Twine: where E-lit meets mapping

Twine is a program used to create interactive stories through hypertext mapping. E-literature and mapping have met in the middle with this program, letting “you organize your story graphically with a map that you can re-arrange as you work.” Similar to the IF stories or choose your own adventure, twine grants agency to the reader, as well as the writer. As a reader, you choose how you will navigate the story, and how the story will be told. As a writer, twine allows you to manipulate time, space, and perspective through its mapping medium.

I recently downloaded the program and began experimenting with twine as a prospective medium for my digital object project. As I began fooling around, I was genuinely surprised by the ease at which I understood the program. Each passage can be created in a new window and linked together, creating a web-like story that can be a simple as  point A to point B, or as complex as a spiral. “Links automatically appear on the map as you add them to your passages, and passages with broken links are apparent at a glance.” Over all, the program is fairly user friendly, even to a new user.

However, that is not to say that there is not a fair amount of frustration to be had, especially once users get past the novelty of learning how to simply use the program, and begin to attempt creating a complex and thoughtful story. I’ve stumbled upon complications while mapping out my story: if it is too simple, it’s just not that interesting, but if it’s too complicated to follow, the reader will get lost and become uninterested (at least, in my opinion). So I am working on finding a balance between continuity and linear prose, and innovative twine mapping that involves the reader, not by simply asking the reader to click through links to continue the story, but by truly engaging the reader, and asking for their participation.

The Map of Metal: A narrative map?

I love maps, especially those that are interactive. Often times, I find myself pouring over them and distracting myself from my actual work.However Stephen Mamber’s article, Narrative Mapping, was the perfect excuse to reevaluate some of my favorite online maps. As I began reading the article, I was pigeon holing narrative maps as strictly narratives represented as maps, however who’s to say that maps can’t tell a story?

I’ve been comparing Mamber’s overview of narrative maps and their qualities to one of my favorites: The Map of Metal. The map “visually represents” an “underlying database” (147) by creating as interactive world of 20+ genres of metal, layering audio, visual and historical information on each genre.In Mamber’s article, he states:

Aspects can be teased out, grouped, color coded, abstracted, or otherwise reformulated, for the sake of offering some new perspective or approach. Mapping is clearly an interpretation, so it can be a kind of textual analysis-a reading as much as a mapping. (147)

The Map of Metal is both fictionally geographic and temporal. Each user can create their own interpretation, or their own “textual analysis”, as you scroll through the fictional Middle Earth-esque map. There is a time axis across the top that categorizes the many genres by year, and there is also a legend that categorizes the genres by primary, metal, fusion and related. This allows the user to map the development of metal in a whole new way. As you discover each category, there is a basic history given, and a list of influential bands and accompanying videos of each band. Users can immerse themselves in all things metal, allowing their own narrative to unfold as they explore the map, and the histories of each genre.

Mamber also states that “narrative mapping is a useful tool for dealing with complexity, ambiguity, density, and information overload” (157). This is especially true while dealing with genres and sub genres of music. The Map of Metal is a navigable space, and makes overwhelming information not only palatable, but easy to digest. Narrative maps create an easily explored world so users can thoroughly involve themselves in the information, and full interact with the story being told.


The Quick Brown Fox

The Quick Brown Fox is an electronic poem by Alan Bigelow. Through flash player, Bigelow uses a pangram, or a holoalphabetic sentence, to illustrate the poem. Each letter in the phrase The quick brown fox jumps over a lazy dog, is representative of one line in the poem, and to see each line, you have to run your cursor over each letter. As each letter is highlighted, a line from the poem appears on the screen with different video animations in the background.

The first time I experimented with The Quick Brown Fox, I started somewhere in the middle of the sentence, unaware of the goal of the poem. As I highlighted each letter randomly and individually, I began to piece together the poem. However after I read each line of poem, I realized afterwards that I had possibly read the poem out of order. Unsure of whether the poem was supposed to start at the beginning of the holoalphabetical sentence, I tried it again, starting from the beginning and going in order, all the way through to the end. What I realized was it didn’t particularly matter where the poem started, nor what order each phrase was read in. Each line could stand alone, and could be pieced together in different ways to create the meaning of the poem.

What I find most interesting about The Quick Brown Fox are the ideas of agency and authorship. Bigelow gives some agency to the user by giving the user the choice of what order to view the poem in. This allows for freedom and continuous change; with each use of the artifact, there are countless possibilities for different combinations of the poem. Similar to that of the cut-up method, Bigelow created an electronic version of this writing device. But how much agency can you give a user before calling authorship into question? Am I the author of each poem I generate from The Quick Brown Fox, even if the lines are all laid out for me? Bigelow has created a controlled artifact, and put the artistic process into the hands of the user. The Quick Brown Fox is in a constant state of process, subject to perpetual change, even after the artifact has been created.

Spontaneity vs Randomization

In the articles The Cut Up Method of Brion Gysin and Between Play and Politics: Dysfunctionality in Digital Art, I couldn’t help but make a vague connection between the spontaneity of the cut up method and the randomization of computer programs/databases used to create digital art.

In The Cut Up Method, William S. Burroughs discusses the surrealist method of creating poetry or prose: take a previously existing work, because “all writing is in fact cut ups” anyway (90), and taking a pair of scissors to it and a), rearrange the the cut ups systematically, by taking  “a page…cut down the middle and cross the middle. You have four sections: 1 2 3 4 . . . one two three four. Now rearrange the sections placing section four with section one and section two with section three” (90), or b) cut up the words in a piece and randomly take those words out of a bag or hat, and rearrange them that way. The first method is less spontaneous, but still creates a accidental work of art, while the second method is absolutely spontaneous. Whatever way the words come out is considered accidental.

Similarly, Marie-Laure Ryan discusses the graphic narrative, Grafik Dynamo. This work “loads narrative fragments presumably written by one of the authors into speech bubbles or text frames, and combines them in real time with images randomly captured from the Internet.” This technique is just as spontaneous as the cut up method, just in a digital form.

My issue is this idea of “spontaneous” art; I just don’t see that it is entirely possible. While the randomization is rather spontaneous, the cut up method and the randomization of internet databases still draw from an original work, or a database. And these original works are connected; the words of a cut up poem were purposefully used in relation to one another. There is already a context created. The same can be applied to the digital form. Yes, the end product is random and seemingly spontaneous, but the photos are drawn from a database and paired with a quotation from the author. The context is vague now, but there is still a context, which makes it difficult for me to believe in truly spontaneous art.

The Philosophy of Bacon

Bacon, one of six children,
both domestic and foreign,
is mounted on a pedestal.
From a functional perspective,
although it need not be of material existence,
he appears to both involve and facilitate abstract thinking.
There is a philosophical system known as Bacon,
in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world.

Scrolling Annoyances

Bright Morning Blue is a simple, scrolling comic about a man’s morning, frame by frame. Rather than the content of the story that’s being told, I am more concerned with the pacing of the scrolling frames and how that effects my ability and interest in viewing the comic strip.

There are two ways to scroll through the comic. You can either A), use the directional key pad to scroll continuously from left to right, or B), hold down the scrolling bar icon to allow the comic to scroll continuously. I have found I have an issue with each of these options. By using the directional keypad, the comic scrolls by too quickly, not allowing me enough time to focus on the panels, forcing me to adjust my pacing in order to effectively view each frame in the comic. However if you switch to the scrolling bar, the pacing slows dramatically, allowing you ample time to study each panel of the comic. It took control on my part to allow the comic to scroll at this pace, and not to rush through it at my own desired pace.

Because option A is literally too fast to properly view the comic, I can only assume that option B is the intended pacing. If that is the case, the intentionally slow pace brings out the simple morning routine details in the comic, as you are forced to view each panel for much longer than you might have intended originally.The author also controls how long we view each panel by creating longer or shorter distances between each frame, placing significance on some frames more than others, and allowing for a quickening or slowing of action.

However, what if that wasn’t even intentional? Of course the actual distances between the frames is an authorial decision, but what about our scrolling pace? We are given the option to scroll through the comic at our own desired pace, clicking through, creating a disruptive, choppy viewing of the comic. While I appreciate the option, I don’t believe it is necessarily conducive to an effective reading of the comic. So am I to assume that the painfully slow pace of the scrolling bar is the intended viewing speed? I would like to think so, but I can’t be sure. And how would the comic be affected had the viewer not had the option of controlling the pace? Would I have grown frustrated, unable to stop the flow of the comic? So I suppose the question is, where do we draw a line between the intent of the author and the convenience of the reader?


Technological Determinism


Is technology shaped by society, or is society shaped by technology? Can it be both?

I found myself really struggling with this debate. It seems like it should be simple, but of course it never is. I find that this is a general, over-aching question most of the articles present in some way. And while I don’t like to make generalizations, I can’t help but return to this question, like so many of these authors.

On one side of the spectrum, we have technological determinism, the theory that technology drives culture and “steers society” (Kaplan). And this can be separated into “hard” and “soft” determinism. Thomas Misa explains that “the “soft” view holds that technological changes combine with social reception and discrimination, resulting in an impact subject to social malleability. The “hard” view holds that technological changes impact culture autonomously and without social intervention” (Bogost, Montfort 6).

On the other side, Raymond Williams discusses technology as a medium that becomes available in an occurring process of social change. “This view emphasises other causal factors in social change. It then considers particular technologies, or a complex of technologies,as symptoms of change of some other kind” (293).

However, Willams also proposes a different interpretation: a combination of “restored intention to the process of research and development” while creating new technology, coupled with a central need, in purpose and practice, for the development of said technology (293).

This interpretation will allow us to investigate the initial purpose and goals behind a given technology, returning power to the research and development, while simultaneously restoring meaning to technology as a direct need, not as a marginal, symptomatic creation.

So can it be both? Isn’t it always?