Comments on the second volume of the Electronic Literature Collection
I recently had to look over the second volume of the Electronic Literature Organization’s Electronic Literature Collection (http://collection.eliterature.org/2/) and comment on two pieces as part of a doctoral lecture. I went over a couple of them and at first settled on two, but a third one caught my attention. And so, allow me to make some quick comments on those three pieces.
I first engaged with the text titled La Casa Sota el Temps. This is a non-English text – perhaps Portuguese. This text, according to the author, attempts to give “readers” an immersive reading space with a videogame interface. The game components are quite limited, and while I navigated through the text I felt a bit disappointed, as the feeling that I got as I played this these titles was “walking around and clicking on stuff so I can read texts I can read in print does not make a game”. As far as this ELC piece, I admit ignorance as to the words presented in the text. While I could make out some words and sentences, I am not completely fluent in the variation of Portuguese used in this text. The reason that I want to talk about this text is because it makes a statement about immersion and reading. However, the statement made is contrary to what the author would have wanted.
Immersion is about feeling inside the particular work being engaged with. Because of the nature of immersion, and contrary to popular belief, immersion is not about story. Immersion is about space. If you’ve ever read a good book you will know that you do not feel immersed in the events unfolding or the character conversations. You feel immersed, through your imagination, in the SPACE where the characters interact. We do not “become” Clarissa, but we are next to Clarissa as she writes her letters. The same is true of interactive spaces. In games, we do not become immersed in the story of Final Fantasy. We become immersed in the space where the story unfolds. When the design of the game allows, we become the character, and while this invites a higher level of participation with the story – ie we become more involved with the story – but the immersion is within the space itself, and the more realistic the depiction of the space the more immersed we become. If you consider the introduction to Modern Warfare (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RNi_sjqUiZw) you will see the effectiveness of the depiction of whatever middle-eastern country this is and how it successfully draws you in to become immersed. What is presented there is consistent with our ideas of reality – or at least with the media narrative reality that we have been presented with – and we can, therefore become immersed. However, if you consider the Skyrim introduction (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxlaXhZvPvc) – one from a more technologically advanced game – you will see that immersion takes a while to happen. The reason is that instead of focusing on space, the game focuses on the story and lore. In Skyrim you become more involved with the story, but it you remain distant from the game world itself. That is, until the world opens up and you are allowed to go poke around and actually SEE the space. Being able to see beyond “just trees” heightens the sense of immersion – of “being there”.
The second piece from the ELC that I engaged with was Tailspin (http://collection.eliterature.org/2/works/wilks_tailspin/Tailspin.html). This interactive poem engages the reader (and here I’m not hesitant to say reader) by giving them the option of HOW to engage with the text. Although there are visuals and sound, the focus of the work is the poem text itself. In a world where we are trying to figure out how to marry text with images, sound, and interactivity, this is a shining example to be followed. However, depending on how interactive you want your text to be, it might be worthwhile to consider more interactive elements beyond “click and text shows up”. Daniel Benmergui does an excellent job of this in his text “Today I Die” (http://www.ludomancy.com/games/today.php?lang=en) – an interactive poem about life and death that is a bit more focused on the procedural aspect than ELC’s Tailspin.
The third text I wanted to comment on from the ELC is Toucher (http://collection.eliterature.org/2/works/bouchardon_toucher/index.html). Toucher is an amazing work of digital text where the player/reader experiences different variations of touch. Players can “caress”, “touch”, “blow”, “move”, or “hit”. Some of these are meant to reflect eroticism, others to reflect frustration. In addition to the concerns raised by the author in his introduction, this text raises questions about the appropriateness of certain hardware for specific texts. Because of the lack of touch sensors, I can’t say that I fully enjoyed this text as much as I would have if there had been a touch interface. Touch tablets and the Nintendo DS, it seems to me, would have been an ideal frame to present this text.
Anyway, that’s my input on it.
See you next century.