We leave video games for now to focus on electronic literature… but e-lit can be quite playful, sometimes playable, and even leaning all the way back into the genre of video games. I have mentioned in a previous post the text adventure games being the earliest examples of interactive fiction, but of course that is just a sub-genre within a larger field.
What makes electronic literature differ from regular literature, is the adaption of the new elements brought about by the computational environment. This includes things like interaction, movement, sound, images, videos and other things that is impossible to print in a traditional book. Computers have opened for a whole new level of multimodality that can enrich how we experience literature, and add several layers of meaning to the polyphony. When it comes to movement lyric videos are good pop cultural representants of kinetic poetry, and might drive the evolution a bit further.
Algorithms can be made to generate text after given criteria, like the Taroko Gorge engine, that produces random poem verses from a set of words and phrases. Twitter bots can be configured to generate texts in a similar way, and also to collect and reuse words, phrases and sentences from various twitter posts, producing literature by given rules.
Hypertext can be utilised to make dynamic narratives, where the reader can choose a path through a body of text and be told entirely different stories depending on the choices. With computers all kinds of controls can be developed, so in the end only the imagination limits how to navigate literature, and takes us a long way from the often stringent narratives of traditional books.
What puzzles me a bit being presented with the e-lit works and the 3 Electronic Literature Collections is the visual representation of it. In my opinion a lot of it looks quite bad, like there is a disturbing lack of design to it. While traditional books usually look pleasing and have tidy layouts, why did the transition to electronic literature lead to the loss of style? Either it wasn’t considered at all, maybe it’s done on purpose, or they didn’t know how. I guess the visual aspect got lost in a purely technical and less artistic approach to the new medium. Of course most of these works were made for smaller screens, and as a result appear a bit off viewed by todays technology. The speed of development and shifting nature of computer technology is of course a problem in the preservation of older e-lit works as the environments that they were developed for disappears. Even the relatively recent Flash format which a fair amount of e-lit depend upon is slowly being squeezed out of existence.
This week started off with a very interesting field trip to the Bergen based independent game developers Rain Games. We got a glimpse into the game development and the tools they use, and we also tried some of their games, both released and unreleased. Their games Teslagrad and World to the West were quite fun and the upcoming game Mesmer looked really promising too. The game developers Henchman & Goon was also represented while we visited, and we got the chance to try their upcoming game Pode, a cute and interesting puzzle adventure.
Game making lab
Thanks to Patricks initiative to start a voluntary lab, this Friday we tried Twine, a simple text based game making tool which was also recommended as a good starting point in the studio visit on gaming & learning from 3 weeks back. It was really fun, and it’s surely a tool that is easy to learn and use. We hope to come up with some nice games during the coming weeks, and of course there’s room for more students to participate. Next lab is on Thursday, 12 April, at 12:15.
Illusions and voices
Having tried some text based empathy games, I found that they were informative and could impart some cognitive empathy, but still they were not very effective at it. To find out if video games can summon emotional empathy, I took a deep dive into Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, defeating Surt the fire giant. Waiting in line was Valravn the spirit of illusions, so the journey is far from finished yet.
Senua is on her way to Helheim, the Hell in Norse mythology, to free the soul of her dead lover. To get there she has to go through intense hack and slash battles, and graphically macabre sceneries. All the way she is hearing voices telling her to give up, that she will fail and so on, but also giving some useful guidance like “Behind you!”.
Senua is suffering from psychosis, and this game is very effective in portraying her mental illness. The dark atmosphere is strengthened by droning sounds and music accompanying the voices. There are also dreamlike flickering visuals, and confusing mirages making me feel utterly lost, as I take on the role of being Senua, feeling the pain, anger, sorrow, desperation and vertigo.
The controls are quite simple, the player do not have to perform very technical moves, and thus the experience and the narrative becomes the focus. There is some puzzle solving involved, but since it it heavily based upon symbols from Norse mythology it adds to the dark mood.
The visual realism of this game makes a strong emotional impact. The game gives an awareness of psychosis and it makes it easier to understand those actually suffering from this illness, and what they are facing.
Despite sequences with sunlight and warm colours, the game is still rather dark. But while there is a strong undertone of despair, the sunlight seems like a reminder that there is still hope somehow.
It was nice to start off the week with Mia’s exhibit called #Textransformations. It was visually pleasing and I liked how it was gamified both with the QR clues leading way towards the coming midterm exam, and the encouragement to creative participation. This weeks studio visit was also quite interesting. I especially took notice of something Remi Kalir said:
“…it feels though as we’ve possibly began to conflate games with play, which can intersect but do not necessarily always intersect. There are many things that people play that are not games. And there are some really important, I think, qualities of playfulness that in some ways don’t exist in games. Play is often open ended. Games are in some respects very constrained designed systems. Play can be this kind of imaginative space where rules shift. Notions of emerging qualities or improvisation often exist in play, which sometimes don’t necessarily occur inside of games […] but I think its interesting to think about the relationship between games and play, and when they do intersect, and when they don’t intersect.”
It made me think a bit about the paidia and ludus in games. Many video games go a long way in trying to give a feeling of the free play of paidia, and while they may be quite successful at it this freedom is still confined to the rules of a defined ludus. So they might have a solid portion of free play, but not fully pure paidia. But I think that what often makes paidia interesting is when rules are applied and there are different mixes of ludus and paidia. It’s like when limitations kickstart creativity, and makes it easier to come up with ideas, A task or a problem can more easily than total freedom inspire innovative answers and solutions.
“To perceive is to suffer.”
We played some simple online empathy games this week, “Spent“, “Syrian Journey” and “Bad News” addressing different issues. While they were rather informative and educating, they were not very effective in evoking empathy. I think one of the reasons for this is that they were largely text-based, and had only simple graphics like static drawings and infographics as visual elements. Aristotle realised that to persuade the listeners, the “logos”/ facts/ appeal to logic was not enough. As a part of his modes of persuasion, in addition to logos he also suggested “pathos”, the appeal to the audience’s emotions. To achieve this in a game I think it is necessary to apply both expressive graphical content, music and sounds, and thus weave a multimodal expression with a greater impact than mere words. Another thing that made the games less emotive is that they were generalising instead of making it personal.
A game that has made it more personal is “That Dragon, Cancer“, a game telling the story of Joel Green’s 4-year fight against cancer before being defeated. The game developer is the father of Joel, and he describes the game like this; “This is where we go to remember our son Joel, up through here along this path. We want to show you who he was, and how his life changed us. Can we walk here together for a while?”. I haven’t tried the game myself, but only seen a video of the father presenting the game, which was moving. I can only imagine that this game, knowing what story it’s built upon, would be an emotional journey partaking in the struggle and loss of their family, and the memories that they cherish.
It seems like quite an accomplishment then, that a game like “Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice” could make me feel such empathy for a fictional character. That I felt some of her sorrow and fury, and wanted to help her take revenge.
By now we are deeply embedded in the fabric of video games, and we have left the world of digital art behind. Well, not really… Video games are, in their own right, rich interactive artworks representing various visual genres.
Sprites can be seen as artworks within artworks, these 2d portrayals of video game entities, either representing our hero the protagonist, various enemies or objects. From their inception in the 70’s and through the 80’s they were highly pixellated, and has become an iconic representation of the first wave of computer games. The french street artist “Invader” brought these ancient sprites to the streets in the form of mosaics. Often basing his works on the alien enemies from Space Invaders, he is invading the world, one city at a time.
A touch of adventure
The arrival of touch devices like the iPad, led to a playful and innovative exploration of ways for the touch interface to control games. A genre that most elegantly adapted to the world of touch, as I mentioned in an earlier blog post, is the point and click adventure game. As the classics resurfaced on these new devices, there has also been quite a few newcomers to the genre during this decade.
Machinarium (Amanita Design, 2009), Broken Age (Double Fine Productions, 2015), and Samarost 3 (Amanita Design, 2016) are all good examples of games that builds on the point and click tradition and successfully gives us new and creative experiences, stories and challenges.
Most of these games have parted from their roots in interactive literature, and as the graphics are getting more realistic and expressive, the games often depend solely on the visuals to tell the story. The ever more advanced graphics can for instance let body language and facial expressions add a layer of nonverbal language, and convey atmosphere and emotion.
The 8 core aesthetics help us understand and express why certain games appeal to us; Sense pleasure (Especially sight and sound for most games), Fantasy, Narrative, Challenge, Fellowship, Competition, Discovery, Expression and Abnegation. The more of these aesthetics a game is able to touch upon, the more appealing and captivating the game will be.
The Danish game developers Playdead have made a couple of games that has really struck a nerve with me, Limbo (2010) and Inside (2016). Both being puzzle platform adventure games, with a dark and sinister vibe to them. They are leaning slightly into the horror genre, although in a cartoonish kind of way. So, when the little hero have to die gruesome deaths over and over in order to solve the puzzles, it feels bad, and empathy steps forth. These two games also parts with the point and click tradition by only applying directional control + “grab”.
Although all the above mentioned games have linear narratives and a strong ludus, they do to different degrees give you a freedom to the pace and order in which you discover the things and clues that unlocks the progress of the story. This way they throw a playful paidia into the mix, which will make the gameplay more interesting, and let the player drive the narrative instead of the game just dragging the player through the story.
Expanding this freedom, and introducing vast 3d landscapes, has led to games like The Legend of Zelda – Breath of the Wild (Nintendo, 2017), the 17’th in the series. This is a gem of an action adventure game, with stunning graphics, and with many puzzles and quests that for the most part can be digested in a nonlinear manner.
Peer Game Showcase
It’s been very interesting to see all the game presentations, and I will probably try several of the games. But the game that has left the most profound impression on me this far, is the dark fantasy action-adventure Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (Ninja Theory, 2017). I’m amazed by the amount of emotion and atmosphere that this game was able to present, and it really moved me. I felt strong empathy for Senua the main character, and I can imagine that this game is a powerful experience that shakes the senses. It instantly ended up on my wish list, which also means that I will eventually need a gaming pc or a PlayStation 4 in order to play it. But first I guess I’ll better finish reading the books for this course, and also finish up Breath of the Wild and Inside.
When software was first created, piracy was lurking closely behind. Following the revolution of the personal computer, computer games, and the arrival and popularity of the Commodore 64 amongst many other systems, there was was an explosive expansion of the extent of illegal copying and distribution. Attempts to copy protect software gave birth to a new genre within art and a subculture; the making of the crack intro. Programmers and groups of programmers cracked the copy protections, and added short intros showing off visual, musical, and programming skills. The intros typically contained 3d graphics (calculated in real time of course), fancy scrolling text, and all kinds of creative visual effects, in a maximalistic multimodal expression. The scene was quite competitive both in being the first and fastest to crack new games, and in impressing and overdoing the other groups by pushing the limits of what was possible to make. While piracy was financially bad for the video game industry, the craft of game development benefited from this exploration of uncharted territories and the display of what could be achieved. The scene also expressed themselves in a similar manner through longer standalone releases, called demos, with several sequences of rotating 3d graphics, images, animation, storytelling, and so on showcasing their skills. Many would also through these advanced business cards be recruited by companies developing computer games.
Growing up in this climate we were bombarded with cracked games including intros. Many really good games, and many terrible attempts at making games, copied from tape to tape. One of the first games that really struck a nerve with me was Boulder Dash for the Commodore 64, a game probably inspired by Pac-Man somehow, but still very innovative, with vibrant colors,
animated elements, and a fair amount of puzzle solving thrown in. You had to collect all diamonds in the level and then head for the exit before the time ran out, while avoiding monsters and falling rocks. The levels ranged from very easy to quite hard. The game has surfaced on many platforms, and the latest version of this game was released in 2016 for both PC and Mac. Over the years numerous innovative games in the puzzle genre have emerged, some very good examples are Lemmings, and Rinth Island (Buzz Monkey Software/Chillingo, 2012). The latter of these also touches unto the platformer genre in a very cylindrical manner.
Even though I got to try Super Mario Bros (Nintendo, 1985) back in the day, which kickstarted the side scrolling platform game genre, I really spent more time playing a fairly decent clone called Great Giana Sisters. For some reason I wasn’t too fond of the console concept back then, and Nintendo wouldn’t release their games on other platforms, so I had to choose from the titles that circulated for my computer. The side scrolling
platformer is one of my favourite genres, and a type of game that I would like to try to make myself too. Some of the most successful additions to this genre family that comes to mind from recent years are Rolando (Hand Circus, Ngmoco 2008), Soosiz, and Super Phantom Cat (Veewo Games, 2016). They are all really good iOS games and approach both the genre, the physics and the touch screen interface each in their own way.
It has been interesting to watch a handful of the Netflix documentaries on video games, both covering historic aspects of the topic, but also covering niches such as contemporary indie games. It’s fascinating to see all the creativity and weirdness that has been brought to the table over the years. Take FEZ for example, a highly entertaining retro 2d puzzle platformer with a 3d twist. Or a game I discovered some years ago called We Love Katamari, the second game in the series, loaded with japanese weirdness. A surreal firework of colorful 3d objects, with matching musical craziness, and based around a very simplistic concept that is utilized in every way thinkable.
You control this small guy who is rolling a ball around and all kinds of stuff stick to the ball and makes it larger. You start with the small things on the ground, and as the ball grows you can roll up bigger things. Ultimately you find yourself rolling up people, houses, the Great Wall of China, the crust of the earth, the king and queen of the universe, the planets and the sun.
So, in short I have 3 main genres that I largely prefer, the puzzler, the platformer and the adventure game. I have a strong interest in all aspects of video games besides the games themselves; the gameplay, the narrative, the controls / user interface, the design of the graphics, the music, the programming, the physics, and the packaging (if any). I would love to make video games, and I might do so soon. The art and the craft of the games attract me, and also influences what games I choose to play. Approaching game development I think that the greatest challenge will be to come up with something that is actually unique and fresh. Of course it can be inspired by the past, but merely copying the past won’t do.
By the way have you tried Lumino City? Truly awesome game where all graphical details are hand made. If you haven’t heard of it, Google it! There are some really nice videos out there describing the making of the game, and the result… well worth a look.
Recently I resurfaced some old collaborative fanzines that i participated in at the turn of the century. Visually it was highly based on recycling, and remixing, with words and sentences cut or ripped from newspapers. We wrote articles and record reviews while exploring punk aesthetics and anarchistic layouts. The publication evolved into an online magazine, and then into a forum before it disappeared into thin air.
I realize how we were somehow rooted in dadaism and found object art in what we did, and how this also was an instance of our self representation. This was an “unselfie” that told more about us than pictures of our faces would do, a brand and a collage of our interests and thoughts rather than a mask.
It’s quite interesting to see how much old analog concepts and techniques has shaped the digital realm. The book for instance has been adopted in the digital world, largely keeping caracteristics like front cover, and numbered pages, as if it was a physical object. Various image editing software have pencils, brushes and canvases, and modern desktop publishing software is an extension of the hundreds of years old tradition of newspaper layout and printing. I think it takes some effort to break free from the analog approach to making art, and create something that is truly unique for the digital platform.
Even the logo for this blog is made using software that is mimicking old wood type printing machinery. They have even kept the sound of the machinery in this software, to strenghen the feeling of actually operating the real thing.
I find it very valuable to learn from the old analog crafts, and at the same time seeking to explore and to utilize new possibilities in the equipment and platforms that is currently at our disposal. Some of us might even consider our smartphones extensions of our arms nowadays.
The episode “Nosedive” from the Netflix series “Black Mirror” raises the question about how far we are willing to go to boost our “rating” in social media. How would we hide, enhance or bend the truth to be accepted? Are we becoming “like”-junkies? Or is this evaluation aspect of social media rather making us stay away from it and stop sharing?
I like the idea of the “unselfie” as an opportunity to highlight the things that we consider important elements in our lives and thus might be more defining to the self image than our physical appearance. In the end we spend more time looking outward than we do in mirrors.
Visiting Berlin in 2013 it was virtually impossible not to notice the rich presence of street art. And bumping into a guided tour also gave a historic glimpse into the development of the genre in this city. You’ll find everything from sticker art, to stencil art, to large murals painted by hand. Most of these works are planned and prepared in advance either using computers or by handcraft. Stickers were used both to make subtle changes to signs to change or add to their meaning, and to more or less fully conceal their intended message altogether.
It’s quite fascinating that the public spaces are filled with art like this, avaliable to enjoy for free. This movement seems to thrive despite for the most part being nonprofit, and despite the fact that most of these artworks will fade, dissolve, or be removed. That this is illegal most places is most likely both adding to the motivation of the artists, and shortening the lifespan of the artworks. As this genre has gradually gained more acceptance as an artform it has also found it’s way to art galleries and auctions, either by the artists contributing to the exhibitions themselves, or by speculants removing artworks from the streets to make money.
I was lucky enough to come across a street art exhibition in the Bergen School of Architecture in 2014. The basement under the huge iconic silos were filled with the works of street artists. Of course the question came to mind; When will street art stop being street art? Will street art be affected if you take it from the street sphere, and into the gallery spaces? Or has it developed such distinctive characteristics that it has become an artform defined by its unique expression rather than by which form or environment it’s presented in.
The experience street artists gain from experimenting in their open air studio and playground seems to be very solid education, and they expand their repertoire to other mediums. One of the artworks from the exhibition that really caught my attention was a screenprint called “Håp” (Hope). The idea of it is based on the packaging of a popular Norwegian spread called “Hapå”. All the details from the original is kept, with the exception of the name. Of course this also changes the slogan containing the name into a rather positive message: “There’s nothing like hope”. That the details on the lid is kept adds a humourous touch, as it says “Easy to open”. If you need inspiration to make some art, you might just take a look into your fridge.
While browsing net-art.org this week i came across a work by Myron Campbell called “The Secret and The Wolf”. It tells the story of a wolf protecting its book of secrets. When you eventually manage to trick the wolf into losing the book, it becomes small and fragile. This artist makes interactive animations and installations, made from 2d and 3d objects. The visual narrative has an appearance that can be related to memories and dreams, and that could be the reason why the rest of the parts of this work seems even more surreal and difficult to understand.
I think many of us can somehow relate to this wolf somehow as we are selective in what we share on social media. Maybe we wear a mask as we approach this shared virtual space, and the lines blur between theater and reality. Many unknowingly engage in advanced artistry while building and painting facades to protect their privacy and facelift their appearance.
I wonder how large a gap people can make between their self and their online personality. Oh, how bad this can turn out if these two are forced to “meet” and as they are juxtaposed either nullify eachother, or collapse and develop a black hole. A lot of people make virtual online worlds a part of their real world, and some replace the real world to various degrees, to escape from reality. I wonder what could happen if the borders between these worlds blur or disappear…
In her work “Eunoia II”, Lisa Park goes the opposite way. Instead of bringing virtual worlds inside, she gives us a glimpse of her inner landscapes. She visualizes her feelings by translating brainwaves to sound, via movement, and into a visual expression in the room surrounding her. It does’t really reveal her feelings and thoughts, but still there is a translation of inner movements that can be seen and measured in the outside world. At least it’s a glimpse of what could become possible in the future, and in the end our only limitation is our imagination.
In 1976 a computer game called “Advent”, later renamed “Colossal Cave Adventure”, was developed for the PDP-10 mainframe. This was the very first text adventure game, and also the earliest example of interactive fiction. Everything in the game was described through text, and the only way to do anything in the game was by typing in commands. The game starts out with a short instruction to get you going:
To play the game, type short phrases into the command line below. If you type the word “look,” the game gives you a description of your surroundings. Typing “inventory” tells you what you’re carrying. “Get” “drop” and “throw” helps you interact with objects. Part of the game is trying out different commands and seeing what happens. Type “help” at any time for game instructions.
By using these various commands you could explore this world, and hopefully reach the end goal. I never tried Advent myself, but when I bought a Commodore 64 in the early 90’s I got my hands on the Zork games which was inspired by Advent. The lack of graphics was a bit confusing, so you would most likely end up drawing a map on some paper to ease the navigation. While I initially found these games fascinating, I never had the patience to actually play any of these games all the way through. Later games in the genre introduced a set of alternative actions to choose from instead of the command based control, moving the genre more into a hypertext narrative direction. Eventually this in turn evolved into graphical point and click adventure games in various shapes and forms, which became one of my favourite genres early on. The most memorable adventure games from back in the day, for me personally, are The Secret of Monkey Island (1990), Curse of Enchantia (1992) and Simon the Sorcerer (1993).
These were highly entertaining and creative stories, and you had to twist your brain quite a bit to find your way through. Adventure games that are released nowadays are often even more puzzle oriented. Many of the classics of the genre are remastered for the iPad and other platforms, making the games avaliable for new generations, for some to revisit them, and for others to finally try the games they only heard rumors of. Not to mention that the touch screen makes perfectly sense for these types of games. Beneath a Steel Sky (1994) and the Broken Sword series (1996-) are two examples of games I never got to try when they were released, but turned out to be surprisingly good and proved to stand the test of time. All these games are narratives, but are ranging from the bare bone text based storylines to the almost purely graphical approach. So, the question arises if there is a line somewhere along this range where the games seize to be literature and rather just overlap categories such as games and art.
It was very interesting to hear Leonardo Flores in the guest lecture this week, and also to see the studio visit from last year. Leonardo stated that the end of language would be the end of literature. This makes me wonder if he’s only talking about the written language, and thus defines narratives based on visual language as not being literature. Is this separating the genre of adventure games into literature and non-literature? In the studio visit video, Leonardo also said that e-books are just books with static text and are not really electronic literature. So in order to be considered e-lit it must add something that is not possible in traditional books. Whether it’s movement, interaction or other elements that add to the dynamics and content of the text presented.
I will for sure look into the possibilities of making twitterbots. It was interesting to see how the twitterbot Pentametron build upon the OULIPO movement by searching for tweets of similar length and pairing them by end rhyme. That’s some really entertaining poetry right there, but the real artistry in it is really coming up with the idea, and defining and configuring the bot. It is also nice to see that kinetic typography has found it’s way into music videos and establishing the lyric video as a new and popular format. I love music, and I love typography, so this is a very welcome combination.
In these times of multimodality, genremixing and graphical presentations, it’s funny to think back to the day when I was introduced to the digital camera, and I immediately thought, “But… This is useless!”.
In October 29, 1969, the first message was sent on the Internet: “LO”. The system crashed after two letters while trying to send the word LOGIN. This might not be enough to consider it electronic literature, but it’s certainly a starting point for the presence of text in networked computer environments.
So the journey is initiated, and we pursue to explore the territories of Digital Culture, Networked Narratives and Digital Alchemy. We build an online community, and share the learning experience as we enter the forests of Digital Art, Electronic Literature, and Computer Games. And we marvel as our path continues between the trees, and multimodal fireworks unfold with subgenres branching, overlapping and interweave.
It was interesting to read the article “As we may think” by Vannevar Bush, exploring the future of storing and sharing information. The “Memex”, an imaginative machine was able to store images, documents, annotations and books, and even link them together. Although Bush envisioned a mechanical and analog machine, the essence of the article is a very detailed description of what we today know as computers, and the Internet. Hinting to the internet, the foreword of the article states, “This paper by Dr. Bush calls for a new relationship between thinking man and the sum of our knowledge”.
I enjoyed getting a glimpse into the art history of dadaism, found object art and controlled randomness etc. The playfulness and punk attitude in It resonated with me. I support the idea that the trueness of art can’t be measured by how difficult it is to produce, by the amount of education the artist has, or by the genre and style. Everyone can make art, and it’s not reserved to an elite. Of course there will always be room for artistic growth and development, but that shouldn’t be an obstacle on the road of creativity.
Thinking of it now, the acronym for Daily Digital Alchemy, “dda” reminds me of the dada movement from the art history. Perhaps they are related in other ways too. Anyway, I find it useful and inspiring to be thrown into tweeting, blogging, dda’ing and meme making. To have this creative outlet, and a little push to keep going is a great opportunity to learn new things and develop.
I am happy to be a part of this, and I look forward to a lot more input, inspiration, challenges, community and creativity in the continuation.