The Negation of Negation

The kind of defamiliarization and reappropriation that Raley discusses in “Border Hacks” is not unfamiliar to all of us. In the recent presidential debates, Romney’s comments about “binders full of women” caught fire and was all over Twitter and Facebook in “meme” form and otherwise. The joke took on a life of its own to the point that the context was lost. Those who did not even watch the debate knew of this comment and were amused and weren’t even sure what was so funny.

Raley writes that rather than interfering with infrastructure, “Web activism aims to transform the social conditions in which that infrastructure is situated” (42). I would consider some events like Facebook going all pink for breast cancer awareness to be a form of web activism. Additionally, Google does this almost daily with changing their widely recognized logo to alert users to and important event going on in the world such as the anniversary of a significant discovery or invention or the birthday of a person who a noteworthy person.

This “border hack,” as Raley calls it, is one of many acts that seek to defamiliarize the signs of everyday life, pursuing a series of provocative events or spectacles rather than a program of systematic change. An event like the Occupy Movement could be a form of border hacking. Protesters were occupying, invading or hacking a space in which they did not belong. Which begs the question of where does border hacking end and go ol’ fashioned protesting begin? Isn’t a border always being “hacked” when a protest is taking place? I would say Raley would agree when she sums up this non-revolution as the “negation of negation” (46). I think she would feel that the Occupy Movement would certainly apply, especially considering the media was confused and almost annoyed that there was no coherent message coming from the movement, but Raley would consider them a success because, as she says, “A temporary provocation, however momentary, can change the signifying field in which it occurs” or to put it more simply, any disturbance is good because it causes the observer to pause and think about why that disturbance occurred. Much like the changing of the border signs.

“Life’s a journey, not a destination…”

Douglas Wilson and Miguel Sicart’s article made me think of a discussion with a friend about watching movies with sad endings. He seemed to believe that movies should always make the viewer feel good in the end and that a sad ending would leave the viewer sad. He could simply not fathom why someone would purposely subject themselves to feeling sad. I tried to explain that it is not simply that people enjoy feeling sad. It is that people like to have their normal, daily way of thinking challenged. This facilitates engagement with the world around them. If we are always getting what we want out of everything we interact with, where is the challenge in that? And anyway, it is not reflective of the realities of life and viewers want to feel they are being treated as intelligent, thinking creatures who can handle a little bit of sadness.

I think this is what Wilson and Sicart are getting at in their “academic manifesto” (7). We all already know this as English majors, but to think of it in the context of gaming seems unexpected. But like any maturing genre, gaming is exploring its relationship with its players and game designers and these questions are inevitable and important.

A great quote is “an abusive game designer is like a virus – one which avoids killing the host in order to better propagate throughout the population” (7). The propagating of the population infers that by challenging the player, the player will be inspired to grow and mature in their way of thinking. To think outside of the box, if you will. To be innovative. New ideas do not come from safe thinking. Creativity is often born out of adversity. In life things do not always go our way and they are not easy and sometimes life is as boring as driving a bus for eight straight hours. In being challenged, the player could come to understand that winning is not the be-all-end-all. Aerosmith said it best “Life’s a journey, not a destination…”

My Poor Avatars

In the game “Darfur is Dying,” the player is faced with the realities of the current situation facing those living Darfur. Trying to get water was very difficult for me (maybe because I never play video games?). I’m not sure if it was purposely that difficult, but I made it to the well on my third avatar, only to get captured on the way back with my jug full of water. It is a sad game to play. It was incredibly difficult to attempt to get to the well only to continually get caught. I got most of the family caught. I was sad to realize how slow the mother was and she was caught very early on. I tried to go to the village but we were out of water to I had to keep go out to forage for water. It was quite frustrating and I bit scary. Avoiding the trucks of Janjaweed was not an easy task. It seemed like they just kept going. I felt bad for my avatars for getting stuck with me. I felt bad selecting little kids to run around trying to get water. It made me feel almost like a bad person because it seems like something an adult should do since there is such a high risk of getting caught. I managed to get almost the entire family caught. I’m unsure if the game is intentionally difficult in order to create a realistic experience of the sad real-world conditions in Darfur. I know that I felt frustrated that I didn’t do very well. For full disclosure, I couldn’t figure out what to do in the village. All I did was wander around.

I could see how this game was like what Ian Bogost discussed as far as the game recreating a realistic experience by commemorating “the memories of those lost by sharing the operational reality” of their experiences. Unlike the 9-11 experience that Bogart refers to in that quote, the Darfur situation is repeatable because the issue being addressed by the creation of this game is that these atrocities continue to occur and the game hopes to inspire the user to care and want to do something about it.

Attempting to Map Narratively

In Mamber’s essay on narrative mapping he lays out the method in which one would perform such a task. It made me wonder if the graphs and charts we create as part of surveys we conduct where I work could be a form of narrative mapping or if the actual surveys we conduct could be a narrative map when all the graphs and charts are strung together. Or if the survey process is not quite there yet, but perhaps it is something that could easily become mapped narratively. We do indeed “attempt to represent visually events that unfold over time” (145).  We perform interviews over a series of 2-3 months, sometimes even longer. Additionally, the process of formulating questions is our first step and it takes time to decide by committee which questions to re-use form previous or related studies and create newer questions that might generate new topics to discuss in our survey. We then perform an analysis and when we compile our survey document, which recounts our process and analyzes responses and attempts to draw conclusions, we include pictures and graphs and charts that represent statistics from our survey that can be understood at a glance. Sometimes representing one question visually that has many elements can be tricky. It seems that if we were to attempt to represent the entire survey from beginning to end visually, it would then fit into Mamaber’s criteria. Perhaps a flowchart of the entire process would qualify. Since he says that “narrative mapping is a useful tool for dealing with complexity,. ambiguity, density, and information overload” there is somewhere in this survey process that is ripe for narrative mapping to come in and help make sense of a wealth of valuable information (157). This is a big dilemma we face in conducting these surveys is dealing with the vast amount of data we collect as well as trying to determine how best to represent it visually and prioritize what is important over what may not be. The end part of our process where we attempt to create a narrative around the data we have collected and the process that went into our finding is a complicated one in and of itself. A map would be very helpful in pinning down our process and making sense of it. I wonder if others agree with me that this process or portions of the process I have descibed could fit Mamaber’s definition of narrative mapping

Choose Your Own Adventure! Sorta

The Dreamhold seems like a scary place to a person that is unfamiliar with what it is. The reader/interactor/player/narrator – what is the proper term anyway? – wakes up in a cramped space with only a narrow gap to escape from (I almost got stuck because I could not figure out the phraseology to climb out). My mind immediately went to the movie 127 Hours. I definitely did not want to cut my own arm off, even in interactive fiction land.

The evolution from last week’s digital poetry to this week’s interactive fiction seemed logical. We keep comparing everything to “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, but this interactive fiction truly embodies the example and then takes it so far beyond. No two stories could ever look the same (ok, I’m sure there is some small sliver of a chance). The story does not exist without the reader (we will call it that for simplicity’s sake) and the story obviously does not exist without the writer (ok, now what do we call this person? Writer? Creator? Coder?). This interactive fiction takes us back to last week’s discussion regarding where the story truly lies – in the code? In the story that particular reader creates at that moment of interaction? Every new step creates a new story – or does it? Is it only complete when the reader closes the program? Who is the writer? Is the reader the writer? If so then we cannot refer to them as the writer any longer. Montfort helps makes sense of this slew of questions by deeming interactive fiction the ultimate fusion on multiple genres. I agree in theory, but with The Dreamhold, I became frustrated because I still felt as if I was being led to do certain things. I also felt like it wanted to say no and deny my actions as much as possible. It kept telling me my singing was bad! I cannot even pretend like I can sing in interactive fiction land?! It just seemed wrong. I thought it lacked the freedom of expression that seems to be an emphasis of interactive fiction. While interactive fiction is indeed a fusion, I’m not sure it is the ultimate fusion, mainly due to its limitations. Despite that frustrating aspect, it is truly of value to play with the idea of reader, writer, observer, creator and the many other roles that could be a part of interactive fiction. This play can help the audience and interactors better understand other forms of literature that do not fit the traditional mold of normal literature.

Piss Christ’s Functionality

Ryan says in her Between Play and Politics: Dysfunctionality in Digital Art that the way in which to “judge a work experimental or ludic (or both) depends largely on the fun factor; experimental art is notorious for sacrificing pleasure to critical thinking.” I thought this was an interesting statement when I read it and I wondered how true of a statement this actually is and if it could be applied to non-digital art, such as a photograph. This made me immediately think of a piece called Piss Christ by Andres Serrano, a photograph which depicts a small plastic crucifix submerged in a glass of the artist’s urine. This has always been a piece for me that where it clearly made sense what that artist was looking to say and the image was beautiful, until you realized this was urine. I have always had a bit of trouble getting past the disturbing method used by the artist. I think this is what Ryan means when she says that “experimental art is notorious for sacrificing pleasure to critical thinking.” Sarrano could have been deriving fun from shocking the viewer once they realized a revered religious icon was submerged in one of the world’s most vile liquids. That would beg the question of who determines the “fun factor” – the artist or the audience.

 Piss Christ would probably fall into the ludic dysfunctionality category based on Ryan’s definition. This is primarily based on her statement that “ludic dysfunctionality does not take itself seriously.” It’s hard to say with complete certainty how seriously Serrano meant his work to take itself, but it’s possible to conclude that due to the fact that this piece is taking a very serious image and immersing it in a non-serious substance in some way this piece is meant to be in some way fun.

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

In Jay David Bolter’s “Seeing and Writing” he makes the point that the electronic page does not create a reading experience like that of the printed page. Kerry Lawrynovicz’s “Girls’ Day Out” captures the unique ability of electronic literature to create an experience for the reader that could not have been replicated in the same manner by a printed page. The white words on a black background help lead the reader to the terrifying truth that is in direct contrast with the seemingly extremely harmless story about two sisters riding horses over a vast natural landscape.

Bolter mentions the importance of how a page is framed and the space that is left unfilled on a written page and how that space has played a role in a reader’s understanding through history. Lawrynovicz utilizes the negative space, that is not only space absent of words, but also space that is black and not white (or some similar white-like color) as is traditional on the printed page, to make the reader feel the emptiness of the lost lives of these innocent murdered young girls. Additionally, Lawrynovicz uses the overlay of the innocent storyline of her and her sister riding horses to contrast the underlying sinister story that her and her sister knew nothing about but could easily have been victims themselves. The first story fades and select words are left behind to reveal to the reader that there is another layer to this narrative. To achieve this using a printed page would be challenging. The colors alone would seem strange on a printed page. On a computer screen it is less noticeable until the animation progresses and the lone few words are left on the screen and that is when the reader really takes notice of the black and associates it with thoughts of death and evil.

Bolter says “The electronic author who chooses to animate must bear greater responsibility for the reader’s temporal experience, because he or she can regulate the flow of text and images on the screen.” By this he means that the electronic author loses the advantage that the print author has which is the room for the reader to make their own interpretation. The electronic author who animates is able to direct the reader’s thoughts more precisely, but if their goal is not achieved or falls flat or if the reader doesn’t get it, the electronic author is more to blame than the print author because they bore the responsibility of creating a more directed understanding within the reader.

The Revenue Stream is Unavoidable

Raymond Williams rejects technological determinism as too limiting a lens in which to understand the impact of technology on society. Williams says that ideas and technology that are being developed are far more likely to be successful if a need corresponds with what he calls “decision-making groups.” He says, “A need which corresponds with the priorities of the real decision-making groups will, obviously, more quickly attract the investment of resources and the official permission, approval or encouragement on which a working technology, as distinct from available technical devices, depends. We can see this clearly in the major developments of industrial production and, significantly, in military technology.” (295)

He goes on to say that communications technology has not been developed the way that industrial and military technologies have come about “We can see this clearly in the major developments of industrial production and, significantly, in military technology. The social history of communications technology is interestingly different from either of these” (295). Anyone who has used Google to find restaurants or Urbanspoon would argue this point, though. A user could be right next to a restaurant that does not show up on Google or Urbanspoon and this is because of where the advertising dollars are going. Even Facebook had to resort to using ads when anyone who has seen the Social Network knows that Mark Zuckerburg’s character preferred Facebook not run at a profit, but eventually had to make a compromise to keep his project going. Williams argues that communications technology has been differently than military or industrial technology, which is true, but it may not be quite as different as Williams would like to think. The source of funds for technology has an unavoidable influence, especially as a technology grows in popularity. Perhaps Williams means that it is a bigger priority in communications technologies that decision-makers not influence the development of technologies the way they are such strong drivers in military and industrial technologies.