Sunday, September 17, 2006

before midterm...

Montfort argues that interactive fiction is distinctively different from hypertext fiction, stating:
"There is ... nothing in the nature of the lexia or the link, those fundamental elements of hypertext, that allows the reader to type and contribute text or provides the computer with the means to parse or understand natural language. [...] Hypertext fiction also does not maintain an intermediate, programmatic representation of the narrative world, as interactive fiction does."

In terms of understanding how these two forms relate to/differ from narrative, is this distinction significant? Or are they more closely related that Montfort would like to admit? Discuss.

Contrary to Montfort, hypertext and IF are closer than we might think. The "preferred" narrative conclusion in IF, out of a few possible endings, is similar to a specific lexia, out a few, that we might wish to end up at in hypertext. Indeed, hypertext, unlike IF, is not a program that can receive input and generate output. But when related to the underlying or overarching narrative, both hypertext and IF are similar. Both offer lexia that is linked; however hypertext makes those links explicit, so the reader can immediately navigate the narrative at hand. For IF, part of the reader's pleasure is first uncovering the links, and then choosing which links to take. The text that the reader of IF contributes(both extradiegetic and diegetic) are part of the process of the reader uncovering the links.

IF gives the appearance of immediacy, for the narrative is in the present-tense and is generated in response to the user's commands. The use of cardinal points to navigate does convey a certain physicality in IF. But hypertext has similar potential to be equally evocative of the narrative universe. In fact, hypertext might possibly have even greater potential to maintain an intermediate representation, for navigating via hyperlinks, in real time, could be quicker than typing out commands into a parser.


Espen Aarseth defines cybertext as a perspective on textuality, which considers a work as a textual machine, and sees the reader as having to make a non-trivial effort to traverse the text. Discuss whether Scott McCloud’s “Carl” comic strip can be considered a cybertext.

McCloud's "Carl" is less of a cybertext, and more of an interesting demonstration of how comics work by having the reader "close the gap" between frames. Does the closing of the gap, the interpretation between frames of each comic panel, on the part of the reader, constitute it to be a cybertext? I think it hinges on the idea of "non-trivial". Aarseth's central notion is that there has to be some substantial effort of the reader to traverse the narrative trajectory.
"Carl" is then merely an expanding unicursal maze(not a labyrinth, for that would convey a kind of insurmountability), that starts out as a straightforward path with the first and last frame that is initially presented. The narrative path has been forged, and the feedback loop has been completed. We know Carl will die from drunk driving. The only question is what other penultimate narrative satellites could have delayed his inexorable destiny. This does constitute a kind of literal riddle or puzzle to uncover, but it is by no means "non-trivial".


Does a potential narrative such as Paul Fournel’s “The Tree Theatre: A Combinatory Play” satisfy Crawford’s definition of interactivity? Could it be considered an example of interactive media? Why/why not?

I don't think it's a valid example. The loop, in Crawford's cyclic process of "listen, think, speak" process as the basis for interactivity, is not completed, for after the audience has watched the preceding scene, thought about what they would like to see next and voted for their choice, there is little "thinking" on the part of the performers, for they merely follow the predetermined branching playscript.

But this observation is only possible in retrospect. During the course of watching the play, the audience does not have perfect knowledge of all the possible events in the tree structure. Thus the illusion that their choice at each point is a pivotal one, that it makes all the difference, is effectively created. Furthermore, given the linear nature of the play, the consequences of each choice takes on greater significance, as there is no possibility of reverting any decision made as the dramaturgical trajectory becomes permanent after each choice. The audience thus feels as if the play is highly interactive, when in truth their control is restricted given the fact that there are limited choices and a limited range of possible endings.

Traditionally, theatre is known to be largely uninteractive. The audience listens and watches a play, unable to meaningfully influence the unfolding drama. The question to ask then is whether the audience wishes to actually influence the dramaturgical flow. Theatrical plays work so powerfully for they sustain the illusion of real-life happening on stage, by maintaining that imaginary fourth wall between audience and performer. To allow for audience interaction is to shatter that wall and puncture any sense of verisimiltude. Thus interactivity in theatre has a stronger effect that in new media.

Perhaps a truer form of interactivity(according to Crawford) onstage, instead of the Tree Theatre, would be improv theatre. Think along the lines of "Whose Line is it Anyway?", where the performers have no script, and are given scenarios and characters by audience members to enact out. The audience can stop the action at anytime and throw in a certain prop, or require the performer to say a particular line, or sing a song. The performer must then consider how to integrate that "audience-suggested" aspect into his performance immediately. The disjunctive effect is often comical, and highly entertaining as well. For the audience is afforded a great deal of control over the dramaturgy, and also because it showcases the improvisational abilities of the performers to act on the fly.

Monday, September 11, 2006

only revolutions.


They were with us before Romeo & Juliet. And long after too. Because they’re forever around. Or so both claim, carolling gleefully:
We’re allways sixteen.
Sam & Hailey, powered by an ever-rotating fleet of cars, from Model T to Lincoln Continental, career from the Civil War to the Cold War, barrelling down through the Appalachians, up the Mississippi River, across the Badlands, finally cutting a nation in half as they try to outrace History itself.
By turns beguiling and gripping, finally worldwrecking, Only Revolutions is unlike anything ever published before, a remarkable feat of heart and intellect, moving us with the journey of two kids, perpetually of summer, perpetually sixteen, who give up everything except each other.


They were with us before Tristan & Isolde. And long after too. Because they’re forever around. Or so both claim, gleefully carolling:
We’re allways sixteen.
Hailey & Sam, powered by an ever-rotating fleet of cars, from Shelby Mustang to Sumover Linx, careen from the Civil Rights Movement to the Iraq War, tearing down to New Orleans, up the Mississippi River, across Montana, finally cutting a nation in half as they try to outrace History itself.
By turns enticing and exhilarating, finally breathtaking, Only Revolutions is unlike anything ever conceived before, a remarkable feat of heart and intellect, moving us with the journey of two kids, perpetually of summer, perpetually sixteen, who give up everything except each other.

mzd is back.


a failed implementation of what hypertext could ideally look like. Project Xanadu


In "Hypertext, Hypermedia and Literary Studies: The State of the Art", Landow and Delany suggest that "hypertext can be expected to have important institutional as well as intellectual effects, for it is at the same time a form of electronic text, a radically new information technology, a mode of publication, and a resource for collaborative work… Hypertext historicizes many of our most commonplace assumptions, forcing them to descend from the ethereality of abstraction and appear as corollary to a particular technology and historical era. We can be sure that a new era of computerized textuality has begun; but what it will be like we are just beginning to imagine."

This passage was written in 1991, at a time when hypertext systems were available in somewhat limited forms such as Hypercard and Intermedia, use of the Internet was largely confined to academic institutions, and the term "World Wide Web" had only just been coined. Now, 15 years later, comment and reflect upon the impact hypertext has had on the world.

(Quick trivia: George Landow was the founding dean of USP from 1999 to 2001, during its transition from the Core Curriculum, and he taught some pretty cool modules while here.)

Hypertext is so ubiquitous nowadays, such that in attempting to answer the above question I am hard-pressed to recall what pre-hypertextual(if there is indeed such a period) times looked like. Well, for one, students hardly need to spend long hours in libraries swimming through books looking for a particular piece of information. The internet allows of any studious scholar to save time by quickly and efficiently seeking out the text, the information that he desires. Today, students and readers are empowered without realising it. We know nothing of the "boundedness" of a physical text, for a large of the reading we do nowadays is online. Hypertext, as Landow and Delany presciently point out, allows for unprecedented kind of collaboration, different from traditional notions of working together on a text. Today, given the ubiquity of hypertext and hypermedia, I would suggest that any reader of the text is a collaborator, for he constructs a particular narrative discourse while navigating through the given links between the texts. Collaboration thus becomes integral to the hypertext. Wikipedia embodies this, whereby authorship is fluid and dynamic. Internet chat programs, beginning with IRC and now with MSN, allow for a realtime synchronous construction of narrative - the chat, between multiple authors/readers. Such roles become less-defined in hypertext today.

Also, the advent of hypertext has fostered in an unprecedented paradigm shift in the way people process and handle information today. It has made possible the creation of a metanarrative, or a metatext by linking the entire corpus of knowledge and experience and literature created by and known to mankind, into one intertwined network that grows as long as there is one person writing in relation to another text.

And so perhaps the most immediate and long-lasting effect of hypertext is most generally observed in our day-to-day treatment of information. If your civil engineering lecturer casually mentions an interesting peice of trivia about a suspension bridge built in 1973 in San Francisco, one could possibly Google that bridge to read more about it, and perhaps go on to discover, on a Wikipedia article, that its chief engineer was a Hare Krishna and good friends with Steve Jobs. You could then go on to find out how his religious beliefs manifests itself in his structures, or read up more on how this engineer was one of the select group of people in the Bay area to use Apple Computers. And so on... you get the idea. That piece of trivia at the beginning of this post is a good example as well. Knowledge,(which is what blocks of text eventually represents, yes?) becomes a dynamic intertwining network as hypertext, empowering the reader to fetch linked information, effectively widening and deepening his experience of reading one text. My reading of Landow's text is broadened now that I know he was once in the same classroom as us. (I am all the more in awe.) Hypertext shrinks the physical world by enlarging the virtual text to encompass it, from the inside(of the computer) out(into the world).

In time to come, there might be truly nothing that we cannot know.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


In his paper "Modular Structure and Image/Text Sequences: Comics and Interactive Media", George Legrady states: 'Meaning in the interactive work is a result of the sequential selection of components that the viewer assembles in the viewing process. The viewer can then be considered as someone who actively constructs the narrative through the assembling of fragmented or modular information elements. The sequential sum of viewed selections becomes the narrative.' This approach to interactivity is reflected in his work Slippery Traces.

Discuss how this approach to constructing a narrative changes the roles of the reader and the author in the process of narrative transmission.

By deliberately forcing each of the images to be understood not in isolation by in the context of other images which can be rearranged, Legrady fosters a more collaborative process between the author and the reader. The text is static no longer, but not just on the linear/non-linear dichotomy. The holistic content and meaning of all the images is now created and negotiated by the reader.

And the author, although having predetermined the possible linkages between the images, cannot possibly know exactly how each reader will construct and interpret the text. Yet he can guess at a possible narrative trajectory, given the reader's initial choice of images, for he has perfect knowledge (relative to the reader) of all the images. In this respect he still retains his authority. Thus, the author has called for a partnership in narrativizing, and relinquishes some of his power, but only to enlarge and deepen the meaning and possibilities of his text/image.

The next thing I would like to see, which is what we will probably do in class this Thursday, is for someone to provide images in a certain order, and for another to freely and completely rearrange those images, regardless of the predetermined links between the images. The roles of author and reader will be in greater jeopardy, but only to the benefit of play, and narrative.


Choose a set of 5-10 images that you feel form a narrative. Arrange them in a linear sequence on your blog. You may or may not want to include text captions with each image.

Bring a physical copy of your images to class on Thursday. We'll be using them as part of an in-class exercise.

Sorry! The copyright for the images do not belong to me, and are not avaliable in the public domain. So I can't post them here. But I will bring them to class this Thursday :)


Write about the narrative that your group has chosen for project 1. Why have you chosen this work? How might you approach the task of re-configuring it as an interactive piece? Be prepared to discuss your group's choice of work in class on Thursday.

My group has chosen to centre in on the relationship between Morpheus and Nada, found in Neil Gaiman's groundbreaking comic series Sandman Chronicles. It is a love story of epic porportions. Morpheus falls in love with, loses, then rescues and finally liberates his star-crossed lover. On one level, the love affair is bittersweet, for the lovers know they cannot be together for they belong to different worlds. Yet their self-sacrificial acts for each other underscore the depth of their commitment for each other. And the final conclusion results in Nada's rebirth, which we perceive to be a metaphor for the cyclic, neverending narrative that is made possible despite Gaiman's somewhat standard linear comic narrative.

As we have seen in class and in our readings, the comic form is already an interactive medium of sorts, as the reader "fills in the gaps" by interpreting the frames together in a linear fashion. What we could do to make it even more interactive, is to transpose the comic into hypertext(or hypercomic), and allow for greater play and narrative possiblity to enter.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006


“...transposability of the story is the strongest reason for arguing that narratives are indeed structures independent of any medium...”

Choose a narrative that has been expressed in both an interactive and a non-interactive medium. Discuss how the transposition to/from interactive media has changed the narrative. Has the structure of the narrative remained intact?

The Wachowski Brothers catapulted themselves to cult fame with "The Matrix" in 1999, which combined groundbreaking special effects with philosophical musings on the human experience. Four years later, in between the back-to-back releases of the next two installments of the trilogy, they offered "Enter the Matrix", a game which allowed you to take control of either one of two secondary characters from "Matrix Reloaded" and run around the Matrix universe doing all the cool stuff including activating "Bullet Time", and hacking into the mainframe. The game culminated in medias res, to be concluded in the final movie.

I admit this is a rather peculiar example to choose, for here the interactive medium of an electronic action game actually allows the viewers of the movie to effectively fill in the narrative gaps between the movies. Thus rather than retaining and preserving the original narrative, "Enter the Matrix" actually helps render the narrative complete and whole. It is a necessary component to retain the structural integrity of the narrative. Transposition here therefore serves then to close the narrative loop, by apparently empowering the audience to faciliate that closure/kernel.


Interactive media allows for choice and control on the part of the reader/user. What problem does this raise for self-regulation? What, if anything, does this suggest about designing interactive narrative?

The immediate problem is that once when choice and control is given to the user, the user becomes the author(albeit in a limited sense, depending on the medium), whether or not he realises it. The reader/author plays both roles simultaneously, and self-regulation ceases to effectively function. For the shift in authorial control indicates that the narrative itself is destablized, because it is no longer just the creative product of the original author.

Intuitively and logically, it suggests this: For self-regulation to be maintained, and not have the narrative disrupted needlessly, restrictions must be imposed on the user's choice and control, so that authorial authority remains largely in the domain of the original author. This would then restrict the degree of interactivity experienced by the user.


Think of an example of the use of narrative in interactive media. With reference to your example, suggest what the “peculiar nature” of interactive media may be, and which narrative effects it may specialize in.

"Enter the Matrix" departs from conventional ideas of narrative, by allowing the gamer to help solidify the "indeterminacies", or complete the inherent ellipsis in the narrative, as well as subverting to a certain extent the idea of interactivity, for the game allows for a digression of sorts. Rather than empowering the gamer to significantly alter the narrative, the game merely indulges in a little fantasy digression of sorts, unraveling a secondary narrative tangent, in which the gamer's actions will appear to ultimately resonate in the linear filmic narrative.

Monday, August 21, 2006

post, the long one

1) In “What is New Media?” Lev Manovich proposes 5 principles of new media: numerical representation, modularity, automation, variability, and transcoding. Choose an example that you consider to be “new media”, and describe it in terms of these principles. What implications do these principles have for narrative and play within interactive media?

DVDs, with an array of extras and special features on their platter besides the feature film, in many aspects exhibit a high fidelity to Crawford's new media principles. These discs are essentially made of the binary data written into the pits of its surface. And aside from this, DVDs also feature digital transfers of audio and picture, which are numerically coded.

The film scripts and exclusive stills that might be included are discrete and modular elements in themselves, yet are combined together on the "Extras" section of the DVD to significantly alter and deepen the experience of watching a film.

Beck's 2005 DVD Guero featured video artists D-Fuse who designed "interactive video remixes of each track". (Sorry, not going to go into whether it's 'interactive' or not here. Heh.) The packaging claimed that there were "over 100 unique visual possibilities" The viewer could use the remote control's "angle" button to change the visual images onscreen while the music played. There is in some sense "low-level" automation going on here, though it may be argued that the automation goes on in the DVD player and not on the DVD itself. Yet the user, and the DVD, are agents which provide the input for the changing of the visual image.

DVD-ROM weblinks allow for variability, branching the film experience onto the Internet. By connecting itself to the vast amount of hypermedia distributed throughout the Internet, the user can return anytime to explore another different path through the links.

And of course, in its short life-span of less than twenty years, the DVD, chiefly as a technological data repository, has become entrenched as part of our culture. The movie industry now sees DVD releases as major marketing events, almost on par with gala premieres. It has both upheld and revolutionized the conventions of HCI, and by such transcoding, films that get released on DVD take on greater levels of cultural engagement.


2) Manovich questions the usefulness of the term interactivity, suggesting that “once an object is represented in a computer, it automatically becomes interactive. Therefore, to call computer media ‘interactive’ is meaningless – it simply means stating the most basic fact about computers.” In contrast, in “What exactly is Interactivity?” Chris Crawford proposes a much stricter definition of interactivity. Compare these differing views, with reference to your own experience of interactive media systems.

It is hard to choose any one definition over the other, for both have their merits in terms of challenging the diluted use of the word nowadays. I would advocate an understanding of interactivity that lies somewhere in between both of theirs. Traditional media when represented on the computer, becomes new media, but does not necessarily become "interactive". An digitized image can be altered with the Paintbrush tool, just as its original can be painted over. Yet interactivity does not need to be as purposeful as Crawford suggests. A computer program can give a processed response to a user's input, after its algorithms have calculated the best response. One example is in interactive sound art, where a user's movements are captured by a video camera and sent to a computer, which will emit sounds based upon the variations to light and color.


3) Narrative, interactivity and play – how does Run Lola Run reflect these concerns? How does this relate to Manovich’s concept of transcoding?

Lola's experience is configured as if within a game system - She has twenty minutes to obtain the money to save Manni. Each time she fails her in attempt to rescue him, the narrative restarts. The initial epigragh by Herberger "After the game is before the game". alerts us to the recurring nature of the game - we are allowed to restart at the end, for is that not the point of a game after all? So, the first two attempts end in Lola and Manni dying respectively, and lead on to the alternate codas which while distilling and emphasizing certain aspects of the preceding narrative sequence, signify the end and the beginning of another try for Lola.

The triptych structure of the film is appealing for it plays with the traditional convention of linear narrative, and it also plays with the experience of life as we know it. Rather than being confined to the singular diegetic trajectory which films normally concern themselves with, Run Lola Run toys with the idea of "What if?"

Lola, in each consecutive turn, interacts with her environment. She learns what to do and what not to do (eg. jumping over the dog in the third time) While she is able to defer and alter her own narrative trajectory, others like the thugs and Herr Meyer cannot seem to escape their ultimate fate(ending up in a car crash) despite different things happening to them. A comment on predestination? Perhaps.

And with the advent of computing, we have options like "Undo" and "Redo" to cover up mistakes we make. This concept is realized in its filmic extreme in Run Lola Run, where Lola is allowed to rerun the entire twenty mintues all over again, twice. It is, in a sense, the computerization of narrative conventions. Cultural computing norms find themselves transcoded, and re-presented on film.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

post, the first

Hi y'all. I'm Lucas Ho, a 2nd year undergrad majoring in English Literature. This module is already whetting my appetite, in terms of non-linear narratives and gameplay. I've got a few ideas swimming in my head, but i'll sort them out first and then post later. Yes, I am also real chuffed to find a mix of seniors and freshies in this class. Hope to get to know each one of you. Till then, hang tight, enjoy the first week of school, and I'll see you all on Thursday!

About me

  • I'm lucasho
  • From Singapore, Singapore
  • slow down, hold still
    every crooked line of this sad city.
    down by the river; we'll play awhile,
    looking for that elusive goldmine;
    maybe i'm a little weak to dance.

    it's a beautiful piece of heartache...
    yeah, we're gonna be alright.
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