it is an extremely intense representation of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This concept becomes much more clear by the end of the first chapter, continuing into the second chapter, with surreal imagery of death and war. The protagonist visiting his friend at a construction site, for example, triggers memories of explosions while serving in the military.

Within Pry, the interactor flips through three stages of the protagonist: eyes closed, eyes open, and subconscious. The lines between the three often become blurred, but primarily the eyes closed represents thoughts via text, the eyes open represents reality via video, and the subconscious represents war flashbacks via avant-garde sequences. By constantly flipping through these three stages, Pry gives a feeling of chaos and fear that aims to artistically represent the effects of PTSD on its victims.

The navigation of the piece is extremely simple, only requiring the interactor to advance by “prying” the protagonist’s eyes open and closed by pinching the screen. This allows the protagonist to freely flip between the three stages while moving through the piece, while putting the interactor in a place of physical connection with the events taking place in the protagonist’s mind. By pinching the screen shut, the interactor is taken into the protagonist’s mind, similar to film reel, that is constantly racing with text and war footage.

Pry is a powerful piece of electronic literature that attempts to shine light on mental illness through the advantages of technology and interaction. To say that the piece succeeds in doing so is an understatement.

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Final Essay Description

My final essay is going to be a Twine piece that takes heavy influence from Robert Coover’s “The Babysitter”. Coover’s piece has been the most fascinating work we have explored in class, and I want to use electronic literature to expand what he sought to achieve with “The Babysitter”. In order to do so, my piece is going to follow an average day for someone suffering from intrusive thoughts and maladaptive daydreaming.

Intrusive thoughts are common within people suffering from common mental illnesses like depression and anxiety, giving them involuntary thoughts that can become distressing, obsessive, upsetting, and more. Combined with maladaptive daydreaming, a much more intense form of daydreaming that often disrupts human interaction and connection with the real world, these thoughts can feel so real that the sufferer may have a hard time remembering what events actually happened and what was simply in their head.

I think this is a really fascinating topic to explore in this medium to both attempt to combat the stigmatization of mental illness and create a nonlinear storyline. Like many modern hypertext fiction writers, I am choosing to use Twine to produce my piece. Doing so will give me the visual advantages of the software to lay out my story as well as give the readers a simple platform to traverse the story. With little explanation of what the piece is about, I hope to confuse the readers much like “The Babysitter” does, but do so in a way that catches their attention and encourages them to look through the piece multiple times to understand its meaning.

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Divergent Streams – March 22, 2019

By far the most fascinating form of electronic literature discussed by Rettberg in “Divergent Streams” is virtual and augmented reality. VR is a concept I have discussed in previous DTC courses, because of my simultaneous fascination and fear of it. However, I have never looked at it critically as a vessel for writing, which I think is a potentially powerful tool for literature.

VR and AR are possibly the best tools for turning writing into a piece of technology by either creating a world for the text to live or giving the text the ability to live in our world. Rather than using the confines of available software and platforms, VR and AR allow the reader to interact in the most personal way possible by making the text a living entity that stands beside us. Rettberg’s provided examples of writing in augmented worlds, like Pry, showcase the powerful emotional connection that can be achieved via VR and AR.

Augmented worlds have proved to be scary yet exciting training grounds for the future of technological immersion. As Rettberg discusses, electronic literature is no exception. Augmented worlds hold a lot of potential for bringing pieces of poetry and writing to life to further encapsulate their meanings. Using the reader’s interaction to progress a story is a powerful tool for emotional connection, and VR and AR are easily able to do this. What is perhaps most exciting about the use of augmented worlds for electronic literature is the range of the works’ scales. A piece of writing in VR or AR can be short and simple, or it could be an entire world for a reader to explore that takes them out of body and puts them into a sea of text.

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The End of the World as We Know It


Created by:

Jazz Jackson

Mariah Gwin

Kathleen Zoller

Holly Slocum

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Network Writing – March 8, 2019

Beyond what other forms of electronic literature have taken advantage of the computer, network writing uses the possibilities present with the Internet. The simple goal of network writing is to take what is typically invisible to the viewer online and incorporate it in the piece of work so that it becomes visible. With an oddly specific goal in mind, it is fascinating how many subgenres of network writing exist and thrive online, from flarf to webpage fiction to net critique.

Network writing is perhaps the most clear form of electronic literature that wears its heart on its sleeve. Rettberg explains this in Electronic Literature: “As technology has led to rapid societal change, one of the most logical extensions of the project of electronic literature is to serve as a locus of reflexive critique of the position of the human within the technological apparatus” (Rettberg, 152). Although this understanding of network writing may sound akin to science fiction, networking writing is much more personal as it constantly reminds the reader that the flowing relationship between human and technology is a product of today.

Much like other forms of electronic literature, network writing is experimental. Tiselli’s piece “degenerative and regenerative” brought the code to the website to the forefront by allowing the people who visited the website to be responsible for breaking the code and revealing it bit by bit. Tiselli pointed out both the flexibility and fragility of our network as a result. Lernert Engelberts and Sander Plug’s “I Love Alaska” took advantage of the network’s fragility to paint the story of a distraught housewife in Alaska whose saddening relationship with Google was leaked to the world, alongside about 650,000 other people. John Cayley’s “The Listeners” uses an infrastructure built atop Amazon’s Alexa to create a sort of modern ELIZA, testing the ability (or perhaps more so highlighting the inability) of technology to serve as therapy and emulate human emotions. Although all three of these pieces are vastly different, they all play with the many possibilities of the Internet and the network to push the boundaries of technology and its relationship with modern society.

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Multimedia Fiction – March 1, 2019

Multimedia fiction combines key aspects of hypertext fiction, kinetic and interactive poetry, and interactive fiction to combine digital writing into immersive pieces of art. Combining sound, animation, storytelling, interactivity, and more to captivate the reader, multimedia fiction paints a fictional space for its audience. Much like the previously mentioned forms of electronic literature, multimedia fiction is a museum for fanatics of the avant-garde, but it also contains simpler pieces for those who prefer straightforward art.

A simpler example of multimedia fiction is Alan Bigelow’s “How to Rob a Bank – Part 4”, which follows the daily diary of a new mother trying to raise her baby as she realizes she and her husband are growing apart. By using outside environment sounds and the interface of a phone to emulate a person using their phone outside to write up diary entries, the protagonist becomes much more human. By documenting the decline of the mother’s mental state as she becomes more stressed from motherhood and her relationship with her husband within this outline of a phone, the piece is presented as a fictional but immersive story.

A more abstract piece of multimedia fiction is Mark Amerika’s “FilmText”, which puts the reader in a simulated environment, akin to a video game. The reader can click on various cones being emitted from craters to open up different documents that explain the universe of the piece. “FilmText” stands out much more as a piece of fiction with its sci-fi elements arising from Amerika’s creation of ideas like a “Digital Thoughtographer”, but it still manages to be immersive like “How to Rob a Bank – Part 4”.

Multimedia fiction manifests itself in many different forms to allow for its writers to convey their message in any way they choose. Whether it is immersive, simple, abstract, or more, multimedia fiction appeals to fans of writing, technology, avant-garde, and the like.

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Kinetic and Interactive Poetry – February 22, 2019

Much like the previously explored hypertext fiction and interactive fiction, kinetic and interactive poetry explore the fusion of writing and technology to augment the way a person is able to explore and interact with a story. In Scott Rettberg’s words, “kinetic and interactive poetry explore the specific multimedia capacities of the contemporary computer as a poetic environment for both composition and reception” (Rettberg, 118). What kinetic and interactive poetry seek out to do is use the resources available from a computer to create a new breed of modernized poetry.

Two examples of kinetic and interactive poetry are Y0UNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES’ “Rain on the Sea” and David Jhave Johnson’s “SOFTIEs”. “Rain on the Sea” and “SOFTIEs” both make use of audio and music to add extra meaning and feeling to the poetry. Among other techniques, the two pieces set out to bring the anti-art movements of the early 1900s to the screen.

In the case of “Rain on the Sea”, the opening countdown, old-timey music, and layout of the poem gives it the feeling of a silent film. However, the stylistic choice of moving the words so quickly that upon the first time viewing the reader is only able to catch part of the story gives it a true feeling of avant-garde electronic literature. “Rain on the Sea” is an important example of film poetry, one of the many styles of kinetic and interactive poetry that exist.

Johnson’s “SOFTIEs” is even stranger than “Rain on the Sea”. Although part of it consists of short, traditional pieces of poetry, the rest of it consists of poetic proses being distorted, twisted, and stretched on a plane with ominous music in the background. “SOFTIEs” sets out to give words a second meaning, not just in what they mean but also in how they are presented. It is a good example of visual poetry, or “vispo”.

Although there are many more examples and subgenres of kinetic and interactive poetry that can be explored, these two are solid examples of what the movement has sought out to express with the addition of technology to writing.

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Interactive Fiction – February 15, 2019

Although hypertext fiction brought the avant-garde audience to the computer in the nineties, interactive fiction brought the future gamers looking for story-driven interaction in the seventies. Despite being older, IF has actually managed to stay more relevant than hypertext fiction over the years, likely due to it being easier to approach as the player, or interactor, has more control over the story.

Scott Rettberg describes the term “interactor” in his novel Electronic Literature, which is basically a term for a person playing a piece of IF: “as the interactor moves through these environments, he or she interacts with objects and characters within the space, and those interactions determine how the story will unfold” (Rettberg, 89). Interactive fiction and hypertext fiction hold many similarities, but interaction fiction often has the goal of trying to put the interactor into the story for an immersive experience.

In order to accomplish this, a common stylistic choice of IF is second-person writing. Two examples of this are Emily Short’s “Galatea” and Porpentine’s “With Those We Love Alive”. “Galatea” is based on the Greek mythology story of Pygmalion of Cyprus, who fell in love with an ivory statue he carved, resulting in the goddess Aphrodite bringing the statue to life. In “Galatea”, the interactor talks to an android who knows little about herself and her creator other than that she is not human and, therefore, is treated differently. As the interactor, commands can be made to prompt the character to talk to Galatea, ask questions, look around the environment, and more. What is so fascinating about “Galatea” is that despite having around 70 possible endings, the entire story takes place in one room speaking to one person, Galatea. The amount of different pathways and conversations that the interactor can prompt by trying all sorts of various commands makes Galatea stand out as a prominent and influential piece of IF.

In Porpentine’s “With Those We Love Alive”, the interactor works as an artificer for an alien queen, trying to please her by crafting items for her all while exploring the palace and inserting glyphs into yourself. During my playthrough, I chose to insert the glyphs prompted and build the items requested by the queen, but there is a lot of variance in how the interactor can move the story along and choose to interact with the environment. With the addition of music and a wide range of colors, “With Those We Love Alive” is an immersive and emotional piece of IF.

What these two examples of IF have in common are their focus on story. While many pieces of IF resolve around game mechanics like puzzles, these two pieces set out to make the interactor feel something. Short’s focus on storytelling, narrative, and character arcs draws the interactor into crafting the story that they want to be told, while Porpentine’s bittersweet piece that could be read as commentary on government and more makes the interactor think carefully about every choice in customization and behavior they make.

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Small Victories


Jazz Jackson

Joel Cummings

Jarid Schoenlein

Shawn Sims

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My Boyfriend Came Back from the War – February 8, 2019

Olia Lialina’s 1996 hypertext fiction piece “My Boyfriend Came Back from the War” set out to bring a cinematic narrative to the computer with its  black-and-white images and intertitles that harken back to silent films. Although it is not the most complex example of hypertext fiction, it stands out to me not only for its simplicity but also because of its multilinearity. As the reader clicks through the story, the screen divides more and more into various windows that each hold a part of the story. Although the piece does not contain variability in the conventional way of a randomized experience upon each session, the multilinearity allows for the story to be read in different orders. It may not be true variability, but it is an extremely basic version of it.

“My Boyfriend Came Back from the War” is a solid starting point for hypertext fiction, due its basic composition and short length. And, despite taking just a few minutes to complete reading, it holds many similarities with “newer” hypertext pieces of fiction around its time, such as Mark Amerika’s “GRAMMATRON” and Yael Kanarek’s “World of Awe”. Perhaps the most notable similarity is its heavy implementation of moving images, or GIFs. It can also be defined as an example of “net art”, likely one of the first.

Lialina’s piece stands as a basic example of the second wave of hypertext fiction during the late 90’s that implemented more advanced computer graphics and technology that was exploding alongside hypertext fiction. Its gritty animation that pays homage to silent film connects the medium to media of the past and opens the door for hypertext fiction to intertwine with more forms of media.

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Hypertext Fiction 2 – February 1, 2019

Like any approach to art, hypertext fiction has its advantages and disadvantages. As an unconventional form of writing, it provides ways to tell nonlinear stories in a much easier way than physical writing can. And for writers looking to write unconventionally regardless of their platform, hypertext fiction has provided a way to simply lay things out in a much more organized manner. Author Shelley Jackson, writer of hypertext fiction piece “Patchwork Girl”, stated in a 1998 interview with Mark Amerika that “hypertext permits me to write the way I ordinarily would, in related fragments with no overarching design, but then to allow a structure to arise out of the inclinations of the material itself, instead of imposing a linear order onto it…” Jackson’s typical style of writing blended perfectly with what hypertext fiction had to offer for her, allowing her to create an iconic piece of writing. However, she is nowhere near a household name.

Although hypertext fiction is a fascinating form of art that allows for millions of stories to be made from just hundreds or thousands of sources, it failed to take off in the nineties, and it will never be able to take off no matter what attempts are made in present day or will be made in the future. There’s a few reasons for this, but the main reason is that hypertext fiction is a novelty. It was a fad of the nineties that showed off the newest technology, but the evolution of technology soon skyrocketed and left hypertext fiction in the dust. Furthermore, it was a fad that, although was made easier with technology, wasn’t impossible in writing. Physical examples of nonlinear writing are abundant. Whether the goal of a hypertext piece was attempting to emulate the feeling of looking back at memories in a nonlinear way, similar to Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22, or create a branching path of stories and endings, like Robert Coover’s short story “The Babysitter”, or randomize the events to tell a completely different narrative, like Mark Saporta’s Composition No. 1, it has been done in physical writing.

However, perhaps the failure of hypertext fictions comes not from the folly of machine, but rather the folly of man. As Steven Johnson bluntly points out in his article “Why No One Clicked on the Great Hypertext Story” for Wired, “it turned out that nonlinear reading spaces had a problem: they were incredibly difficult to write.” Although hypertext fiction sounds great on paper as a mainstream form of art, the upkeep, dedication, and sheer amount of material required could never be reached to keep it in the limelight.

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The Babysitter – January 25, 2019

Although 1969 provided no technical advantage for Robert Coover to create a piece of hyptertext fiction, he instead wrote what would essentially be the inspiration for hypertext fiction by forcing the reader to use as little information as possible to string together a coherent story.

In his piece “The Babysitter” a mundane plot of a babysitter washing the kids and putting them to sleep takes multiple perspectives in a non-chronological order. However, the lack of chronology is not what is confusing and captivating to the reader. What catches the reader’s attention is the fact that each perspective of the story includes that person’s imagined story of how the rest of the night unfolds. The babysitter’s boyfriend and his friend imagine raping her or seducing her, the babysitter imagines accidentally killing the baby, the father of the children imagines cheating on his wife, etc. These are just some examples of the various plot lines in the story, and some of the characters even create multiple stories within their minds about what actually happens. As a result of this mixing pot of plot lines, the story seems to constantly be correcting or contradicting itself, further adding to the confusion and noise that the short story creates.

This piece was very important for hypertext fiction, which is, at its very basic structure, a mixture of technology with writing to add to the story in a way that an analog piece of writing could not do. A common feature of hypertext fiction is interactivity, meaning that the story can branch off into multiple paths, or further immerse the reader by putting them into the story, and a countless amount of other techniques. In his novel Electronic Literature, Scott Rettberg states that “hypertext fiction may not have swayed the culture to accepting nonlinear storytelling on the computer and the network as a successor to printed books, but it has served as a foundation for many new types of literary work in digital media” (Rettberg, 86). An overall criminally overlooked genre of writing, hypertext fiction has nonetheless proved influential for postmordern writing. Nevertheless, hypertext fiction’s influence will likely continue to appear in new writing, both digital and analog, but it all starts with “The Babysitter”.

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Taroko Gorge – January 18, 2019

“Taroko Gorge” is a fascinating form of writing that is generated randomly from a bank of words. It may have a deep meaning, or it may have no meaning at all. Perhaps it was done for the sake of doing it, but, much like any form of writing, the great thing is that a meaning can always be found within. For the original piece, for example, the elegant word bank that exists portrays beautiful images of nature with words like “hum”, “crags”, “ripplings”, and “pace”, that can evoke calming, wondrous images. Alternatively, a piece like “Hey Gorgeous” follows a narrative of word banks that describe the story of people at a club. The beauty of this digital art is that no matter what environment is inserted into the code, it seems as if the emotion of that environment is present throughout the piece.

Although there is no true narrative due to its randomness, this technique gives these pieces of writing a feeling as if they are snapshots of what is occurring in the world of the story. It is as if each line of code is equivalent to a person within this world blinking.

The code feels oddly akin to how a program like Twine functions, jumping around from bubble to bubble, creating a sense of controlled chaos. In the words of Scott Rettberg, it is “calm, almost zen-like poetry.” Zen-like can even mean unsettling, however. “The Dark Side of the Wall” generates lines of lyrics from the band Pink Floyd, taking the often dissonant feeling of the band’s lyrics and continuing it via technology. It can be argued that this is not true writing, but this does not seem to be what Taroko Gorge and its varations are trying to accomplish. What it is trying to accomplish is shared with writing, however. It makes its reader think.

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