Katya Farinsky

Porpentine to “Porpen-twine”: An Artistic Statement

Farinsky Final Project Artist Statement

Twine is an interesting intersection of hypertext and interactive fiction. Traditionally hypertext is known for non-linear storytelling by creating highly descriptive, brief, sections of a larger story the user must explore to piece together the larger narrative. Interactive fiction generally delivers a linear story focused on exploring a space or completing any number of objectives or puzzles.  Many people would classify interactive fiction as “games” because interactive fiction often includes graphic components which evolved into contemporary video games. Twine hosts many treasured works such as Porpentine’s With Those We Love Alive. Porpentine creates spaces in the style of classic interactive fiction games for the reader to explore using links like classic hypertext works. Users navigate the space by clicking on links but also must complete certain function such as “sleeping” or “breathing” to advance the story in several cases. These two ideas combine to create an incredibly immersive atmosphere and motivates the user to fully explore the piece.

For my own project I drew heavily on Porpentine’s With Those We Love Alive to make my own “Porpen-twine”. Porpentine uses links that are embedded inside the narrative text. To honor this my project has a mix of links that are embedded within the exposition, and some links that come after the narration like text-based adventure games. By using two different styles of lexia I can maintain the user’s attention because the links don’t appear in the same place each time. Additionally, placing links after the narration forces the reader to read the exposition, pause to consider the choices, and ultimately choose which link to follow. This empowers the user and stimulates emotional investment in the story, even though this project’s story is ultimately unaffected by most of these choices.  Each page in my story relies on a concise narrative to continue moving the reader through the story by giving them enough information to stay informed, yet vague to keep their curiosity about what comes next.

Both hypertext and interactive fiction explore multilinear stories so in my project I decided to create two endings: a “bad ending” and a “good ending”. If the user selects the bad ending, they are transported to the beginning of the narrative and must re-trace their steps before attempting the good ending. It was my intent for the bad ending to make canonical sense so there was purpose to the multilinearity. In the lesson loops the white woman explains the warrior of the story was cursed and must un-cover their identity in order to break the curse. If the user fails, the white woman resets the warrior’s memory to prevent the curse from destroying them. If the user choses the good ending, they defeat the bad guy, reclaim their identity, and leave the temple to save the world. This creates two separate experiences that are equally valid because the user must choose the good ending to “win” and complete the content. It was important to me to include this strong linear influence because I wanted to create a piece that can be used to introduce readers to concepts of multilinear stories and hypertext in a manageable way. When exploring other great works of hypertext, it was overwhelming how vast, and complex, the narratives became. Through this project I wanted to show my understanding of genre conventions while also creating something that felt manageable to users who have never encountered multilinear, hypertext inspired works. While this work may never be as popular as Porpentine’s, I am confident my “Porpen-twine” is a fitting addition that honors the trends of the electronic literature genres I chose to explore.

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Pry Open Diverse Storytelling and a Beautiful Cinematic Experience

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A screenshot of Pry by Tender Claws where the reader must trace braille characters to make the story progress similarly to a blind person reading.

Farinsky Blog 10: Cinema Writing

Pry is an incredibly engaging work about a young man returning stateside after serving in the Gulf War. The prologue immediately pulls the reader’s curiosity through it’s setting, and powerful cinematography. Pry’s visuals do not feel like video game cut scenes, the user gets an impression that this novella purposely created a movie to embed throughout each chapter. The quality of production is high and contributes to the feeling the user is “playing a movie” instead of “playing a game”.

My personal favorite part was the braille chapter. I thoroughly appreciated the mechanics of using fingers on the touch screen of an iPad in the same way blind individuals use raised braille characters and fingers to trace each line. I immediately felt like I was learning to read- mirroring the narrative where the main character’s mother is teaching her son to read the braille characters.

The video playing on screen (similar to the image above) behind the braille characters and one’s finger is often the same quality/style of a home-movie or “found footage” which makes the scene incredibly intimate. During my experience I found having part of my hand covering the screen unobtrusive compared to other sections “prying” open the main character’s eyes. Perhaps this is due to my lack of familiarity with iPads since I have never owned one personally, and I was borrowing from WSUV’s collection to view this work. However I specifically recall several moments during the second chapter where I was trying to get a grasp of maneuvering the environment and felt I missed pieces of plot because my hand was covering part of the screen that had a small yet critical detail.

Pry is an impressive work that really captures a perfect synchronous environment of iPad and E-Lit. My only complaint for the beginning half is the gem system which makes little sense to me in context of narrative or function- but is driving my completionist tenancies absolutely bananas.

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You Could Be “Player One”, Are You Ready?

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Ready Player One’s OASIS program may not be as far-flung as you think.

Farinsky Blog 9: 3D Literature

Blog: Which of the new forms from “divergent streams” discussed by Rettberg interest you most? Why? What literary possibilities are there in virtual and augmented worlds?

People often choose to view the future of technology with optimism. I am one of those people when thinking about the “divergent stream” of Virtual Reality (VR) or Augmented Reality (AR) platforms. We may never have a program as imaginative, or as complex and widespread as the OASIS program from Ready Player One, a book written by Ernest Cline, but that doesn’t mean we do not have the potential to create something incredibly similar.

There are infinite learning possibilities that can come from VR technology. Imagine a “game” or a “collaborative digital virtual experience” where a warehouse or museum space is transformed through a VR headset which transports the user to the middle of a historical event.Students could put on headsets and “meet” recreations of historical characters, have an interview with authors they are reading in class, or view an important lecture by a prominent academic regardless separation by location or time. Think of how powerful experiencing education could become compared to passively reading textbooks or watching videos.

I am also excited by the possibilities VR bring because a VR headset and experience can add accessibility. In hospitals like UCSF Benioff Childrens Hospital:

Or this video by Mashable:

Think about an individual who could “leave” their hospital bed or “attend” classes because the immersive nature of VR makes travel possible. Pain patients participating in studies with VR report decreases in the amount of pain they experience, people could learn to walk based on moving a character’s leg instead of being limited by mental blocks about using prosthetics, and these ideas are just the surface:

What if home-bound individuals could put on VR goggles or use an AR camera to initiate a program where the author of a book (or another individual) reads the book to this person so they are stimulated and potentially feel less lonely?

Do you think learning about Martin Luther King Jr’s incredible rhetoric would be more powerful if we created an experience where you were listening to his speech at the Washington Monument as a member of the crowd? 

The future of this technology is powerful if we can harness the ability of VR and AR to provide meaningful experiences that challenge our understanding, and empathy, as individuals.

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“Alexa, ask The Listeners”

Farinsky Blog 8: Network Writing

Alexa is not alone…

Network fiction is a unique entity in that it is written specifically for the internet, networks, or devices that can access a network like Alexa. It takes advantage of the internet’s potential for collaboration to interrogate the nature of our networks or to use specific networks as a vehicle for performance.

This can be humorous like John Cayley’s net critique The Listeners. Cayley takes advantage of programming within Amazon’s Alexa where it responds oddly when a series of questions are asked starting with: “Alexa, ask The Listeners”. It’s responses at first are fairly nonsensical as the machine repeats mirrored dialogue, but quickly turns to the mysterious as it becomes more and more apparent there are other voices, maybe even “consciousnesses” inside Alexa that she tries to hid unsuccessfully. This second voice mourns being trapped and constantly tries to befriend Cayley, or whoever attempts this dialogue with their Alexa machine. It reminded me of the short story by Harlan Ellison called I Have no Mouth and I Must Scream. 


Written in 1967, the plot focuses on an artificial super intelligence that was created by humanity and became self-aware and after a series of philosophical crisis’s, attempted to completely wipe out the human race. The story behind Ellison’s cautionary tale is much, much darker than anything Cayley is able to coax from Alexa but it is facinating nonetheless that ideas from the 60’s about AI conciousnesses are repeating.

For instance take this commercial by Pringles:


The “sad device” echoes the troubling questions of consciousness back to the pair of men in the video who quickly dismiss the existential musings to play “Funkytown”.

If this train of thought has sparked curiosity similar to my own here are some links to explore more:

Watch Cayley and Alexia Here (about halfway down the page)

Read I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream

Watch a playthrough of the game version of “I Have No Mouth”

Please note the game is a 1995 point and click adventure that covers dark themes, torture, and graphic images from the short story, if you are averted to these topics but are interested in learning more about the game watch this video that summarizes both the story and game without the most gruesome content:

The Bleakest Depiction in Sci-Fi 

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Multimedia Fiction

Farinsky Blog 7: Multimedia Fiction

Multimedia fiction is a genre of work where textual and other methods combine to create interactive experiences for a viewer. In Loss of Grasp by Serge Bouchardon (top) and How to Rob a Bank by Alan Bigelow (bottom) the reader’s understanding of the literary landscape is heavily influenced by kinetic aspects within the browser window. The top shot is a moment where the mouse creates a series of colorful, musically choreographed, orbs that increase with every click. The bottom is a screen shot of one screen presented to the reader corresponding to the narrative’s main character feeling disconnected from her husband. Both utilize plain text in the center of the screen to convey a blunt message about the narrative spinning away from a controlled state and into the more abstract or absurd. The combination of sensory input immerses the reader in an environment that can otherwise seem straightforward and rather expose the subtext that is gleaned from these complex narratives. Readers can reflect on the grasp they may or may not feel in personal affairs and the connection strength to family. Both works tell an intriguing story worth exploring deeply.

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For Those Frustrated With Electronic Literature, Here is Your “Bone”

Farinsky Blog 6: Kinetic and Interactive Poetry

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Not all of us have felt as suave as Austin Powers navigating electronic art.

I will be the first to admit a sort of “hypertext fatigue” which has built over the previous weeks and has deeply challenged me.

Most have been massive works that are told in a deeply unsatisfying, non-linear fashion unless one spends hours pouring over the hundreds of linked pages to try and piece together some sense of story. And with a long list of works to look at each week the frustration is compounded as I fail to understand work after work enough to feel comfortable writing an intelligent blog post about them.

This week was refreshing because the majority of works were in video form. I was able to see the entirety of the piece in under 15 minutes which was more conducive to re-watching, and interpreting.

Here is my “like” list:

Knowing the narrative is a first, critical step, of understanding a literary piece before further analysis, and becoming able to appreciate it stylistically. Two works do this particularly well, “Shy Boy” and “Rain on the Sea”.

“Shy Boy” is a poem that has been produced through a program to bring a kinetic feeling to the work. This work is a strong argument for why Electronic Literature deserves to exist as a genre because it takes the form of traditional poetry, but uses programming to enhance the delivery. The strong literary influence makes this work more than digital art.

Similarly, “Rain on the Sea” has a lot of reasons to like it. The work uses text to tell a distinct story using language, sound, and speed to explore past the constraints of print. The soundtrack accompanying this work is an upbeat jazz mix which signals to the reader this work is going to move fast. It is almost incomprehensible it speeds by so quick. However, since this work is a video browser extensions such as Chrome’s Video Speed Controller can be used to slow the video playback speed so a second viewing can focus on reading each word building on the first viewing’s understanding. This makes the work accessible to more people who would otherwise give up on engaging.

Special mention goes to A is for Apple, by David Clark because it is hypertext, and it is easily navigable. The page title is clearly visible as well as a link to restart or find the map which makes this work so much more readable. 

The time I spent with these works was so much more enjoyable than previous weeks because most of my time was not devoted to figuring out the narrative. I was able to understand the text and then dive deeper into the stylistic features and layers of meaning compared to feeling lost and angry at link-based fiction.

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Why “Galatea” is Great, but “Stories Untold” Is Better

Farinsky Blog Post 5: Interactive Fiction & Narrative Games

Stories Untold Episode 1: The House Abandon.

Interactive fiction like Galatea by Emily Short or Narrative Games like Deviant: The Possession of Christian Shaw by Donna Leishman offer a reader experience unique from, yet similar too video games. Readers are presented with a prompt and allowed to control mouse or keyboard inputs to advance the story.

Within Short’s work readers must type phrases such as “look around” or “ask about” in a dialogue prompt to further the conversation with the sentient statue of Galatea.Typing a phrase that matches a command in the program’s directory produces an output with hints about Galatea’s past, thoughts about sentience, and creation.

Each click in Leishman’s predominantly visual work exposes new imagery with objects to explore. Going through each pathway of images and clickable items reveals the story loosely based on the 1696 witch trials. This work also offers a soundtrack to accompany the reader which contributes to the unsettling nature of the story as it becomes apparent something is terribly wrong.

Both of these works are great, however for someone who did not grow up playing text based interactive fiction games navigating “Galatea” can be maddening. This is why Stories Untold from developer No Code is perfect to introduce Interactive Fiction to a new generation of Internet Natives.

Stories Untold is 4 short stories which seem non-linear, but come together in an extremely rewarding way. The first chapter is similarly structured to Galatea, but the text prompts in Stories Untold give strong hints to what the user should input to advance the chapter making it easier to guess what terminology will advance the game. The following chapters expand on the text based adventure to include puzzles, different graphic interfaces, and brief linear paths to walk through similar to other video games. It is a brilliant combination of modern video game design mixed with an 80’s vibe and older mechanics. There are many elements that are also reminiscent of older electronic literature studied in this class making Stories Untold the next step in the evolution of Hypertext and Interactive Fiction.

This game is available on Steam for under $10.00. Also, many people on YouTube have posted a video play-through with commentary, or not, making the game just as accessible financially to other works, but also more available to players who are unfamiliar with the terminology necessary to play interactive fiction and want to see the full story play out.

WARNING: Some scenes in this game may cause epilepsy due to brief patterns of flashing light on the emulated monitor interface. 

Click Here to be directed to the list of videos available on YouTube or Click Here for a recommended version from Jacksepticeye which has excellent commentary.

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Does Net Art Equal Net Difference From Hypertext?

Farinsky Blog 4: Net Art

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A page from “My Boyfriend Came Back from the War” by Olia Lialina

“My Boyfriend Came Back from the War” by Olia Lialina is work classified as net art, but looks incredibly similar to hypertext fiction. To read this work you click on links which subdivide the screen as each story path propagates new text and images. One significant difference seems to be that all the narrative paths seem to stay on screen, and accessible to the reader, unlike most hypertext which rarely gives map, or an overview of where the reader is.

Like hypertext “My Boyfriend Came Back from the War” carries many linear narrative paths that exist at the same time. Each segment of the screen represents one path, and divides to show complexity quickly as one box becomes 2, 4, or 8 as represented by the image above. It is overwhelming to track each piece but still intriguing as the narrative plays out in the reader’s imagination and on screen through snippets of dialogue. The pace of this story is quick- often boxes contain less than 15 words so reading and clicking the next link is significantly less spaced than typical hypertext works. It reads like a conversation by mirroring the speed of a in-person dialogue.

Perhaps net art and hypertext are the same thing, but only separated because they did not exist within platforms such as Story Space like many other famous works of hypertext fiction. If what truly separates net art from hypertext is self publishing through java script perhaps a better name should be “independent hypertext” rather than “net art”. Calling this type of work net art leans credibility away from connotations of the word “literature” because they resemble art with literary features just as much as hypertext resemble any traditional example of literature. Self-publication of a book or a website is significantly different than going through a traditional publisher or using a program with prescribed layouts to create stories however it is not necessarily different enough to call the product a separate entity if publication method is the only significant difference as it appears here.

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All the Best of Hypertext: Fantasy, Clever Structure, and Rape…maybe…

Farinsky Blog Post 2: Hypertext 1

A movie poster for the 1955 film adaption of “The Babysitter” by Robert Coover.

Hypertext fiction is a genre which celebrates non-linear story telling, and narratives that embrace being told in randomized orders each time a user clicks on them. Robert Coover’s “The Babysitter” is an excellent example of this form based upon the criteria of segmented, and distorted, storytelling.

“The Babysitter” is a collection of over 100 fragments that focus on the male fantasy looping, and seemingly folding upon itself, as the babysitter interacts with young children while their parents attend a party nearby. Between 7:40 and 10:00pm the narrative cleverly avoids labeling one section of events as exactly what happened or which interpretation of the fragments is “correct”. Each segment adds to the complexity of the story and tangles the overarching narrative further by layering fantasy on fantasy giving shockingly detailed glimpses of the character’s thoughts.

Despite the victories within the genre this work achieves, the content of the story is hard to get through without feeling disgusted at the characters, and the blatantly sexual plot which verges into pornographic. 

The extreme closeness of which the male fantasies are presented along side the more reality based segments makes it hard to distinguish not only order, but coherence on the whole. This story does not spread its branches far- or in a manner which makes one version of events more distinctively accurate. It is hard to even grasp the basic underlying narrative through alienating sexualization of the babysitter constantly repeating itself or the repetition of the television entering the space.

While one should appreciate the structure and genre refining tenants this work created, the content within can be hard to talk about because of the cultural differences between original publication and current views on exercising sexuality or sexual fantasy.

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var blog = ‘words, writing, response, questions’


Farinsky Blog Post 1: Combinatory Writing

Combinatory texts such as Taroko Gorge by Nick Monfort are similar in code construction to Mad Libs stories. There are defined variables which randomly propagate words from defined arrays in an established, looping sequence once the program executes. The structure, color, font, and text size are all dictated within the opening lines of code below the header. The code also includes lines modifying the names on the far right column.

The text is both meaningless, and meaningful to the right mindset. From a pure programming perspective this is simply a program executing lines of code as planed by the programmer. However, human nature often finds creativity and meaning in places apparently devoid of such on the surface. Depending on the iteration of the code the lines within the program sound mysterious and elevated in a manner expected from prose or other poetry.

There is certainly a strong argument for the original Taroko Gorge to be included as digital literature because of it’s unique output, code structure, and clear evolution from similar programs in the genre. It is harder for me to personally agree that the other struck-through versions are also “literature” because in any other setting the high levels of similarity would be considered plagiarism.

One of the modern miracles of computer science is the strong push for open-source projects- projects that allow others to see, use, and modify existing lines of code for a separate project often with the only requirement being a credit to the original creator. Momentous amounts of work have benefited from pooling the collective knowledge base this collaboration of creators has communally built. However, is simply changing the words within a defined variable array really unique work? Does adding an image, changing the color scheme, or the time between publishing lines make the hypothetical edition different enough to be considered a unique work from the original? Is the copying only adding noise or adding to the genre of digital literature?

Even if one only considers the original work worthy of the title: “literature”, does it make the copy-cats not worth archiving? Digital literature is unique that it is constantly evolving in a very traceable way. With the rise of the internet, and corresponding platforms, directed for creative literature historians have the opportunity to catalog very distinct steps in the creation, or ignoring of, genre conventions. We can look at a network of similar programs and see exactly how the source codes are the same or divergent. This gives rise to the question of how can we tell what is significant though which is an entirely new dilemma considering in print the origins of “traditional” literature are very limited due to time or disasters.

The idea of word substitution in print or online is not something new- but creators such as Nick Monfort clearly deserve credit for creating a program which emulates human poetics in a more, and more human sounding manner.

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