A reader who is so deeply immersed in digital culture to recognize the preferred CSS layouts of one form or the other is probably also savvy enough to know that some bloggers do better journalism than journalists, and that many academic blogs are very highly regarded indeed.
Forcing a distinction simply tries to impose a digital class system without contributing any meaningful thought to the distribution of digital content.
In keeping with my recent interest in choice in narratives, I found an old Pixel Poppers article that differentiates between meaningful choices and trivial ones. What is it exactly about a choice that gives us a sense of control? Some level of choice appears in games (and hypertexts) that does not exist in cinema or a novel. But not all of these choices can be said to constitute a metanarrative.
With a movie, you can only choose whether to proceed. With a game, you choose how to proceed. Even subtle or trivial decisions, such as on what path to move your character, or which weapon to use on enemies, or where to position the camera, engage you in the creation of your own experience [… ]
Yet few would argue that Super Mario Galaxy tells a story about the player, rather than one about Mario. It presents the player with choices, but this is not enough to make it a metanarrative - a story about its own audience - any more than crossing out a character's name in a book and writing in the reader's name instead will cause the book to be a metanarrative about the reader.
So what does make a metanarrative? What must the decisions be like in order to confer narrative power, responsibility, and focus to the player? What do they have to do?
Yesterday, I asked if we really want branching narratives, and this, I think is an important issue in the hypertext literature community. After all, if our narratives aren’t branching, how can they be rich and interactive without forcing arbitrary Flash games into our stories? Is there a way for only text to be interactive without forcing choices?
I am a completionist. I like to watch a movie and then go back and watch it again to make sure I catch all of the interesting foreshadowing. I like to play a game and then play it again—walkthrough in hand—to make sure I found every item. And I like to read a hypertext multiple times, to make sure that I’ve explored as much of the text as I can.
Naturally, this leads to anxiety every time I have to make a decision that might close off other explorable areas or plots. But this anxiety does not arise in narratives in which I know it’s only the order of the information that changes. It’s the tree-like ones—the ones where your decision now will determine whether Fluffy lives or dies.
It occurs to me that there seems to be a correlation between the time I have invested in a narrative and the willingness with which I make these types of decisions. For example, Em Short’s Alabaster is a short Interactive Fiction that portrays a conversation between you, Snow White, and the huntsman who has been hired to kill you. Once you’ve selected an answer, your options will change. However, because of its length—and the knowledge that exhausting all possible endings will not require much of a time investment—this sort of narrative does not incite the same anxiety as, say, Bioshock, in which your decision on whether to harvest or save the Little Sisters, a conspicuous early choice, will play out over the next 70 hours of gaming. If you want to see what the consequences of that one decision were, you might need to spend another 70 hours playing it out.
Of course, anxiety can be a powerful tool in aiding storytelling or enhancing the text’s aesthetic, but it does need to be recognized that this anxiety exists. So perhaps we need to approach these kinds of texts with more focus on the anxieties about depth-first readings of long narratives.
Meanwhile, insightful comments on Susan Gibb’s dancing sentences remind us that “All art must evolve. But no one wants to throw away the Mona Lisa as being obsolete.”
When I saw the title of Susan Gibb’s blog post “Must my sentences dance?” I naturally thought she meant the metaphorical injection of vigor and excitement into prose. On the contrary, though, she’s concerned about the role of the traditional text-based hypertext narrative in a field that seems increasingly dominated by the glitz of animation:
I do love the audio visual narratives that play up the graphics and motion over story, but isn’t there a place for digital text as the main vehicle of narrative? It seems that hypertext as a way of storytelling, without the added pizazz of preferably moving visuals and audio that to me at least sounds annoying when repetitiously run throughout the piece, is either a dinosaur or needs the help of much more than color and background images. And yes, sentences that sing no long mean eloquent writing.
We as digital consumers are indeed very concerned with glitz and glamor, but does that necessarily mean that we can’t do text-based narratives anymore? I don’t think it does.
Then again, audio visuals distract us from the anxiety of making choices and closing doors. Do we really want branching narratives? Moreover, do we want those choices to be so conspicuous?
Jill Walker posts an interesting YouTube video that crosses several levels of diegesis. The beginning of the narrative features something of a CYOA-style interaction, but after a choice is made, the character breaks the fourth wall and the video allows the viewer to type in how she would like the action to continue.
I had never seen this sort of prompt in an interactive video, presumably because this sort of interaction is expensive. Still, I was very impressed to find that not only did the parser recognize my request (for the hunter to tickle the bear!), but that a short clip had been prepared for just such a request. Still, because the parser is not perfect and lacks a “we didn’t understand your input” response, the viewer will often see puzzling, unrelated clips.
Nonetheless, the video is an impressive bit of interactive narrative.
It’s no secret that kids are practically born with iPhones in their hands and are tweeting by the age of 2. My 15-year-old sister can text message at twice my speed.
Talking with Greg Ulmer about teaching electronic literature, I asked what he thought was the most important thing to learn before starting to read new media. We’re used to thinking of technology as the source of novelty and the obstacle to comprehension, but understanding technology might not be for them the most pressing issue. His response was interesting:
“Technology is only one piece of what is a complex or compound aesthetic informing hypermedia… Makers of hypermedia works may come from a variety of different backgrounds, that within literacy were isolated from one another: literature, fine arts, design, computer science, among others…In addition there is the context of multimedia, with the convergence of narrative, photography, music, performance in cinema. The digital convergence of media and convergence of forms and convention have not yet been matched by convergence of study in education.”
Having studied under Ulmer, I realized how true this is. We had talked in the past about the need for student participation, but how were they to understand the form if they didn’t understand the transition to that form from other media? The “Internet Literature” course I took focused on graphic design as a supplement to literary aesthetic sand principles. The graphic design knowledge added another dimension of understanding that the narratological approach other new media courses had offered didn’t cover.
Geoff McGhee at Stanford has created an interesting 54 minute video on “Journalism in the Age of Data” with emphasis on helping audiences understand raw data. Of particular interest is a section on “data storytelling” which details various interactive approaches and how they convey meaning to their audience.
Tunxis Community College presents its New Media Communication program , an interdisciplinary program that awards an Associate in Science degree with students using hands-on new media and hypertext creation practices to engage three potential research areas: digital storytelling and interactive narrative; games and simulations; social media and new media culture.
IDEO’s video on “The Future of the Book” has been floating around the internet lately. While the video has supporters and detractors , the ideas for interactive reading it advances are better than some other attempts we’ve seen .
Yahoo! was looking for an interesting way to engage customers on their new platform. Toyota was looking for a marketing opportunity. Thus, Trixi was looking for her sister, Max. Participants in the PSTrixi campaign were asked to hack fictional security cameras, eavesdrop on voicemails, swap clues on web forums, and even attend live events for information on Max’s disappearance.
This kind of mixed-media narrative branding is growing in popularity, but I would love to see some research on its effects. Sure, it’s fun and is an obvious choice for Yahoo to engage customers by creating an Alternative Reality Game on its own platform, but will this help Toyota sell cars?
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?)