Farce – A Collection of Vignettes (link to the project at the bottom)

            For my project, I wrote a series of twelve vignettes and then adapted them into a Twine interactive hypertext. I call the series Farce, and the vignettes are from the perspective an unnamed, largely undefined narrator living somewhere in downtown New York City. However, virtually no part of the series has any explicit cases of the narrator leaving their apartment; while the narrator sometimes interacts with people outside their residence, they do so from within their apartment. The narrative is somewhat non-linear: while the text can be enjoyed reading it from the first vignette to the last in order, the vignettes can be enjoyable if read in any order. I personally recommend reading the first vignette, “An Errand (Fool’s),” either first and last, and the last vignette “Bedfellows; Alone; Together” either first or last, depending on if you read the former vignette first or last.

            My original plan was to create something very “playable,” much closer to a game than the final product. However, after trying to implement different gameplay elements (at one point, I considered having puzzle solving mechanics), I found that even if the “playable” text was more fun, it was a pain to read. Even as the creator of the text, trying to navigate it in its “playable” state made it significantly more difficult to properly read with the text, which I can only assume would have made it less engaging to someone going into it blind and lacking the solutions to the puzzles or even a basic layout of the text.

It was the risk of readers/players missing out on key parts of the narrative that caused me to try and reimagine my project as an interactive text first and a game second. At this point, my plan was to simply write the story in Microsoft Word and then import it to Twine wholesale, dividing up the text paragraph-by-paragraph with links. I realized that while this was entirely doable, there was more I could do to use Twine’s features to improve the narrative and reader experience. The first change I made with this in mind was the creation of a title screen and index. This led me to expand and try to implement other features into the project.

            For instance, I chose to associate each vignette with a color. I made this choice when the purpose of the index would be so readers could pick up where they left off, and I made it so readers could keeping track of what vignette they were on. This became less needed once I set up the next system; at the end of each vignette, the reader has the option to return to the index. This way, it’s viable to read the vignettes in any order, and it’s easy for a reader to reread a specific vignette.

            Even without cryptic puzzles in the text, there are a collection of secrets for readers to find. These were originally going to include hard-to-notice branching paths that readers could find only if they paid the utmost attention. The final form they took prevents them causing the piece to go off on tangents, but they require even closer reading and intense attention to detail to find: without giving too much of a hint, some of them reference other texts (not directly, of course, finding the explicit reference to Donkey Kong Country in “Implied Faithless Celebrants, or Noticeable Lack Thereof” is not uncovering a secret at all), and some of them exist outside the text itself. To elaborate, at least one secret can be encountered by keeping in mind the number of clicks some of the vignettes take to get through. Admittedly, some of these secrets are fairly convoluted, but I think they can be enjoyable.

            The finished project is somewhere in the area of eleven or twelve-thousand words in length, averaging at 1000 words per vignette. However, vignettes heavily vary in number of Twine nodes (alternatively, how many clicks they take to get through) and in actual number of words. In number of nodes, “Problem” is the shortest, while “48656c70204c696e6520NULL” is the longest. In terms of words, “Problem” is also the shortest, while “A BOY AND HIS DOG (STRONG LETTER TO FOLLOW)” is the longest.

Link to the project (to properly experience it, download it, and open it in your browser): https://drive.google.com/file/d/1x-zG1ISVIMVdGTcljcEtVnzhHmamKB-B/view?usp=sharing

Remixing a Classic: Communal writing, reading, and playing

Inspired by Author Miller’s classic play The Crucible(1953),  the interactive story ISS (International Space Station) Salem features the same tension and drama but in a digital space. In Doing Things with Novels, we learned and discussed how the process of reading and storytelling has changed, allowing a more engaging and interactive experience as well as one where the roles of the writers and readers are intertwined. We see this intertwining in the 2013 mobile application and digital writer’s platform, Episodes Interactive. Utilizing Episodes’ coding and film scriptwriting style, along with its extensive library of customizable characters and outfits, I reimagined and remixed The Crucible into an interactive space tale with possible aliens instead of witches.

TO PLAY THE GAME PLEASE FOLLOW THE LINK AND DOWNLOAD EPISODES

Leah Price’s What We Talk About When We Talk about Books gives a brief history of ways society use to read and how this practice has evolved yet remains the same at its core with every new piece of technology, “printed books were the first social media. They started conversation; they started fights, and connected each reader to others (pg. 14).”  We are becoming more and more like our communal reading predecessors as we make digital stories widely accessible. As commented on by various authors in Community Reading and Social Imagination, “the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was filled with community reading: coffeehouses, literary salons, reading clubs, reform associations, tea tables, lyceums, sewing circles were all places where people read, and listened to others read, together (422).”  Through discussion boards, forums, and social networks such as GoodReads, Instagram, and Tumblr, stories are still read and discussed publicly and communally. Through these digital platforms, audiences worldwide and those who are differently-abled (speech-enabled websites, audiobooks) discuss and annotate written and multimodal stories. According to Alan Liu, Web 2.0, like social media, has played a part in creating this broader scope in the audience and developing and maintaining their engagement and interactivity. In From Reading to Social Computing, Lui says, “Consider, to start with, the way that social-computing technologies are beginning to be used to experience—that is, to read, perform, and communicate (overlapping with “analyze” and “interpret”)—primary literature.” This communal experience gives readers the agency to influence a story and become authors and digital publishers themselves.  Through sites like  Wattpad, Tumblr,  and WordPress, they write and publish original and fanfiction stories because “community reading is also, in important ways, community writing. These imaginative practices, collaborators in the production of social possibilities, are never far apart. (Berube et al. 422)” Episodes, through the use of their code, allows users to create interactive fanfiction and original tales. This interactivity also brings about the aspect of play, as explained by Lui, “Reading overlaps with the actions of modeling, gaming, role-playing, adapting, translating, rendering, and simulating.”

  Since 1979, we have enjoyed “playing with stories” and having this illusion of choice as the reader; through the Choose Your Own Adventure Book Series by   R. A. Montgomery and Ed Packard at  Bantam Books. Giving readers the option to choose something as simple as the outfit a character will wear to their ultimate love interest is a way of not only engaging the reader but engrossing them into a world where their decision matters. The audience then feels as if they are not just being told a story. Still, they create a story alongside the author, which shows how “Collaboration allows for individual voice and shared vision (Bruter et al. pg418).”

Technology has also influenced the process of adaptation and retelling of classic stories; as Price puts it, “One constant in the history of books is the power to take new forms, and to prompt new ways of reading as a result. (page 14)”. Adaption is the ultimate way of “playing” with a text.  An example of this is the 1938 radio play adaptation of H.G. Wells’s 1901 classic science fiction tale, War of the Worlds. We’ve also seen a modern take on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in the 1996 film adaptation of the classic play by the same title. The 2016 novel Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff was adapted into 10 episode television series on HBO.  The Crucible has been adapted several times in television and film, including the 1996 critically acclaimed version of screenwritten by Miller. These retellings are full of controversies, inconsistency, often dividing audiences into “true” fans devoted to the text and the others who accept the new medium and the newfound nuances it brings forth. These adaptions are not perfect, but they allow a wider range of readers and audiences to discuss a story. In the newer interpretation of such a play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (2016), the audiences were presented with a black Hermoine, a character usually played by white women. This caused a bit of controversy, but it ultimately acknowledged and included marginalized people of color who are fans of the series. Though the audiences do not always have a say on the casting of particularly loveable characters when it comes to film and television adaptations, they can make this choice in interactive games like Episodes.

Episodes Interactive is a storytelling platform and mobile application that allows writers to become complete producers of their tales from start to finish while also immersing readers into a choose-your-own-adventure story style. Launched in 2013, the storytelling and networking platform is “features interactive Hollywood-caliber stories built from the ground up for mobile, not the passive entertainment of TV and movies.” This digital storytelling tool mixes Donacode, the type of code used in this platform, theater and film writing and directing terms and techniques (using words like props, screen left, upscreen right, enter from, zoom in, etc.) for both original and user-generated content. Through the writer’s portal, users become a complete creator as they write the story, create the characters, choose the music/sound effects, upload backgrounds (sets), and ultimately publish their work. The product is aimed at young adults, and most of the user-generated writing comes from these young adults who grow up watching teen angst films and teen drama television series. They know what they like, what their peers would like as well, and they use the platform to tell a story, engage with others, and learn what it takes to create an original tale. Users create and manage forums and Youtube channels dedicated to Episodes where they talk about coding, troubleshooting, writing/storytelling techniques, and even request assistance from other artists, leading to maximum collaboration, all happening online.  Users are gamers, writers, producers, audience, and critics in one platform, rating and commenting on each other’s works. They also interact with one another by having their characters break the fourth wall and giving the audience the choice option on various scenarios, from choosing the style of clothing a character would wear or influencing their response to a situation. Proving once again that reading and writing have become more communal, collaborative, and interactive. Taking the Episodes’ tools, I decided to play with Miller’s original work and craft an original tale inspired by The Crucible.

In ISS Salem, Abigail Rosado, Mary Smith, and Betty Parris are young women of color. Instead of just clever young women full of teenage angst, they are part of an elite security force called The Salem’s Pythoness. Living onboard a ship in the future, instead of the 1500s Massachusetts town, the other characters are also very different than their original Puritan counterparts. For example, Reverend Parris is an Asian female Captain of the ship and the mother, not the aunt, of Betty, Reverend Hail is a black female Lieutenant and in charge of the Pythoness, and John Proctor is Joanna Proctor, the Chief Mate and second in command, she is also married to Chief Engineer Emil Proctor. Besides their ranks and the setting, Episodes allowed me to “cast” people of different shapes and sizes into roles usually portrayed by white, “skinny,” or “athletic” people. Besides gender and color, I also made Ann Putnam a pet mother. She is the first to suggest the ship has “aliens” who eat her cats instead of a town full of “witches” who murdered her children. The most significant change is the ending because even though Science officer Robert (instead of Rebecca Nurse) couldn’t figure it out, there was a cat-eating alien on board! Readers do make choices on characters’ reactions, but they also choose if the real culprit gets to leave freely or ultimately gets caught.

At the beginning of this experience, I was very focused on capturing the essence of The Crucible, which is, in itself, an allegory for the 1950s Macthysm. I wanted a high school tale of tragic love, a secret affair, and an incident that sparked accusations and betrayal. Due to the time-constrained and the learning curve that is Donacode, I had to forego my idea of telling the story with its symbolizing and metaphors. Instead, I embraced the platform, its limitations such as characters’ reactions, backgrounds, props, costumes, inside Ink and limelight (style choices), and its advantages such as character race. I did not write a profound and moving tale with hidden symbols. I used the themes in Miller’s play and hid “easter eggs” for those who have read/seen the original play. Through this experience, I’ve also concluded that Episodes could be a great digital pedagogical tool.

The biggest takeaways from “playing” with this theatrical play in such a way are the interactive opportunities and community engagement. It was a wonderful experience to see so many young people, particularly women, creating and sharing, helping one another publish a great story. Even though my story did not have as many interactive choices, I felt like I was writing this communally. The choices I did make and those I included in the story were influenced by the information I found in the forums and youtube videos. Though my retelling will never be on the big screening, this story will live and be replayed repeatedly on mobile phones everywhere.

Resources:

BÉRUBÉ, MICHAEL, et al. “Community Reading and Social Imagination.” PMLA, vol. 125, no. 2, 2010, pp. 418–425. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25704442. Accessed 20 Dec. 2020.

“History of CYOA.” Chooseco LLC, 2020, www.cyoa.com/pages/history-of-cyoa. 

Lui Alan, (2013). From Reading to Social Computing. Literary Studies in the Digital Age An Evolving Anthology.

Price, Leah. What We Talk about When We Talk about Books: the History and Future of Reading. Basic Books, 2019. 

Gray Game

Dear y’all!

Follow the think below to a little Spalding Gray adventure I created. I hope you find it entertaining and fascinating.

Happy Holidays!!

Lola

GRAY STORIES

You wake up in a Kafkaesque nightmare. Your only way back to your own life and body is to navigate through enough life stories of a sit down comic and a performace artist to satisfy the benevolent alien entity hovering over the atmosphere. Tread carefully!

Saving Bartleby, a Twine Game

MelvilleQuote

Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticism made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed. – Herman Melville

The project is completed. My research and case notes are posted to a site on the Commons, here is the link: https://bartleby.commons.gc.cuny.edu/.

The actual game is posted here: https://bartleby.nfshost.com/.

Thank you for playing.

a playful novel

It’s November, which means it’s time for NaNoGenMo (https://nanogenmo.github.io). Short for National Novel Generation Month, NaNoGenMo is a project coined by Darius Kazemi (https://tinysubversions.com), inspired by NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month (https://nanowrimo.org). Similar to NaNoWriMo, the goal in this project is to come up with a 50K word novel in 30 days during the month of November. The participants of NaNoGenMo, however, write code that generates a 50K word novel, sharing the novel and the code in the end.

For the final project, I will be generating a novel in the spirit of NaNoGenMo, novel hacking, Oulipo, and game/play. Using (hacking) novels available in the Project Gutenberg archive and NLTK, I will extract characters, their actions and words to generate a novel where the characters interact with each other (highly possibly absurdly). The actions of the characters will be based on a backgammon game I will play, thus introducing a structured constraint in the spirit of Oulipo (Ouvroir de Litterature Potentielle translated as Workshop of Potential Literature), and an element of chance because there is dice involved. This may bring to mind John Cage’s work Reunion, a performance where the moves of the chess players (in this case John Cage and Marcel Duchamp) triggered sensors on the board that activated sound-generating systems prepared by David Tudor, Gordon Mumma, David Behrman, and Lowell Cross (Cross, 1999).

I have not come up with the specifics of the code, but depending on how I integrate the backgammon rules, the project may become a playable text/a textual instrument as explicated by Wardrip-Fruin (2005), as others may be able to input their own backgammon play in the relevant cells of the Jupyter notebook, and come up with their own novel. 

Either way, the result will be an event-novel, rather than a novel as an event (Robles, 2010); a novel that is performed, rather than one that has “performativity” and one that potentially completely lacks “rhetorical complexity” (Robles, p.2). It will, however, not lack any sentimental value as I will dedicate it to my cousin who taught me how to play backgammon, and who passed away this week due to complications from Covid-19.

Performance Literature in a Big Ball of Wibbly Wobbly, Timey Wimey Stuff

Immediately after reading Rubery’s Play It Again, Sam Weller, I watched an episode of Doctor Who in which the Doctor travelled in time to meet Charles Dickens. In his introductory scene Dickens was performing A Christmas Carol in front of a live audience. I took this coincidence as a sign and decided that my final project would be on the history of the oral performances of novels. I am most interested in looking at Dickens and other historical and contemporary examples of literary work being read/performed in similar ways. With Rubery’s article as a starting point (mainly harvesting the bibliography of the article), I want to examine similar literary performances across time and space. 

Through this historical research, I want to investigate the element of performance, specifically when the author is performing and dramatizing his or her own work, and how it interacts with the text and the reading experience of the audience. How do these performances reflect the audience of a particular time and place? 

Andrews, Malcolm. Charles Dickens and His Performing Selves : Dickens and the Public Readings. Oxford University Press, 2006.

Yamagata, Naoko. “Plato, Memory, and Performance.” Oral Tradition, vol. 20 no. 1, 2005, p. 111-129. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/ort.2005.0013.

Standish, Isolde. “Mediators of Modernity: “Photo-interpreters” in Japanese Silent Cinema.” Oral Tradition, vol. 20 no. 1, 2005, p. 93-110. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/ort.2005.0017.

Chirico, Miriam. “Performed Authenticity: Narrating the Self in the Comic Monologues of David Sedaris, John Leguizamo, and Spalding Gray.” Studies in American Humor, vol. 2, no. 1, American Humor Studies Association, Apr. 2016, pp. 22–46, doi:10.5325/studamerhumor.2.1.0022.

A Catalog of Joyce’s Ulysses-related DH projects

For my final project, I would like to compile and rethink DH projects done on James Joyce and specifically on his 1923 modernist novel Ulysses. Known for being filled with hundreds, if not thousands, of textual riddles, this novel is a great example of, and a perfect candidate for digital humanities projects which try to help with decoding of these hidden meanings. (James Joyce famously said that it would take scholars all their lives to find answers to the questions left throughout the novel.)

Challenged and inspired by Elyse Graham’s piece “Joyce and the Graveyard of Digital Empires,” I would like to delve into a realm of digital projects dedicated to decoding the Joyce novel. I will be looking for the earliest existing DH platforms related to the novel—if they’re gone for good, I will attempt to find information related to the goals of these projects. (It’s also interesting to see what survived on the web from the early 2000s). I will also prepare a list of platforms related to the novel that were created and maintained recently. This comparative approach will help us, among other things, to observe the trajectory of how researchers and DH people treated online world and online platforms so they could use those to better explain the novel. 

I will link the projects I found to my platform (I hope I will be able, in the end, to come up with one; this is the largest obstacle for him at this point). I will be doing screenshots highlighting what these projects concentrated on. Information regarding the approaches these projects took will be added. In my introductory piece, I am thinking of telling a brief history of DH projects related to Joyce’s Ulysses and showcasing the main similarities and differences the selected projects have and share. Also, I will pay attention to the fact what happened to those first DH-related projects initiated in the early 2000s and why exactly they did not succeed and/or were lost. 

A screenshot of an extract from Joyce’s novel from the Ulysses Project, which attempts to examine “how James Joyce recreated the city of Dublin in Ulysses using allusions.”

“Witches” at Play

If Doing Things with Novels course taught me anything, readers will find the best way to consume amazing stories. One of my favorites that has been told in different ways is Authur Miller’s 1953 play, The Crucible. This tale inspired by the Salem witch trials is the perfect balance of drama and intrigue that would be great to experience through the storytelling application Episodes

Created in 2013, the storytelling platform comprises over eighty professionals working in technology, television, publishing, and games. Along with community writers, the mobile application allows users to be immersive in engrossing and highly dramatic stories. The consumers play multiple roles here:  producers: as they have the ability to contribute stories and plotlines, users: as they interact with the application, and readers: as they peruse through the story presented. The stories have images and text, and they are presented almost as text messages conversations. Users/readers can either read through the juicy drama or partake in action and choose what happens next.

Being a tale full of intrigue, mystery, tension, and drama, The Crucible seems to be the perfect story for this medium. The play has many memorable characters and plotlines that can be recreated on this application. This exercise also can be a possible pedagogical tool that can engage students in reading the original material. The application is already accessible through both IOS and Android application stores. The interface is easy to navigate, especially for those with experience choosing your own adventure or the SIMS game. 

Through my retelling called Witches at Play, I’ll bring Abigail, John, Tibuta, Ann, and many other memorable characters to this modern way to interact and retell a classic. As a creative, I’m excited to use this modern platform to create a choose-your-own-adventure story. As an educator, I’m even more excited to see how can Episodes assist in teaching language, storytelling, world, and character-building but also overall understanding of the major plotlines, themes, and motifs in The Crucible.

Work Cited (in progress):

“Episode Interactive.” Episode, Warner Bros, 2013, home.episodeinteractive.com/about. 

Miller, Authur. The Crucible. Penguin Books, 1976. 

Class readings:

What we Think About When we Talk about Books – Leah Price

Playable Media and Textual Instruments – Noah Wardrip-Fruin

Persuasive Games – BogostIan Wright Will

The Connections of Connections, and so on and so Forth

A lot of the writing that has influenced my own craft takes the form of collections or serials, usually in the form of vignettes or other short snippets of writing. Some that come to mind include Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street, Maggie Nelson’s Bluets, and Humiliation by CUNY’s own Wayne Koestenbaum. On a somewhat different note, the collaborative web serial, SCP Foundation has managed to hold my attention for roughly an entire decade. As a massive fan of the work of Guiles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, I cannot deny that I’m interested in not only the way a work connects to other works, but also the internal connections that make up a work. That is, the way one navigates a text is a key, but often overlooked aspect of experiencing that text.

While I’ve written pieces inspired by the style of some of these authors, making use of structures akin to Kostenbaum’s “fugues,” Nelson’s “propositions,” or even more traditional vignettes akin to Cisneros’ writing, I’ve never stopped and thought about exactly what compelled me to do so, or why myself and others are attracted to this sort of work in the first place. However, after this semester, I’ve become much more acquainted with hypertext as a distinct, proper concept. If Ulysses can be called a “proto” hypertext, what is stopping The House on Mango Street from being one too?

Based on my background knowledge, a hypertext can have a start point – a website’s homepage, for instance. If one takes this for granted, it immediately proves the possibility of a physical hypertext. Take for instance, a choose-your-own-adventure book; such a piece has a clear start point, but is read in a non-linear fashion otherwise, with multiple end points and many intertwined paths. However, a classic choose-your-own-adventure book feature a single overarching narrative across what amounts to a single, albeit segmented piece of prose. And so, my research question: can a collection of traditional short fiction manifest as a proper hypertext?

Many traditional written works that are often considered hypertexts themselves or at least hypertext-related, such as Jorge Luis Borges’s Garden of Forking Paths, manifest in ways similar to choose-your-own-adventure books. For this assignment, I’m going to be taking inspiration from some of the pieces I mentioned as well as works by Italo Calivino such as Cosmicomics, Invisible Cities, and The Castle of Crossed Destinies.My plan with this project is to write a collection of short pieces of prose that complete several main goals: establishing a character across multiple linked narratives, akin to Calvino’s Qfwfq, designing a multi-layered narrative that is conveyed both in content and in more “meta” ways, such as in format, and most importantly, creating a work where the transitions between its sections or fragments are something appealing in and of themselves.

My current plan for creating the product involves first using Microsoft Word to write the text of the piece. From there, I have two options. I could move to Twine or similar software, arranging the piece in a manner that resembles a “typical” hypertext. However, I could also stick with Microsoft Word or switch to another word processor, and try to develop a hypertext that could be printed and published. A third possibility would be to set up headings in Microsoft Word to allow the reader to jump around the piece as they wish, but I feel like this would be clunky and unwieldy at best. At the moment, I’m feeling most inclined to create a complete collection of pieces in Microsoft Word so that I have them in one place, and then transfer them to Twine, eventually making the Twine and Microsoft Word versions of the project both available based on what a reader would prefer.

Genius.com and the History of Public Formation in/through Hip-hop Music

For my final project, I’m interested in exploring Genius as a literary annotation practice that exceeds the academic context in both its ability to serve as a collaborative (yet hierarchical) platform, and its use and connection to other social media platforms. I’m interested in exploring Genius’ social dimension not only theoretically—drawing connections between the platform and the works we read throughout this course—but also historically, through its inception as Rap Genius, and as a node in the broader history of hip-hop. I’m interested in how hip-hop has served throughout its history as a mode of public formation, through practices such as rap battles, song collaborations, diss tracks, sampling, etc., and how this history is reflected in how Genius is designed/used.

As such, my overall research questions are: How have practices in hip-hop traveled temporally and spatially into the digital dimension, and how is that reflected in how Genius is used and understood today? What does this say about digital annotation practices as part of not only a (largely white) book history, but as part of a history of Black cultural production? In turn, how has Genius, as a digital annotation platform, affected the way hip-hop is practiced today? By asking these questions, I’m hoping to produce an alternative historiography of contemporary digital annotation practices, through illustrating Genius, social media, and hip-hop music as co-productive entities.

Considering these questions, I’m planning to organize this paper in three main sections: First, a brief history of rap music as a social practice; second, a close reading of Genius as an annotation platform; and lastly, articulating entanglements between the two as affected by hip-hop artists and social media alike. Throughout the piece, I’m looking weave in the theoretical investments of our class readings. Specifically, I’m interested in (re)thinking through Price’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Books, Liu’s “From Reading to Social Computing,” “Community Reading and Social Imagination,” Benjamin’s “The Storyteller,” Barthes’ “From Work to Text,” and Schacht’s “Annotations.” Additionally, I’m also interested in diving deeper into other scholarly material I’ve found, such as “The network of collaboration among rappers and its community structure” by Reginald D. Smith, “The Mad Science of Hip-hop: History, Technology, and Poetics of Hip-hop’s Music, 1975-1991” by Patrick Rivers, and “Rhythms of Relation: Black Popular Music and Mobile Technologies” by Alexander Weheliye.