“Endless Reader” is a children’s mobile application created by Originator, which has developed other recognized apps such as “Endless Numbers” and “Endless Alphabet.” This application is the follow-up to “Endless Alphabet,” integrating sight words with an interactive digital environment with the purpose of allowing children to hear words broken down to their simplest phonetic segments.
Alan Wake is a survival horror video game released for the Xbox 360 and Windows platforms and developed by Remedy Entertainment, a Finnish company known mostly for their Max Payne video game series. In the plot of the game, a best-selling thriller writer named Alan Wake is trying to overcome his two year writer’s block and mending his marriage by going out on vacations with his wife to a place called Bright Falls. It is here where the storyline starts to develop itself as a thriller narrative, seeing as the game itself from its beginnings alludes to this aspect through a nightmare the main character has, by showing dark corners, mysterious characters and eerie ambiance in plain day during the prologue of the game. As the game progresses the player learns that there are pages scattered around the game environment which foretell events warning the player of dangerous circumstances ahead. These pages add more depth to the transformation of the game from a thriller to a horror game, immersing the player in its structure and pace while wrapping it up in cinematic genres that perform language like episodic storytelling similar to a television series.
The exploration of the expressive and communicative potential of language in digital media leads to a fruitful conversation with one of its most important native genres: the videogame. The entries listed below (in alphabetical order by author’s last name) all review works that use game or videogame structures to organize language to a variety of effects. A popular use is to recreate or repurpose game engines and the virtual environments they make possible as writing spaces. Another is to create interfaces that encourage play. As generations of gamers come of age, their familiarity with programming, level editors, and open source game authoring software (such as Scratch and Twine) will lead to increased blending of literary and videogame structures and genres.
“sc4da1 in new media“, a Flash poem/rage-game by Stuart Moulthrop, is as outrageous as it is delightful. The piece is composed of two alternating interfaces: a rage-game remediation of Pong; and a transient text. Every time you beat a level of the remediated Pong, you access a new installment of the transient text. There are six levels to the remediated Pong. The perversity of this rage-game version of Pong makes Chiku’s “Syobon Action” (“Cat Mario”) a piece of cake in comparison. I almost broke a vocal cord when I made it to level 6.
Note: To better appreciate the artistry of this work, click on images to enlarge.
This typographical platform puzzle game designed for iOS touchscreen devices offers an immersive experience and engaging history of typography from Gothic fonts all the way to digital desktop publishing (and a little bit beyond).
In “RedRidinghood,” Donna Leishman retells the story of Little Red Riding Hood. Using Flash in a similar way to “Deviant” (previously reviewed here), Leishman offers a modern reading of the traditional tale, which acknowledges its indebtedness to Angela Carter (thanked in the credits as the person who initiated it all). In this interactive narrative, Red Riding Hood sets out on her way to her grandmother’s house. In the woods, she meets a boy-wolf who will eventually seduce her, but also experiences the forest itself before falling asleep and dreaming.
“Galatea” is a piece of interactive fiction with a single non-playing character (NPC) in a single room. The narrative is loosely inspired by the Pygmalion story, for this reason Galatea, dressed in green, stands on a pedestal as part of an exhibit.
“Galatea” is a conversational program, descended from early pieces like ELIZA, that imitates the language of a Rogerian psychotherapist. Notably, the whole concept of “Galatea” makes reference to ELIZA, which was named after the character of Eliza Doolittle in the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. Instead of imitating the language of therapists as ELIZA does, “Galatea” tells a narrative. However, “Galatea” is a multilinear narrative: it does not just tell one story, but many alternative stories that can develop into infinite permutations. “Galatea” was created using the Z-machine, a 1979 virtual machine originally used for the development of adventure games.
In “Deviant: The Possession of Christian Shaw,” Donna Leishman uses a series of animated images to tell the story of Christian Shaw, an almost eleven year old girl who lives in Balgarran. This is an exploratory piece that allows the user to experience Christian’s world.
Although there is some text, the piece is mostly non-verbal. The images change when the user chooses to hover over them and they show strange things happening. The world inhabited by Christian is filled both with terrible creatures that observe her from behind the barren trees or marvellous flora that changes in unexpected ways. Her experiences affect her perception.
This unexpected e-poem appears in chapter 4 of Arnt Jensen and Dino Patti’s indie videogame Limbo, a darkly atmospheric platform puzzle game in which a boy traverses a series of deadly landscapes and ruined cityscapes in search for his sister. This game environment and its physics engine allowed Jensen to write a kind of Concrete poem in which letters perform scheduled operations and act as objects which respond kinetically to interactions. In addition to creating a challenging puzzle within the game, Jensen and Patti make meaningful uses of these characteristics to create multiple words from one, produce irony, typographical humor, and puns.
Winner of the 2010 New Media Writing Prize, this work tells the story of women who make their lives by carving stone, be it for artistic sculpture or coal mining. Exquisitely researched historically, pictorially, and ethnographically, it weaves together these distinct strands to cast a spell upon readers who explore its interfaces. Initially, the work offers a video interview about a sculptor, who discusses her art and craft as “reductive” because she chisels away at stone to leave behind the figure of a woman. As the reader explores the space of the poem using the pointer as a kind of light that reveals details in the tunnels under the earth. When triggered by mousing over icons, one can hear either snippets of an interview with the sculptor or poetry read aloud by a commanding voice. Each movement eventually reveals the name and figure of a woman, who tells her story— generally one that places having children in conflict with their careers, be it as artists or miners. The uterine and fetal images that haunt the depths of this poem gesture towards an analogy between a woman’s body and the treasures that lie beneath the earth.