“Galatea” by Emily Short

galatea
Open “Galatea” by Emily Short

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.

After having explored it for a while, the reader will discover many paths that lead to different endings. Emily Short considers this one of the most innovative aspects of the programme:

Any given bit of conversation in Galatea might suggest two, three, even four or five further topics for investigation; moreover, actions like KISS, HUG, ATTACK, and SORRY take on different colorations in different contexts. The story goes vastly differently depending on what the player decides is important enough to pursue. I wanted to avoid, as much as possible, the read-the-author’s-mind syndrome by abolishing puzzles entirely and leaving the plot open to maximal adjustment.

It is true. The same action in a different context might elicit a completely different reaction in Galatea and her voice always feels real in its anger, its pain or its indifference. There is a richness in the options that is reflected in the language. The text itself is beautifully written and it surprises with its evocative charm:

Even as she says it, for a moment, a million tiny crystals sparkle in her skin.  (An unusual and evocative effect; you haven’t seen stone effects in skin since VanItallie’s gargoyle series, about ten years ago.  But then, the Grotesque school is pretty well dead at this point.)

It is the kind of text that a reader never tires of exploring and that is a good thing because there are more that seventy possible endings and practically infinite of possibilities to get to each of them.

Featured in: Genre: Bot, Electronic Literature Collection Volume 1.

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