Freedom of Movement in “Tuesday Afternoon”

As I was reading Rita Raley’s chapter on “Border Hacks: Electronic Civil Disobedience and the Politics of Immigration,” I become interested in the concept of movements of money and goods versus the movements of undesirable populations. She mentions Tuesday Afternoon as a hypermedia project that speaks to this subject. Therefore, I investigated Tuesday Afternoon and decide to interact with this media object to get a sense of how international borders have become increasingly easy to cross for capital, but increasingly difficult to cross for migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, and all people searching for the freedom of movement. However, while playing this hypermedia, I was pulled into the stories and memories of the border crossers, the feelings of rejection and hopelessness in their desperate situations.

Tuesday Afternoon Trebor Scholz and Carol Flax is a hypermedia project that puts the user into the shoes of a person who is willing to risk everything, including his/her life to reach the United States. Tuesday Afternoon uses image, text, animation, and sound in interactive frames that make each user’s experience with this piece unique. The user is not forced to make any choice, but can explore this work by selecting the path that appears most interesting. As the user begins to interact with the piece, it reveals individual border crossing experiences as snippets of memories. In addition to these memories, the screen begins to fill in the background image, one square at a time. These memories and the image in the background slowly unfold as the user clicks from one text string to the next. On the left hand side of the screen there is a looping video of a path leading into the desert. This video plays non-stop. In addition, there is a looping audio track that plays the sound of crackling wind and footsteps. Down the center of the screen is a sharp, jagged red line. This illustrates what could be an aerial view of a barrier or wall along a border.

After discovering the individual border crossing experiences, the background is revealed. It is a barren, dirt road, with grass on both sides. In the far distance are the mountains, but no sign of civilization. Above is a blue sky spotted with clouds and sunshine streaming through the breaks in the clouds. The user is placed on the same path that the border crossers used in their attempts to come to the United States. While you do not get a sense of the environmental conditions, you do feel the exhaustion mentally. With no sight of civilization, food, water, or shelter, you can understand how treacherous this journey might have been, and how hopeless, tiring, and disheartening it could have seemed at times. As you hear the footsteps and see this path in front of you, you begin to wonder, will this ever be over?  Will I ever make it there? How much longer must I walk?  The user begins to have a unique experience of his own as he gains an understanding from the memories and experiences of those who have already walked this path.

“Superstitious Applicances” and Abusive Game Design

“Now It’s Personal: On Abusive Game Design” by Douglas Wilson and Miguel Sicart discusses the meaning of abusive game design and the rhetoric behind this design approach. Abusive game design focuses on creating a dialogue between the game designer and the player to force the player to experience something out of the ordinary and beyond his/her expectations. As the player experiences the game, he/she can begin to understand the designer behind the system.

Abusive game design differs from conventional, or contemporary, game design theory in that abusive game design seeks to establish a dialogue between player and designer through games that push the player outside the normal expectations, whereas conventional game design seeks to satisfy players’ desires so that they are challenged just enough and will feel satisfied with their actions. Conventional game design is a one-sided arrangement in which the game design adapts to the ideal and potential performances of the players so that the game always satisfies the user—the game designer is catering to the audience’s needs and wants. For instance, the game Frogger could be seen as having a conventional game design. As the player moves onto more challenging levels, the game is not impossible to beat and it is challenging enough to make the player feel accomplished when he/she beats a tough level or receives a high score. In addition, the designers of Frogger release expansion packs and numerous sequels to meet the players’ needs and some of these versions enable the players to access extra-hard modes or secret levels to showcase their skills and expertise. There are certain expectations that come with the game as well, for instance the themed levels, number of lives, and the intuitive way to play.

In contrast, games classified as having abusive game design force the player to think outside of how he/she would normally play a game and to have uncomfortable and unexpected experiences. Jason Nelson’s “Superstitious Applicances” demonstrates Aesthetic Abuse, specifically attacking the player’s sense of hearing. The homepage of the game emits overlapping voices that repeat the same sentences over and over, one of which sounds guttural and robotic. As the player clicks on certain areas of the homepage, he/she experiences various sounds consisting of high pitched tones, bombing/exploding sounds, and one piece with uncomfortable silence. In terms of the player’s visual perception, the pictures are hard to decipher with flickering images and hard to read/overlapping text that does not stay still long enough for the player to read.

This “user-unfriendliness” is what brings about an interaction between the player and the designer. The designer pushes the player right up to the breaking point, but still keeps the player intrigued, and the player feels as if he/she is fighting with the designer to make some sense of the game. In addition, the design of “Superstitious Applicances” supports continuous surprises and new insights over the course of encounters between different players through eccentric, unexpected, and confrontational experiences.


An Exploration of Deena Larsen’s “Carving in Possibilities”

“Carving in Possibilities,” by Deena Larsen, allows the user to reveal the face of Michelangelo’s David by moving the cursor over the blurry image of the statue.  As the user moves the cursor over the image, speculations appear about David concerning the crowd watching David and Goliath, the sculptor, and the crowds viewing the sculpture. Staccato sounds accompany the instantly appearing text, and the sounds are similar to those of someone carving stone.

Upon reading the description for this new media, I thought I would be creating a different image with each movement of the mouse. I thought this because the description says “carve though thoughts.”  I figure that realistically, you cannot carve a statue exactly the same each time, so I thought this would reflect that assumption. After playing twice, I realized that I was only revealing an image. If it were not for the sounds accompanying each movement of the cursor, the user may forget that he/she is “carving” the image. These pounding sounds are representative of steel carving stone, and illustrate the process of transforming a shapeless rock into a statue with a human form.

This work supports the idea that a “picture is worth a thousand words,” thus having unlimited interpretations and meanings depending on the reader’s experiences, knowledge, and even his/her mood. The user is able to “carve out” different textual combinations and readings of the poem through choice and exploration. Each thought appears one by one and in no specific sequence or logical order. The user is constantly wondering the context to these thoughts, trying to link one thought with the next to find out more and more about David. Also, the thoughts appear in various colors, sizes, and fonts, which might indicate different voices.

This explorative approach allows the user to create a new meaning from each thought. “Carving in Possibilities” is not meant to reveal a meaning, but to enable the user to discover new reading paths and to experience how these readings can transform. The reader experiences acts of continual transformation, evolution, and change, in both the text and the meaning. Also, this work shows how readers can gain knowledge from the same work in different ways, and communicates that readers can interpret a work in multiple ways—neither interpretation being incorrect. Each time we create a meaning for a piece of art or writing, we are extending the legacy of that work, and thus the memory of the author or story behind the physical work. Therefore, “Carving in Possibilities” demonstrates that a person’s legacy and memory can survive through art and writing because the readers of that work will create their own interpretations and meaning based on their choices, experiences, and knowledge. Each time we revisit a piece of art, we discover stories and reveal new realities that help to solidify the existence of the physical piece of work and establish the identity and memory of the author.

Using Narrative Mapping in Mario Party

Stephen Mamber’s “narrative mapping” coincides with Manovich’s concepts presented in “The Database.”  Both articles detail how a database can support a narrative, and Mamber’s article builds on these ideas to discuss that mapping a narrative basically constructs an underlying database that is visually represented.  Manovich’s article provided the foundational understanding of databases and narrative, which was useful when reading Mamber’s article.  However, Mamber’s is much easier to read, and the order of information for his discussion flows logically, which helped me link his concepts of narrative mapping to Manovich’s concepts and definitions for databases and narrative. Mamber presents examples of narrative mapping after he explains what narrative mapping is, the purposes, and the most popular types. He discusses examples at the end of the article, which enables the reader to better understand how each example fits with a certain purpose and type of narrative mapping. For instance, the narrative maps in Franco Moretti’s Atlas of the European Novel: 1800 – 1900 are both geographic and thematic representations. Many of Moretti’s maps are representations of simple cities indicating places where the narrative actions occur, but some maps are representations of class and character profession.

These examples were helpful in understanding how narrative mapping would be a useful tool to employ while playing an interactive fiction, such as The Baron. The player can map the narrative on a piece of paper in order to keep track of his/her movements, and to explicitly see the connections implied in the narrative. In doing this, the player creates a database for the narrative; he/she deconstructs the narrative into individual places/pieces—a record for that part of the story, and is able to add to the map as he/she encounters each scene during game play.  Therefore, the map represents the sequence and logic that the player must follow to come to the end of the story.

As I read Mamber’s article, I began to think about the game Mario Party as a narrative map.  Below is a picture of a map from one of the Mario Party games.

This type of game presents a reversal to the Interactive Fiction games that we have been playing. In Interactive Fiction, the player has to visualize the map in his/her mind unless he/she draws it on a piece of paper; in Mario Party, the map is explicit and the player can easily see his/her choices to create the narrative. The Mario Party maps are geographic representations of the location for game play, Western Land or Horror Land for example, and each map has a thematic storyline and cast of characters. The maps also function as databases, showing the links between the board game options, player movement, and minigames. Mario Party makes use of “three-dimensional modeling, information graphics, and what has been called multimedia cartography,” (157) and can thus be seen as a good example of how digital environments greatly enhance the potential for narrative mapping.

Alan Sondheim’s Internet Text: An Effective Example of a New Media Database

Alan Sondheim’s Internet Text has been posted online since 1994 and is both an aggregate of Sondheim’s writings and a “continuous meditation on cyberspace.” Internet Text is an ongoing project of written, generated, and posted texts online. The pieces reflect on the nature of computer-mediated consciousness, digital textuality, and online communication and culture. The author description provides some context for the reader: “The Internet Text is a continuous meditation on “cyberspace,” emphasizing language, body, avatar issues, philosophy, poetics, and code-work.”  As I began to browse through the text files, reading snippets from a few, I expected to find a sequential narrative from the first file to the next and so on. I soon realized that there is no connection from one file to the next, and that these files are pieces of data for the reader to experience in any way that he/she chooses.

Therefore, I began to understand Internet Text as a database per Lev Manovich’s “The Database.” Manovich states that “Multimedia works that have “cultural” content appear to particularly favor the database form” (219).  Internet Text is a collection of text files that share common cultural themes surrounding cyberspace and the files are an extended analysis of the environment of Internet communication, as well as an extended meditation on the psychology and philosophy of Net exchange. Also, Internet Text further supports the concept of the database because the text files do not relate in an obvious way, and have no apparent beginning and end, or premeditated story. It appears that there is no organization or logical presentation for the data, which is quite overwhelming and confusing if the reader tries to construct a narrative from the material. Perhaps this is why there is no trajectory for navigation and no instruction dictating that the reader move sequentially through the text files; the reader must decide how he/she would like to experience the content.

In addition, because this is a living project, with additional files being added to the database, the entries appear arbitrary, but do not modify the logic and intent behind this work—which is for the reader to read the text files in any order that he/she desires. Thus, new files provide additional information and content that does not alter the reader’s navigational or viewing experience; they provide supplementary material for the reader to view if the reader chooses to enhance his/her knowledge.

Based on the text files that I viewed, some contained stories that had a coherent narrative, and some seemed like a jumble of data. For instance, mk.text has no apparent coherent story, and the sections within that file do not appear to have any relevance to each other. However, the sections within “Internet Futures” have a coherent discussion about the potential futures of the internet on society and culture. Towards the end of my exploration, I came across net0.text, which was the first text file created for Internet Text. Interestingly, Sondheim’s discussion in this file lends itself to the “database complex” that Manovich describes in “The Database.” The “database complex” is a psychological condition that accompanies a user’s experience with new media. As a user navigates through a new media object, he/she experiences a reflection of his/her image and actions. Sondheim states that he envisions “the reader as self-generating, as if the text were a form of inner voice.” Therefore, the texts that the readers decide to experience will have some resonance with them, and will reflect an image of humanity and culture surrounding cyberspace. The user’s personality plays a major role in his/her interaction with the content, which will determine the his/her overall experience.

Internet Text does not have a conclusion, and none of the individual files have conclusions. There are multiple experiences for every user, and multiple themes to be drawn upon for each piece of data. These unlimited possibilities, the changing nature of the text files, and the unstructured presentation of data make Internet Text an effective example for understanding new media databases.

Critical Response #2: William S. Burroughs, “The Cut-Up Method of Brion Gysin”

Novelty is defined by the individual. While something may not be new to one person, it could be new to another person.  Our past experiences and knowledge allow us to define if something is new.  Taking a previous work, cutting it up, and re-arranging the pieces creates a new version of that previous work.  We now might experience that work in a new way.  And as authors, we create our work based on our previous experiences to create a new way of looking at something. However, unlike the random choices of a literature machine, authors make their choices based on exigence, audience, and context.  Words do not come together through spontaneity. Authors make meaningful choices to communicate, persuade, and connect with their audience to both address the needs of their audience and to convey their purpose and themes. Those choices bring meaning and resonance to our work; our experiences define how we tell, read, and feel a story.

Therefore, every reader’s experience is unique in some way to that individual; no one has the exact same experience. Thus, every reader constructs his/her own reading in a unique way. Italo Calvino writes that even if a computer randomly puts together words to make a poem, the meaning of this poem is defined by the active reader: “The literature machine can perform all the permutations possible on a given material, but the poetic result will be the particular effect of one of these on a man endowed with consciousness and an unconscious, that is, an empirical and historical man.”  Words thrown together at random do not hold much meaning on their own, but when taken in the context of the attitudes, experiences, and perspectives of the audience, the words transform into literature with a deeper meaning. And if people do the cutting up without the random ability of the computer, then we make purposeful decisions based on our experiences. For example, if you are sad when you read a story, you may read it differently than if you are happy. Also, the themes may come across differently or have new implications that you did not see when you read the story in a happy mood.  Your own story and your own life experiences change the reading/construction of a story.

Playing Dress Up: An Exploration into a Woman’s Identity

“Pieces of Herself” by Juliet Davis is an exploration into the ways women identify with their gender through their relationships to public and private spaces.  The user explores the public and private spaces and discovers various objects in each space that can be dragged and dropped onto a woman’s body (a doll) that is on the left side of the screen.  By dressing up the doll with the objects, the user is able to experience audio clips from interviews with women, music loops, and sound effects. As each audio clip is selected, the game reveals issues of gender identity in each space that a woman embodies.

The game begins with the following statement: “Her friends said she needed to “find” herself. And sure enough, when she started looking, she found pieces of herself everywhere.”  This quotation invites the user into the game to discover these pieces, and to learn that a woman’s identity is connected to everyplace, activity, and person with whom she comes into contact—she leaves a trace that influences her peers and family, but is also influenced by these spaces, which in turn controls her identity. By allowing the user to explore the inner thoughts of a woman and to gain insight into the forces that influence her identity, we begin to hack into the issues with which women struggle (issues that women try to keep private), and we begin to understand why women have these conflicts of identity. While this is a good way to understand and bring to light these topics that are often considered taboo, it also contradicts the idea of privacy within private spaces. This game demonstrates that while we may think our homes are private and identities safe, there are many objects that can unveil our secrets.

Below I provide an analysis for spaces in the home, work, and community. This analysis is not comprehensive, but provides insight into some of the issues with which women struggle.

Community: The Shower room is one of the public spaces that provide insight into how women feel about their identities in society. In the Shower room, women try to hide, and try not to be seen by other women. The game interface communicates this act of hiding by showing toilet stalls with objects that are only revealed if you hover over the door and the stall opens.  This is the same with the shower curtains, and there is a woman trying to hide behind one of the curtains. The objects all communicate a sense of uneasiness about physical image and beauty, especially when in the presence of community members, and people who may judge them.  Women are very concerned with their appearance, even around other women. For example, after moving an object that looks like hair onto the doll, the audio clip is of a woman telling the listener that she colors her hair because she has a gray streak, thus revealing that she is uncomfortable with aging and the effects of aging (she is trying to look young again).

Home: The Kitchen is one of the private spaces that provides insight into how women feel about their identities inside of the home. In the Kitchen, women can express themselves through their cooking.  For instance, the audio clip of an object that looks like some sort of spice is of a woman saying “Sometimes I wanna be spicy.” Also, a grocery list plays a music loop that is upbeat and creative, to illustrate a woman’s creative talents, but also the tune is a bit jumbled and chaotic, perhaps to represent that sometimes it can be a hectic task to make dinner for a family, especially if the woman has a full time job. While cooking may enable women to express themselves in a constructive and healthy manner, and to provide sustenance for their family, the idea of cooking and eating also creates sensitive feelings about weight and being critically judged for their weight. The audio clip of an object that looks like some sort of liquid pouring onto a plate is of a woman telling that her mom is obsessed with her (the daughter) looking skinny again.

Work: At the office, women try to not show emotion because it is inappropriate and unprofessional. Thus, women cannot always speak their mind for fear of losing credibility and responsibility.  If she shows emotion, or is open about her opinions, her coworkers might not take her seriously or they may not think that she is capable of getting the job done. The paper clips communicate this idea, illustrating that women can sometimes seem to have split personalities.  Interestingly, an audio clip associated with an object that flashes “where are you?” is of a woman discussing liposuction and $300 shoes–things that women believe will improve their appearance.  Perhaps this is what women wish they could spend their money on, or it could be communicating the types of things that women try to save their money for so that they can be noticed and so that they can stand out.

Creative Response #1



Idea Letters as a Genre of Technical Communication

In “Imagining Language Machines,” Lisa Gitelman discusses Idea Letters as an accidental genre sparked by Edison’s inventions.  While these letters may not provide accurate insight into how emerging technologies of the time worked, or give a comprehensive discussion of the technologies, they are a form of technical communication, with the writers as technical communicators attempting to shape technologies to improve the user’s experience, knowledge, and life.  In today’s job market, a technical communicator does not have to have any knowledge of technology in order to translate the ideas of the Subject Matter Expert (SME) to a variety of audiences.  The technical communicator must obtain accurate information about the technology from the SME and then use the principles of rhetoric to convey that information in a persuasive and informational manner to inform the listeners about the technology—the advantages, disadvantages, uses, purpose, etc.

While reading this article, I saw the writers of the Idea Letters as emerging technical communicators. While modern technical communicators write emails to their SMEs for additional clarification or information regarding a SME’s explanation of his/her technology, the technical communicators of Edison’s time wrote to him to solicit a response.  In both cases, the technical communicators consult their SME in an attempt to shape technology, either by trying to gain an understanding of how something works, or by trying to provide ideas to improve a current invention. This impetus to influence the user’s experience is an essential characteristic of the technical communicator.

In addition, just as modern technical communicators use the principles of rhetoric in their daily communication, so did the writers of Edison’s time.  In each case, there is a situation that catches the attention of the writer.  The writer recognizes something critical in the technology that must be communicated to the users because it will affect their experience, knowledge, or life.  The writer then solicits information from the SME to provide accurate information to the audience; however the writer can be selective in deciding what information to communicate depending on which facts will best fit his/her discussion.  It is at this point that the writer translates the chosen information into meaning, creating significance for the audience, and communicating the culture and history of the time.  Unfortunately for the writers of Edison’s time, he was not very responsive, but their attempt provided a record of the culture and history for that time.