Exploring Narratives and Databases in the Elit. Medium

I wanted to focus my final paper on an elit. work, or perhaps even the video game Braid. I have been looking at the Dreaming Methods website. I read several elit. stories in this site such as Changed, Nightingale, and Book of Waste. While reading, I kept in mind what Manovich says about Databases and Narratives:

“Rather than trying to correlate database and narrative forms with modern media and information technologies, or deduce them from these technologies, I prefer to think of them as two competing imaginations, two basic creative impulses, two essential responses to the world” (“The Database” 233).

I continue to struggle with this notion that these two forms are “competing” instead of working together to utilize the multimedia world.  I would like to examine an elit., perhaps two or three, and explain how this genre are “correlates” the two forms.

In addition to Manovich’s article, I will probably be citing from the articles “The Garden of the Forking Paths,” “Avatars of Story,” and perhaps “The Codex and its Variations.”

Braiding New Gameplay with A Classic Storyline

One of the things I noticed about Braid was how very similar it was to Super Mario Bros. Most of us know that Mario is probably the popular 2D video game ever, and you have to stomp on the enemies to kill them just as in Braid. But there are so many other similarities: the block-head like characters, the nets used to climb, the lava pits, the cannon balls, even at the endings to the worlds seem strangely familiar to Mario. In both games, someone would tell you that the princess must be in another castle.

This makes me ask what the creator of Braid is trying to say by creating the syntax of his 2D game so similar to the most popular 2D game ever created. Is he trying to say we have come so far in the world of video games, particularly 2D games, we must now play with HOW THE GAME IS PLAYED, or perhaps more clearly, should the object of Braid be to manipulate the linear sequence, maybe even chop it up like DJs do with classic records? This seems that is the case.

Also, It is incredibly easy to get through the levels, but extremely difficult to collect all the puzzle pieces. I became so frustrated with collecting the puzzle pieces that I just wanted to get to the next world in order to read the storyline. And that makes me wonder something else. The creator gives players the chance to find a lot of out what happens between Braid and his girlfriend (or the princess) without actually beating the game, by beating the game I mean collecting the puzzle pieces. Perhaps in some aspects the creator wants players, whether they are testers or noobs, to learn about the values of being patient with others, like the ones you care about, rather than being patient with the actual game.

When I was young, I probably would have wanted to learn all the tricks that players can learn in order to capture the puzzle pieces. Right now, I am more interested with the detailed summaries, the fantastic soundtrack, and the stunning graphics that Braid had to offer. After initially getting through worlds 2 through 6, I am definitely more interested in finding out where this girlfriend/princess is. And now that I have learned a lot of the tricks, especially the one that slows down time, I can go back through the worlds and obtain all the pieces. I think the creators tie the aspects of actual gameplay with the storyline very carefully to keep all kinds of players interested in struggling with this puzzling game.

What is Jason Nelson Trying to Accomplish in his Interactive Fiction?

After playing The Bomar Gene, I noticed similarities between the game and We Feel Fine. I tried to find a linear sequence in which I could attempt to beat the game, but I was only able to capture mini stories about random people. For instance, one of the clicks led me to the story of Joanna Howard, who could apparently make people younger just by touching them. I guess I found some joy in playing the picture matching game. The pictures reminded me of my parents’ old photographs from the seventies and eighties. The story behind the photos seemed a little more intriguing than the actual game, how Rosario Buena found photographs from different time periods and settings that looked exactly the same. This made me ask, what is the author trying to accomplish in his fiction?

Perhaps the Nelson is trying to force the players to abandon their habitual need to find a starting point, and find a linear sequence in which to finish the game. Maybe he simply wants us to be evoked by odd stories while holding on to our attention using interactive graphics. Should we, the readers appreciate the stories being told, or do we appreciate Jason Nelson’s ability to present it?

In addition to The Bomar Gene, I also focused on I Made This. You Play This. We Are Enemies. I beat this twice because I wanted to see if my score really was “42 and has always been.” During the first time I played this game, which looks like a rip off of Nintendo’s Paper Mario, but in a good way, I detected a very sarcastic tone in the author that seem to say, “you are playing the easiest 2D game ever created, so don’t flatter yourself.” So I felt like it would be worth a shot to go through the game again and try to find more significance behind the game.

Even during my first play of the game, I tried to read the text closely. But again, my nature to play games has always been primarily to beat the game. Yet at the introduction of Nelson’s game he says, “’figuring out’ is for controlled centered hedonists with bees for hair.” So that made me think although the game appears to be time driven or tries to pressure you into completing a level as fast as possible, I think the real challenge is to force myself to slowdown and just take a look at the text on the 2D screens.

I think the first thing that Nelson wants us to do is too simply appreciate his video game art. But he also wants us to break through the habit of trying to find a sequential path toward completing an objective, like we seem to do in more traditional games, and lastly find some significance behind all the chaos of images, sounds, and text within the game. I guess that last part may prove to be the ultimate challenge.

The Missing Link Between Video Games and Books

            I started playing Bronze on Thursday, and I didn’t get too far. Like several classmates mentioned earlier, it can be really frustrating, even with that command guide page, to work through the IF game. However, one thing I noticed about the IF game was how similar the format is to some of the RPG games I used to play growing up. One in particular was Sierra’s Quest for Glory. Like in Bronze, the player had to choose which direction to go, whether it was East, West, North, and South. Then, once a player entered a new “room,” he could observe or examine the objects, perhaps open doors, or even talk to characters within that section. There are two differences between my old favorite RPG and Bronze. One, instead of an old graphics card powering the spaces or “rooms” in the game, Bronze describes the scene with paragraphs. The other difference is that instead of typing commands, the player could use their mouse pad and a cursor that changed icons to look like an eye for examining, a mouth for talking to characters, a hand for grabbing or picking up objects, and another icon for moving North, East, West, or South. In Quest for Glory, the player still had to use the same type of strategies and critical thinking that is in Bronze. The gamer also still had read an extensive amount text to understand their objectives, to communicate with characters, to ask questions, and to familiarize themselves with the given setting. Frankly even the speed of Quest for Glory’s game play was very similar to Bronze.

            I noticed Jon had mentioned “I find it hard to believe that there could be a market for Interactive Fiction which would be a considerable downgrade from the games that Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Wii now offer.” In a way, Interactive Fiction is already somewhat represented in the video games played on consoles like the X-box 360 or Playstation 3. Games like L.A. Noire provide a more narrative and text influence format to gamers. Another example would be the old P.C. game Myst, which was also released on the 32-bit consoles. But, I agree with what Jon says about how graphics have been consuming society. And lately I have been steering clear of most video games. Graphics are substituting for a lot of the text that we would see in the older IF games, but the narration and dialogue still play a stronger role in certain strategy or RPG style games. What I’m proposing is that there is still an audience out there that is reminiscent of the gamers who were playing more text based strategy games. I was talking to David Kennedy, and we both agree that there is still an untouched market out there for Interactive Fiction. Games like L.A. Noire or even the original Resident Evil will emerge, with stimulating eye candy graphics; however, it will be the text within the games that really drives the gamer to want to keep playing and finish the game.

            I also read Lauren Walker’s post; she mentions, “The word ‘interactive’ seems to suggest that experiencing other forms of fiction is a purely passive experience, which we all know it is not.” While I agree that other forms of fiction are certainly not passive, I don’t think that the word “interactive” in Interactive Fiction” is really being used to suggest passivity in other forms of fiction. I would like to think back to what Manovich says about the theory of syntagm and paradigm dimensions. I think that Interactive Fiction, rather than other text based fiction, falls more into the paradigmatic dimension because gamers have to imagine the choices they make before they can carry on. And, I agree with Lauren that House of Leaves could be as close to an IF as any other book because it is less syntagmatic than most other books. I think that House of Leaves on an E-Reader is even less syntagmatic because you have to imagine and choice your path rather than just look at all the choices on one page. Perhaps, one variable that separates House of Leaves from IF games, or at least some IF games, is that there technically only one ending to House of Leaves. No matter where you decide to go or what sections you read first, the fate of each character in the novel ends the same way…

…or does it? Externally or explicitly, yes the same things happen to the characters, but readers certainly imagine new ways to interpret the meaning behind the ending of the book by choosing different paths.

            What I am trying to get at here is that House of leaves is closer to an IF game than most books, AND text-based Interactive Fiction is as close to a video game than most books as far as their interactivity, their ability to choose. Oddly enough, one problem with video games becoming more interactive is that they are beginning to lose more of the options or aspects that let the players imagine more ideas or choices, so games are losing a little of the paradigmatic dimension. Once again, this is why I think there is a market for gamers who would enjoy the more imaginative aspects of Interactive Fiction implemented into these new games that look like they are on graphic steroids.

Response to Mrs. Sample

Good evening Mrs. Sample,

Unfortunately the Navidson Record was a fictional design created by the author. Interestingly, the author has created several fictional authors and critics within the novel. They will quote each other and interpret each other, yet most of  the characters have never existed.

Though, I think this is a perfect read for Halloween, seeing is how there is a haunted house.  And the “LEAVES” in the title made me think of Fall the whole time I was reading it. The story also reminds me of the real life legends we hear about surrounding haunted houses, AND this story is in Virginia, so that really kind of creeps me out.

Have a Happy Halloween!


It’s Karen against the World of DeLillo

            In chapter fourteen of Mao II, Karen returns to Bill’s home to find Scott cleaning dishes. He says there is a chance that Bill won’t come back (222). Karen in her last appearance believes that they should have the house because they took care of Bill (223). This is typical Karen behavior. She is the forever-faithful believer in hope that everything is supposed to happen as it should. She evokes this sense naivety just as she does when Scott first tells her that Bill is missing. Karen initially thinks that Bill will contact them again (118). In actuality, the feeling that readers get from this final scene is that Scott and Karen’s real conflicts are only just beginning. Scott, the realist of the couple, says “The night of the lawyers is approaching” (223). True to DeLillo form, the author leaves the readers hanging. We do not know what is going to happen to Karen and Scott just like we do not know what happens to Jean-Claude.

            In class, we talked about how DeLillo does not give his readers a tightly encased story with a beginning and a climatic ending that wraps everything up. And some readers find Delillo’s stories unsettling. The endings conflict with the conventions of an ending that we have come to know. Like the readers, Karen has certain beliefs, standards, or rules about how things are supposed to end:

 “They can own the house,” Karen said. “But they should let us live here. And we keep the manuscript and we keep the pictures.” (223)

 The truth is Karen and Scott will probably lose the house, the pictures, and the manuscript to either the family or Charles. The class also talked about how in the real world, stories are usually left unresolved. But if they end, they do not end the way we had predicted.  It seems that Karen is in conflict with Don Delillo’s conventional form writing. He has created worlds, similar to our own, where problems are left unsettled. Yet, there are some traditional conventions of the more familiar novels within in this chapter. Initially, this scene has that moment when two characters, who have not seen each other in a long time, embrace passionately with tears of either regret or happiness (220). And, DeLillo seems to be evoking this literal sense of hope by the end of the chapter. But I think the deeper feeling is that Karen and Scott are in trouble. In reality, and in Delillo’s worlds, things do not end the way people can conventionally expect.

Terrorists as Novelists? Authors as Hostages?!

            I remember the class talked about how terrorists are the new novelists. So, I found it interesting to hear Bill say it himself (41). I think that there is an underlying story going on in Mao II, about how the writers, or at least the publishers, are trying to take the” human conscious” back from the terrorists. One thing I asked myself was what is Bill’s last name? I would think an author, even a fictitious one, would have a full name. Maybe DeLillo was trying to enhance the idea that the authors have lost so much pull in our culture. This idea became even more apparent to me when I heard Charles’s plan at the end of part one. Interestingly, this is the moment when Bill’s last name is first mentioned; Charles says, “But I want Bill Gray…There’s an excitement that attaches to your name and it will help us put a mark on this event, for people to talk about it and think about it long after the speeches fade” (99). Bill’s participation in saving the unknown writer will certainly increase his celebrity status to new heights because it will be televised, and it will be, as Charles puts it, so “beautifully balanced.” Of course Charles is Bill’s editor, so he may just want to make a fortune off Bill’s upcoming book. Cawelti says in The Writer as a Celebrity, “The importance of celebrity as a means of contact between writer and audience is further intensified by the degree to which the writer aspires to address himself to the widest possible audience” (165). If Bill reemerges to the public in the innovative way in which Charles wants him to, then according to Cawelti, Bill Gray’s stock would shoot through the roof.

            There was a line at the end of part one that gave me more reason to believe another related idea I was thinking about. After urging Bill to read the unknown writer’s poems in front of a live audience, Charles says, “It’s something I think you need to do. Remember. One less writer in the hands of killers” (102). After I heard this line, I thought to myself although the terrorists are holding the unknown captive, aren’t Karen, Scott, Charles, maybe even Brita holding Bill captive? How much different are they from the terrorists holding the unknown writer? Several times Scott is almost forcing Bill to get to his room and write his book. And, at the very end of Chapter 6, there is even a description that made me think of Bill as that fairy tale prisoner locked up in a dark tower: “[Brita] looked back again and thought she saw the faintest trace of silhouette centered in the window, man-shaped and dead still, and she kept on looking until the house slipped into the distance, lost in trees and shifting perspective, in the spacious power of night” (75). It is as if Bill is being held hostage until he finishes that book, so that the people who know him well enough, such as Charles and Scott, can bank on him. It makes me wonder if Bill and this unknown author share a more distinctive connection or comparison. Is Bill going to be a sacrificial lamb of some sort?

Authors Aren’t Dead. They Feel Fine.

            I can see, through examples such as “We Feel Fine” and “Whale Hunt,” how Barthes’s idea that “the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author” makes some sense. In a way the author becomes nonexistent after these programs are complete, like any text, and it is left for the reader to interact with the text. Yet, I still find Barthes’s conclusions to be a little melodramatic, perhaps a little overdramatic. Yes, the author no longer has control of the text. But, Barthes says, “the voice loses its origin, the author enters his own death, writing begins” (142). Are not the databases two examples of how the author’s voice, and the author himself, are not dying through his function, rather, his functions are beginning to change and evolve? Rather than dictating what he sees or what he wants to express, he is creating narrative plots to allow the reader to express, at that given moment, a brand new narrative. Manovich says in “The Database Logic,” “the database of choices from which narrative is constructed is (the paradigm) is implicit; while the actual narrative (the syntagm) is explicit” (231). So rather than being an author of what is explicit, cannot the author narrate the implicit and guide the consciousness of the reader to a limitless amount of new ideas?

            For instance, in We Feel Fine, I clicked the word “cheap” for both genders on rainy days in the United States. The author of the database created the algorithm or set of rules to which I could get the amount of 20 year olds who feel cheap on rainy days. Now, I am able to imagine the actual story:

            There are about 10-12 twenty year olds on a rainy night in the United States. Some lived in Oregon, fewer were in Washington. One in particular didn’t feel cheep because he was used for sexual favors. He claimed, “I feel cheap because I received a cheap shot to the face.” Another guy says he feels cheap because he got a cheap CD player. Then there was the girl who claimed her boyfriend uses her and treats her bad. The next day (really the next search) was sunny, but surprisingly even more people in their twenties were feeling cheap. One female says to herself, “I will never find a man who wants me for anything other than sex.”

            It seems the author is not dying through his work; he is handing over the baton to the reader. The story still goes on. We just have to click and be inspired. I could go on to imagine how all these cheap people meet and find a new sense of self-worth. The database creator has created paths and options, according to Manovich in the “The Database Logic,” that would “make explicit the psychological processes involved in cultural communication” particularly in the reader.

            I think this also holds true in the traditional narrative. Sure, this form of storytelling is concrete and sequential, but the world and its characters, in which the author created, are still within the readers minds. His voice is alive and well. Often times, readers take the author’s story and his voice and use it to expand the story or universe, as we discussed in class last week. So, I still find it hard to believe that “Writing is the destruction of every voice, of every point of origin,” even in a figurative sense. If anything, writing should be considered the birthplace of origin and of every voice.

You + You = You!

            I agree with what David says about how If on a Winter’s night a traveler “is an extended satire, poking fun at books, poking fun at both readers and writers, deliberately playing on tropes and complexities and insights, the ideas of structure and form, throwing in themes that mean multiple things at once, and recursions that continue on forever, in counters to counters to counters that purposely throw the reader this way and that.” For example, Last week the class was talking about how the second person perspective could be made into third person if we just refer to the main character as “you.”

            Later in the novel, however, the meta-narrator seems to step completely out of all levels or frames of narration to confront us; he, says “It is time for this book in second person to address itself no longer to a general male you…but directly to you who appeared already in the second chapter as the third person necessary for the novel to be a novel” (141). Calvino, once again, seems to know how the readers, male or female, might respond to the “you” character. He knows that a logical way to classify this character would be to just name him “you.” And yet, this idea kind of troubled me because of the way Calvino would still use “you” in the subject-verb agreement of the sentence.

            For example, even after the declaration on page 141, the author still uses the subject “you” as if it is in the second person: “You are having tea, sitting with her” (153). If “you” was really in the third person singular, the verb would be “is.” Later in chapter seven, the author seems to confront what I am thinking and writes, “You are in bed together, you two Readers. So the moment has come to address you in the second person plural, a very serious operation, because it is tantamount to considering the two of you a single subject” (154). I thought to myself, Of course! In second person plural, Calvino could still grammatically use “are” instead of “is” like he does earlier in the story.

            And now, even if “you” really is its own character, it is not a grammatical error because when “you” is brought up, so are you, the reader. So, Calvino uses or creates a hybrid second/third person perspective and, of course, the author cleverly and humorously establishes this new rule at the point when two characters are having intercourse turning the moment into yet another threesome in the novel. And, I think it’s very funny how the narrator calls this “a serious operation.”

The Boundaries “You” Breaks

            First, I wanted to say that I agree with what cmckenz7 said about how Calvino’s novel is more about reading rather than writing. It seems like there is a definite method to the author’s crazy narration. However, it is very relevant to point out the author’s awareness and understanding of how readers process the information that is given to them. For instance, just when I started to ask myself what the hell I was reading, Calvino states, “What kind of book did they sell you, anyway?” (26). He knows when you are getting confused, so he often chimes in with reviews of what is going on. After “You” are at the bookstore, trying to return the book, and the clerk says they can get you a new book, the author or narrator comes back and says, “Hold on a minute. Concentrate.” It’s as if Calvino knows he is losing your attention for a moment, so he pulls you right back in.

             Personally, I love the way the author is able to do this. I found it very difficult to keep myself from reading this entire book in one sitting. I’m sure that other readers would disagree, particularly, one of the novel’s primary characters Ludmilla. It seems she represents the readers who would find this book frustrating. She says, “I prefer novels…that bring me immediately into a world where everything is precise, concrete, specific. I feel a special satisfaction in knowing that things are made in that certain fashion and not otherwise, even the most commonplace things that in real life seem indifferent to me” (30). She appreciates the most conventional novels, novels that can guide her into a new world, but in a way that she is familiar with. This novel is rather the opposite of “concrete” and “specific.”

            Still, Calvino does state, “there are themes that recur, the text is interwoven with these reprises, which serve to express the fluctuation of time” (25). On recurring “themes” and “reprises,” I kind of feel like there are parallels between Ludmilla and the female character in Learning from the steep slope. The female character from the LFSS asks the male character to purchase a grapnel for her (63). She explains, “I dare not do it myself, because a young lady from the city who shows interest in a crude fishermen’s implement would arouse some wonder.” Now jump to chapter 5 where Ludmilla instructs “You” to go to the publishing company on “your” own. She explains, “There’s a boundary line: on one side are those who make books, on the other those who read them, so I take care always to remain on my side of the line” (93). So, there is this theme of boundaries recurring throughout the novel, not just regarding gender classes, and the line between readers and writers, but also the boundaries that the author is breaking within his style of writing.