Mason Stiller Artist Statement
I wrote this piece to explore the possibilities of interactive fiction on Twine. I was trying to replicate the experience of navigating a place that you can’t physically view, like in works such as Colossal Cave Adventure or With Those We Love Alive. I feel as if this is the main draw of text based adventure, as the mystery of not being able to visually see a space encourages the user to explore the space in order to increase their understanding and gain context for the story.
Unlike Colossal Cave Adventure, I wanted to give the user reasoning for exploring the cave. In Colossal Cave Adventure, is a series of events that take place within the cave but the user ventures into the cave because the cave itself is the objective of the game. I felt that giving the user a reason to explore as well as endings that involved not venturing into the cave at all deepened the fictional world of the work.
A main component of the game is the passages that the player finds on sections of the floor of the temple. At the end of the journey, the passages combine to form a short 3 line poem. Each tunnels passages took on a certain theme, the leftmost being courage themed, the middle being knowledge themed, the right tunnel focusing on the desire for power. Writing a poem that made sense if the player chose different paths was a definite challenge, that was ultimately solved by limiting the players access to certain rooms. Creating separate adventures to go with specific poems soon became the ultimate goal.
Though the piece is very simple, it utilizes some of the unseen functions of Twine. At many points throughout the work, the dialogue of a room is changed by either the history of you being in another room or a variable noting an experience in another section of the cave. These variables gave me total control of how a user experiences the narrative because it allowed me to control the perception of the user within the story. The variables not only serve as a room history but also as a player inventory. When a player encounters a passage or an item within the work, the variable of that object within the code gets set to one and those items and passage last then follow them through the story.
I think I will come back to this piece and greatly expand it, making the temple a more perilous journey for the user and adding potential side stories within the major story. I was originally trying to make some ambient music to accompany the work, much like Porpentine does in their works. I think that music and sound paired with a some different styling in CSS would enhance the user’s level of immersion into the narrative. Another function I would love to add, would be a player journal that would allow the user to track their progress through the temple and what they currently have in their inventory. This could be made with a large amount of simple boolean functions but I think it would be a nice touch, especially if it was styled to look like the journal of a seasoned explorer.
Below is the link to my work:
Here is the link to my short interactive fiction project:
I thought the interactive elements of Chapter 6 and 7 of Pry were particularly well done. In Chapter 6 you must separate and expand the text until they have gained enough context. The chapter begins as an obvious beginning and an end and the user must physically push up and down on the screen to reveal more context. The text of this chapter leads to either a video which the user must hold open to watch or a rapidly changing chain of words between the lines that relates to the previous passage. The chapter tells the story of the protagonist having a falling out with some of his fellow soldiers and the regret he still feels for his actions. Chapter 7 gives the user the ability to progress through the life time of the protagonist through a similar action.
I think to fully understand this piece I would have to do several re-readings. The text always takes a backseat to the interactive elements in my exploration of the piece. I keep wanting to discover more about the piece than stay in one spot. The fact that you are able to collect items for the albums folder did not help. The album became a thing of very high interest to me as i tried to initially understand how it worked. From what I have read the story has been very engaging and emotionally heavy. The media surrounding the text is great for setting the tone, and the films usually contrast the bland color tones of the desert with bright and flashing lights during intense moments. Overall I think Pry is a perfect example of how Electronic literature has the potential to thrive in today’s environment with today’s technologies..
Virtual and Augmented Reality
I first began hearing about virtual reality around 2014. The Oculus Rift had just been funded and was then purchased by Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. Hearing about it for the first time and watching multiple youtube videos I became especially excited for the potential to play large open world games like Skyrim or Fallout within VR. I hadn’t considered the use of VR for story telling alone outside of the realm of games. The user doesn’t necessarily need to interact with a piece to become immersed within it. It would not surprise me if very soon films began being made specifically for VR. One indication that cinema is headed this direction is the new screen x movie screenings. Screen X is essentially three movie screens being used to expand the view of a film. There is the usual front facing screen and then two screens on either side of the viewer that continue the scenery of the middle screen expanding and building the setting around the viewer. The most Prominent film that has been play this way is Marvel Studios Black Panther. The extra screens are turned on when the characters arrive back in Wakanda and when the main character T’challa is in another world that allows him to talk to his ancestors. This three screen approach could almost be considered virtual reality for multiple viewers.
AR is something that has become very popular in app development in recent years. I most cases AR is being used for games such as Pokemon GO or the new Harry Potter game that has just been announced. AR also has great potential for storytelling especially in the case of informative walking tours. Currently in the Senior Seminar we are developing a couple different AR experiences to tell historic stories of Downtown Vancouver. AR allows a user to see a simulation of how something would look in the real world, like the face of an old building directly next to a current city skyline.
I read “heyharryheymatilda”, a piece that is done entirely on the Instagram platform. It features a back and forth conversation between a man and a woman. This discussion is broken up in between Instagram posts that usually feature their own unique theme of discussion. The piece best illustrates “the network” by also featuring comments on the posts. Its hard to tell if the comments are generated by the author or by people simply following the blog and using Instagram. The author would have had the option to disable comments on posts but elected not to. Perhaps this is to illustrate that the characters have no shame or reservations when it comes to sharing their story.
The literary value of this piece, comes from the authenticity of the discussions between the two characters. From the beginning, without flat out stating the title of their relationship, the reader can tell that the two characters are very close based off of the intimate subject matter of their talks. Though Instagram is a platform mainly for showcasing pictures, the text is still the most important part of this piece.
This post is emotionally provoking because of the platform. Most of its readers are most likely familiar with how Instagram works and a large amount of readers most likely use the app itself. Instagram works as a storytelling device because anyone can publish something on Instagram while not everybody wants to publish a novel. The idea that the characters are publishing on this platform, makes them super accessible and allows the reader to better sympathize with them as if they were a real person.
Kinetic and Interactive Poetry
“The Dream Life of Letters” is a flash animation example of Visual Poetry. The piece begins with a short introduction and then begins to makes it’s way down the alphabet with different words starting with each new letter. The letters on screen also begin to begin to form visual representation of the words themselves. For example the viewer watches the the letters “bo”, with a “/” on either side, become the word “border”, once the full word is formed the “/” are pushed away as if a border has been broken.
“Cruising” was the most straightforward experience of all the poems I read. During the piece, the poem is being read to you and all you have control over is the speed at which the accompanying text and pictures scroll. The poem actually tends to want to scroll pretty fast, or in the wrong direction depending on which way you are pointing your mouse, so I found myself having to re listen to the poem because I had become so focused on the scrolling speed of the text. According to the description, “Cruising” is a flash poem with interactive elements.
“Sound Poems” are a type of poem I had never encountered before. Sound poetry focuses on the sounds in human speech rather than the meaning of words or phrases. In my interaction with this piece, the phonetic combinations I came up with sound more like music than poetry. This is probably due to the looping nature of each box containing the syllables within this piece.
Interactive Fiction and Narrative Games
When I was reading “Galatea”, or rather talking to Galatea, my experience quickly became one of exploration of a very small portion of the story. I seemed to kind of go in circles while I was looking for ways to continue to conduct the interview with Galatea. I ended up starting over the story several times, starting from where I had left off the previous time, in order to try and get further to within the story. To me this seemed like a definite part of the way the narrative is meant to be experienced. The story dealt with someone interviewing an inhuman intelligence and the difficulty of engaging in conversation within the story program could be representative of understanding a highly intelligent computer program and the challenges of accepting it as human or not. Overall the interactive element worked very well in this story because it was so open ended much like a conversation in real life would be.
“Howling Dogs” and “Those We Left Alive” were very good at establishing habits for the reader to participate in in order to progress the story. In ” Howling Dogs” particularly, the reader had to do five distinct steps before accessing the activity room. The activity room was were most of the meat of the story was but the steps you had to take to get to the room were what created the atmosphere of the story. The protagonist of the story is concealed to a small area on a long running mission and defining the limited amount of things to do in this space places the reader in the protagonists shoes, which in turns place them deeper into the narratives within the activity room. “Those We Left Alive” was similar in the way that the reader had to sleep in order to progress the story. After a while I found myself just sleeping the days away in order to get to the next part of the narrative. This actually added to the dark and depressing atmosphere of the story in my mind because the world described within the story isn’t one one I would be particularly fond of living in. I think the interactive elements in these stories functioned very similarly to the way VR functions. When wearing a Virtual Reality headset people are more willing to do things that they would otherwise find routine and boring just because they are experiencing the headset. A second reasoning for this is that I believe that people just like to complete tasks. By giving the reader a set of tasks that the protagonist must complete, Porpentine effectively gives a deeper and more sympathetic understanding of their characters to the reader.
I think that hypertext has several advantages that print does not. Print is limited by its own physical space. A book with a large enough amount of information could become uncomfortable to read without splitting the text into multiple volumes. Larger pieces of hypertext fiction would not be as enjoyable to read in a print form because the book required to hold them would be too large and tedious to navigate. The ability to directly link to another page is key to keeping the experience as clear and simple as possible. The definition of hyper text is literally
the writing done in the nonlinear or nonsequential space made possible by the computer.
The digital aspect also lends a lot of extra interactivity that print does not. While print is made up of only letters, pictures, and the pages they are printed on, hypertext fiction has the potential for greater reader participation. I would say that hypertext fiction lends itself well to digital games. There are many games today that are less action based and more decision and story driven. The decisions in these games, such as Life is Strange, The Last of Us, and The Wolf Among Us, determine which part of the story the user gets to experience which is fairly similar to the links within hypertext.
I think hypertext fiction has a broad future because of the different opportunities to experiment within its form. The population of the world today is also becoming more and more digital native, so the clicking of links is almost an innate response when interest is sparked. With a natural understanding of linking and a passion for storytelling more and more new and innovative hypertext fiction will be produced. While most of what I’m saying in this post aligns with Robert Coover’s point of view from “The End of Books”, I do believe that books will continue to be utilized by humans for centuries. Books have a continuous stream of knowledge that take even less effort to read than hypertext fiction. When it comes to people they usually like to do whatever takes the least amount of effort at any given time.
Hypertext and The Babysitter
Reading “The Babysitter” is a comparable experience to reading a Choose Your Own Adventure Book like a regular book. Hypertext Fiction however, differs from a Choose Your Own Adventure book, in the sense that it’s not trying to tell one linear story in specific places of the text but rather telling multiple stories within the one singular piece. You get different pieces of differing stories all related to the same subject. “The Babysitter” does this extremely well. By mixing slightly comical, dramatic and most of the time very dark storylines all together, it sets the reader loose on a literary rollercoaster that whips around wildly and changes speed at unexpected times. This leads to a confusing experience overall with each separate section resembling less of a puzzle piece and more of a loose magazine clipping. This piece could have a huge influence on the hypertext fictions written after it, not only because of its use of form but because of the overall weight of its subject matter. The intense happenings, both good and bad, within the story are what keep the reader engaged and willing to tangle with the multiple storylines. The topic must be great enough, to be able to generate multiple different outcomes of the same emotional caliber. For example a topic I see working in this format is a story of being lost or stranded. There is a lot emotion that can be connected to the feeling of being lost and isolated that would resonate with lots of readers. The separate sections could contrast the feelings of being hopelessly lost with the feeling of being saved much like “The Babysitter” contrasted innocence and goodness with evil and greed. I would like to read another piece in this form with different subject matter.