Creator Katie Shannon and executive producer Amy DePaola introduce 617 The Series, a new media project aiming to bring TV-formatted serial episodes directly to the Web. The production quality is high, and the acting is great (Nick Apostolides , who appeared in Mark Bernstein’s The Trojan Girls, steals the show as Sully).
Aside from a few standout examples of high-quality short web serials, the television and film industries have lagged behind the publishing and music industries in terms of producing content designed primarily for Web distribution. Shannon and DePaola hope to change that.
Musicians like Amanda Palmer and Jonathan Coulton have embraced self-publishing on the web as a way to connect more directly with fans. DePaola shares her hope for 617 to have the same connection with fans:
We can control the content that is addressed in the series as well as make the experience for our audience more fulfilled by providing a curtain behind the show. Right now we allow our audience to experience more than just our pilot by providing spoof videos, which allow you to learn more about our characters, as well as a podcast where Katie and I discuss the creative initiatives that we are taking. As our funding increases we hope to expand the interactive experience that our audience can have with our cast and production.
The next step for 617 is to secure funding, and the producers have created a Kickstarter project to expand the show into a multi-platform new media experience. DePaola explains the project:
The web based platform allows us to understand our audience more. That is a no-brainer these days. For us to figure out how to better engage our audience we definitely need more funding for our social media and marketing campaigns. We'd love to expand into applications and games for our audience to participate in that are inspired by or related to the characters on our show.
The Kickstarter deadline is January 16. The money will fund production of two more episodes and the marketing behind the social media aspect of the show.
Stacey Mason teaches Tinderbox in the shadow of the Woolf’s.
Eastgate recently returned from another successful Tinderbox Weekend in San Francisco. Tinderbox users have been calling for more tutorial materials and hands-on instruction, so this weekend focused less on case studies and more on group instruction.
Eastgate took a more classroom-style approach to this weekend, with Stacey Mason leading sessions on mechanics while Mark Bernstein and Mark Anderson supplemented with talks to establish context and provide use cases for the lessons. Attendees were even given a broken dashboard which they worked together to fix. Toward the end of the weekend, we looked at a prototype Tinderbox outline reader for iOS.
As is always the case at Tinderbox weekends, the fascinating attendees came from a wide range of backgrounds. Hypertext pioneer Ted Nelson attended for a first-hand look at Tinderbox as a hypertext system. Nelson is a well-known avid note-taker, who was never without a tape-recorder, pen, and paper, and he had several interesting contributions and ideas for future iterations of Tinderbox. Nelson also honored attendees with a demo of both ZigZag and Xanadu interface implementations.
At one point Bigelow asserts that no idea exists which can only be conveyed through an electronic medium, no idea that can't be conveyed through traditional media. "It's the idea that counts," he says, not the delivery.
While I think this is superficially true, there is a powerful performative aspect to electronic literature unique to the form, and which can create a different relationship to the work than other forms. This isn't to say that this connection can express a certain idea that others can’t, that it can express it in a different way than other forms. The role of the reader's relationship to an avatar, for example, might make the player directly responsible for a catastrophe. This doesn't always happen, but the fact that it can makes electronic literature very different. It's the difference between reading "To know my deed, 'twere best not know myself" and feeling the regret of knowing that you, the reader, killed Duncan out of ambition and a lust for power that you actually felt first-hand.
Bigelow also argues that the story is more powerful than the level of interactivity, and I think he's right. You won't actually feel sorry for killing the king if he hasn't been properly developed as someone you should feel sorry for killing. Likewise, a flashy interactive piece loses its impact if the story isn't good enough for the interaction to mean something. The problem with things like vooks is that there needs to be a good reason for the piece to have video, sound, or "interactivity," and it needs to be part of the original concept of the work, not an awkwardly interjected afterthought. The story and impact have to gain something from a piece being interactive, otherwise interactivity is just a gimmick. And gimmicks are not art.
The issue of misogyny in video game development and gaming culture is not exactly new, but within the academy we tend to treat it as a solved problem. So, when I read Nicole Leffel’s incisive look at the culture of dismissal that blankets the topic, I wanted to hug her. She puts into words a vague feeling I couldn’t express clearly at the last few “women and gaming” panels and events I’ve attended. Recognizing that women play games does not absolve the sexism of these games.
Feminism takes many forms which can often seem to contradict each other, and it can be difficult to reconcile what the “correct” approach to feminist problems should be.One school of feminism suggests that treating women with special reverence is a form of charity that subverts the idea of equality, that we should ignore gender differences altogether. Another school suggests that by subverting gender differences we are suggesting that femininity is something which should be suppressed, and we should therefore celebrate differences. One school wants to be freed of sexual objectification, another wants to embrace the power of female sexuality. How do we please everyone?
The last “women in gaming” panel I attend was at Pax East in Boston, where the women commented that they weren’t offended by women being sexy, they were offended by their lack of characterization or the ability to play a female character at all. This took me aback a little; surely these women weren’t saying it was okay for Lara croft’s gigantic breasts to be growing with each game while her outfits get smaller and smaller. But they were. They praised Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball for having a huge roster of female characters, excusing the fact that every one of those female characters wears skimpy bikinis and has animated breasts. At least they had a selection of female characters. It was as though the entire panel had set out to prove that they weren’t jealous of the female characters, a claim often thrown around to dismiss accusations of objectification, so therefore you could trust the rest of the feminist things they were going to say.
Objectification is a point on which feminists could easily find common ground. Games are fantasies of control, and there is a difference between being sexy and being objectified. When role playing, people like their avatar to be ideal: attractive, powerful, cool. If the character is too sexually focused, the character is no longer realistic enough for the player to attach consciousness to it. The problem is not that women in games are sexy, it’s that the sexiness is not styled in a way that women are meant to relate to.
In most games, excessive sexuality is either offensive or comedic. Either way, women are on the butt-end. It’s not hard to make a character attractive without making her grotesque. These are not instances of women actively using their sexuality for empowerment. Players are able to manipulate oversexualized characters into submissive positions or subvert their agency in other ways.
Laura Mulvey’s idea of the subjective male gaze posits a power difference, inherent in film, that derives from the subversion of the female who is styled by males as an object for male pleasure. In games, this is the equivalent to male developers creating a half-naked female character with grotesque proportions and physics-defying jiggle mechanics, but the difference between a sexist character and a non-sexist one is more complicated than how naked she is; the issue comes from why she is half-naked.
Characters like Kratos or Conan run around shirtless, but their bodies are not framed or able to be manipulated in a way that is designed to make them them the object of sexual fantasy. Their purpose, rather, is to enact male power fantasies. They are the character a male wants to identify with. Naked female characters, on the other hand are generally not there there to for women to identify with their sexual power, they are there to pleasure and serve the (heterosexual) male audience. Overly stylized sexuality prevents any audience—male or female—from being able to relate to the character.
Stay tuned for more on agency and identity in female characters.
Patanoir, Simon Christiansen’s brilliantly clever IF piece, introduced me to the concept of pataphor—and by extension pataphysics, a concept of “physics beyond metaphysics” or “the science of imaginary solutions.” Patanoir opens with the definition of a pataphor:
1. An extended metaphor that creates its own context.
2. That which occurs when a lizard's tail has grown so long it breaks off and grows a new lizard.
- Pablo Lopez
This definition, and understanding of the concepts behind it, allow for interesting play between language, concepts, and the imaginary. If John controls a chain of events, feeling constricted and even suffocated by it, Mary might stumble in upon John’s actual dead body, tragically choked to death by the chain.
Patanoir explores this idea through the lens of the protagonist, you, a private detective who has come off your medication against your doctor’s advice. Anytime the text uses a simile and something is like something else, you can interact with the metaphorical object because, well, you’re crazy.
Thin, as though his skin had been draped over his skeleton with nothing in between. Dark blue eyes, like deep lakes carved into his face. His hair is grey.
> dive into lake
You dive. The surface of the lake approaches quickly, until it fills your entire field of vision. Then the cool water surrounds you.
This structure leads to interesting puzzles and creative solutions. While at first it seemed to make the puzzles too easy—most can be solved by examining everything in a room, with similes being huge flailing pointers toward clues—the character implication for these strategies became more interesting than the puzzles themselves. Sure, you can enter the room, skim the text and scan for the keyword “like,” but such a reading suggests that you’re more a part of the protagonists delusions than the reader’s detached and objective reality, interesting implications for reader-protagonist identification.
In this work I begin with an existing book and seal its edges, creating an enclosed vessel full of unearthed potential. I cut into the surface of the book and dissect through it from the front. I work with knives, tweezers and surgical tools to carve one page at a time, exposing each layer while cutting around ideas and images of interest. Nothing inside the books is relocated or implanted, only removed. Images and ideas are revealed to expose alternate histories and memories. My work is a collaboration with the existing material and its past creators and the completed pieces expose new relationships of the book’s internal elements exactly where they have been since their original conception.
by Mark Wernham. Machine #69 recalls Ryman’s 253, and especially Bob Arellano’s Sunshine ’69 both in its embrace of arbitrary connection and its fond nostalgia for the era when cheap booze, good drugs, fast cars and hot guns seemed to offer everything worth wanting and when nothing was worth wanting very much.
A new hyperromance for the Web. Sparsely linked, La Farge’s new hypertext nods at Stephanie Strickland’s design and to Michael Joyce’s direct address to the reader. but brings a new voice and sensibility to Web fiction.
Multimedia notes from underground, where a traumatized girl furnishes a cozy space in an underground tunnel. Script by Lynda Williams, music and code by Andy Campbell and Matthew Wright. A web work that’s especially nice on the iPad. (The floor lamp is a nice allusion. Get it?)