Archive for the ‘English’ Category
ELR: Jessica Pressman since 2012 (?) you are member of the Board of Directions of the Electronic Literature Organization. How did you get started with electronic literature and what fascinates you most about this literature genre?
Jessica Pressman: I actually worked from the ELO far before 2012. I served as the Programs Director for the ELO back in 2001-2 and then took on more responsibilities as Associate Director (2002-4). I did this while I was a graduate student at UCLA. ELO was then housed at UCLA, and N. Katherine Hayles was the Faculty Director. I was the sole staff member, and I got a first-hand education in the ELO and in non-profit organization.
But this is not how I started with electronic literature.
I applied to graduate school to study Victorian Literature. I wanted to study the Pre-Raphaelites; image and text are inseparable in such work (think Dante and Christina Rosetti). I was also interested in what I now understand to be the social networks that configured and propelled that artistic movement. Multimedia, multimodal, social networks: it was all there.
But, I was unhappy at UCLA, so I took a leave of absence. I went to Boston and worked for a company (Cognitive Arts, founded by AI pioneer Roger Schank) that then (in 2000, the height of the dot-com wave) was making interactive training simulations for companies and schools. We basically were making narrative teaching games (again, using language from today to describe the past). I liked the work but wanted to understand it from a more critical perspective. So, I read George Landow’s Hypertext. And, bam: that book hit me. It gave me a critical vocabulary and framework to approach that stuff that I was making, to understand what I was doing and what I wanted to do. I wanted to study hypertext.
Well, it just so happened that the foremost scholar of hypertext and this new thing called “electronic literature” was back at UCLA: Katherine Hayles. So, I returned to UCLA, shifted my focus from the first industrial revolution to the second, and then worked with Kate Hayles in all things e-literature and ELO. Kate is really how and why I started, learned, and loved the field of literary criticism focused on electronic literature. She is a role model and a mentor.
ELR: In your article “Electronic Literature as Comparative Literature” (2014) you state that electronic literature is comparative because it combines text, image, sound, movement, interactivity and design. As a researcher and teacher of experimental American literature would you say that electronic literature is experimental literature, too?
Jessica Pressman: I think electronic can be experimental. More often than not, it is, but this is because right now we are still accustomed to thinking about “literature” with terms and conceptions derived from print. But, “experimental” does not describe a platform or media; it describes use of that platform and media. Some books, films, sculptures, play, etc. are “experimental;” some works of electronic literature are too.
ELR: In your latest book “Reading Project” (2015) you explain how to analyse e-literature. Could you explain why it is necessary to use different methods?
Jessica Pressman: Reading Project does not aim to explain how to analyze e-literature—I would never presume or desire for there to be any one way to analyze anything—but, rather, to offer a model of how digital humanities (DH) practices can produce literary criticism. Jeremy, Mark, and I were tired of hearing critiques of DH that its creation and use of tools doesn’t lead to interpretative payoffs; most of these critiques are valid, by the way. We also wanted to experiment with pursuing literary criticism that employs the actual affordances of computational media to address a digital work; thus, we read the programming code (Mark’s Critical Code Studies approach) and created big data visualizations (Jeremy’s Cultural Analytics work), and we built a Scalar tool (Scalar Workbench) to assist others in practices similar types of collaboration. Finally, we had a professional goal and critique as well: we wanted to show what is gained by collaborating in literary criticism, by eschewing the scholarly model of a solitary researcher pursuing hermeneutics by instead having three scholars work collaboratively and dialogically towards building a single interpretation.
The reason why electronic literature elicits different critical methods is because such work often defies a single genre or disciplinary category. Is Tender Claws’s Pry (2015) a work of film, game, novella? The answer is not interesting but the question compels different approaches, which leads to (or should) interesting opportunities.
Just by designating a work (Pry, for example) as “literature” already implies how one will approach and value it: through a focus on its text. But many of the works that I spend my life reading and teaching could (and often are) identified and understood as other types of cultural objects: visual art, film, games, performances, etc. One of the reasons I love electronic literature is precisely this: because it invites and rewards multiple critical perspectives and practices. In so doing, it pushes literary critics towards reflexive consideration of our normative practices and towards experimentation with new ones. That is exciting to me.
ELR: In the description of the ELO’s role you can read that the organization aims to create “a network of people who produce works of electronic literature and people who read, discuss, and teach e-literature”. How successful has the ELO been in this attempt so far and how do Universities collaborate with the ELO?
Jessica Pressman: I think the ELO has been invaluable. The very fact that we have an annual conference, an archived volume of works (the Electronic Literature Collection), and a website for interpersonal connection means that we have a field. We have a community.
ELR: What do you foresee for the future of e-literature?
Jessica Pressman: I am a literary historian more than a prophet or visionary. But, from this perspective, I believe I can proffer that whatever comes along that seems completely new and futuristic will offer us new ways for understanding our past and for appreciating our seemingly “old” media.
ELR: Christine Wilks as you can read on your website crissxross.net you published your first works of electronic literature in 2004 “Sitting Pretty” and “Social Dis-Ease”. What was your motivation to start creating works for the web and where did your inspiration come from?
Christine Wilks: I started out as a visual artist but I couldn’t bear turning my back on storytelling so I quickly moved into filmmaking (and animation). It was difficult to make indie films in the UK, there was so little funding, and, although I tried, I didn’t feel at home in the TV world. What I really wanted was a multimedia creative practice but it seemed like you had to specialise. Then, when I came across the internet, the world-wide web – wow! Here was a medium that encompassed all other media and there were few, if any, barriers for a hard-up independent multimedia-maker to create and distribute their work – no gatekeepers, nothing stopping me – theoretically.
At first I hadn’t a clue how to create anything for the web, but I came across the trAce Online Writing Centre, set up by Sue Thomas, and lurked around that creative community for a while. Then I took part in their pilot online course, ‘Digital Writing: an Introduction’, led by Tim Wright, and I was absolutely blown away by it. At last, I had found my element! Not only could I work with multimedia but interactivity too. I loved that! I made my first work, ‘Sitting Pretty’, during that course. It was a tongue-in-cheek reflection on my condition at the time, flouting ergonomic advice, forever hunched over my desktop computer, my portal to another world. Way back in my pre-internet days, I got a grant to make a short science-fiction film called ‘Zombie UB40’ in which I depicted aliens whose form had evolved to be perpetually hunched over computers. Oddly prescient, now I think about it. Actually, it’s just occurred to me that the film bore some aesthetic similarities with my animated multimedia poem, ‘Out of Touch’. There’s a network of invisible threads connecting the works I’ve made but I’ll avoid getting tangled up in that for now.
ELR: From 2007-2013 you were as a core member of the collective R3M1XW0RX (Remixworks, 2006-2014), which was conceived as a collaborative space for remixing visual poetry, e-poetry, playable media, animation, art, music, spoken word, texts and more. What were the main challenges in the creation of a network and why did it stop in 2014?
Christine Wilks: Actually, R3MIXW0RX is still active here – remixworx.com – although not in the same way. But I’ll come back to that.
R3MIXW0RX was started by Randy Adams (runran) after the trAce Online Writing Centre closed down. He missed the collaborative creative environment of trAce, as did other people, such as Chris Joseph (babel) and myself (crissxross), who also joined the group. For the first year or two Remixworx was a stunningly productive, fertile environment – new works being created, remixed and posted online every week, almost every day at some points – it was fantastic! A great place to learn and develop. For instance, I learnt to love the random and to really appreciate Dada through collaborating in R3MIXW0RX. I talk about it more fully in my crissxross trail through Remixworx. However, with busy lives to lead and other creative projects to work on, that level of almost feverish productivity couldn’t persist. The initial whirlwind of creativity gradually calmed and new works blew in on the breeze or in occasional gusts. It might have carried on in this manner for some time if Randy hadn’t died (too young, from cancer) in 2014. It took the wind out of our sails. Randy and I collaborated on our last piece for R3MIXW0RX, ‘A Revolution of Words’, while he was undergoing chemotherapy.
ELR: In your works you use a wide range of different media like sound, ambient music, visuals and videos. How important are these audio-visual effects in your works and how does multimedia content effect the reading process of a work literature?
Christine Wilks: Marie-Laure Ryan says, “The ultimate goal of art is to involve the whole of the embodied mind, the intellect as well as the senses” (Ryan 2014). She argues that language most readily engages the intellect, whereas sound and imagery appeal to the senses, so combining them is a way of striving towards that goal, and that’s what I aspire to.
Multimedia content is vital to my work, and I’ve experimented with different forms, but what I’m most interested in is how the multimodal elements operate within the user interface to create an engaging interactive experience. I always think in terms of reading imagery as much as text, indeed, reading the whole interface, including audio – everything is part of the reading process. For my current interactive digital work, I’m aiming for something akin to the experience of having a conversation. In human-to-human interaction, you communicate through language whilst simultaneously reading the signs – facial expressions, body language, what’s happening in the environment, etc. – the context and the subtext, all of which affect the choices you make.
Film and TV are also plurimedial art forms and you ‘read’ those media too but not in the same way. Interaction demands a more attentive reading of the user interface (that is, until you become familiar with it). In a game or interactive narrative, it’s often the case that the player must read the interface rigorously in order to work out how to interact and how to progress. It’s part of the pleasure. This kind of vigilant or scrupulous reading is not a requirement of moving through the narrative of screen drama. Although, in some viewing situations, you can choose to close read film and TV – you can pause a video, study still frames, re-run a scene over and over – screen drama is not usually designed for viewing like that. All the same, with interactive works, it would be too much to ask the reader-player to constantly pay equal attention to every modality within a given work. Some modalities should, by design, affect the reader-player more subliminally (e.g. ambient sound or motion, colour schemes) depending on what effect the author/s want/s to achieve.
ELR: Your works Inkubus (2014), Underbelly (2010), A Revolution of Words (2013) and Rememori (2011) are game-like works in which the reader becomes a player, as you explain in the description, and thus is invited to play a poem or play on words. What strategy lies behind the use of ludic elements in your works and what is, in your opinion, the difference between a work of electronic literature and a videogame?
Christine Wilks: My strategy? Well, it just seemed to me that as soon as I started ‘playing’ with interactive elements – creating interactive works – ludic elements arose, as if naturally, without me consciously trying to include them. In other words, while creating a work, I would become aware that the feature I was developing or thinking about was game-like in some way, so I went with it. Why resist the affordances of the medium? I’m of a generation that didn’t grow up with videogames, so I don’t tend to think in terms of videogame mechanics, but interactivity feels playful to me, and playful interactivity tends towards the ludic. At least, that’s been my experience. When my narrative works include gameplay, I try to meld the two together somehow. I’d rather avoid chunks of narrative interspersed with gameplay or vice versa. However, it all depends on the central idea behind the work. It’s entirely possible that an idea might be best expressed with gameplay and cut-scenes, for example. Never say never…
What’s the difference between a work of electronic literature and a videogame? I’m not a theorist so it’s not something I think about very much – apart from when I struggle to explain or describe what I do or create to someone whose unfamiliar with it. As a maker of works, the distinction is mainly useful in so far as it helps to inform a potential audience – to make the thing being offered understandable in broad terms and therefore potentially attractive to them. One difference is that a videogame has to have some form of gameplay but a work of e-lit need not have. ‘Videogame’ is a more commercial descriptor and is likely to attract more people, but may also repel others – and there’s possibly a sizeable audience among them for e-lit. However, outside academia, I doubt if many people have heard of ‘electronic literature’. Both categories are so broad, we need more focused terms, more genres to emerge.
ELR: In your critical writing “Interactive Narrative and the Art of Steering Through Possible Worlds” (2016) you discuss the disparity between men and women in the field of game development through your latest work “Stitched Up” (in progress). Would you say that there is a similar issue of gender discrimination also in the field of electronic literature?
Christine Wilks: I haven’t specifically studied the issue of gender discrimination in the field of electronic literature and I haven’t experienced any personally. Certainly, there are a lot of great women creative practitioners, researchers and theorists in the field and there seems to be a pretty fair gender balance amongst the artists, writers and editors represented in the various anthologies of electronic literature produced by the E-Lit community. Also, I’m really thrilled to be part of a forthcoming book, #WomenTechLit, a volume of essays by pioneering female creative practitioners, critics, historians and scholars, edited by María Mencía (West Virginia University Press). Look out for it!
Reference: Ryan, M.-L., 2014. Narration in Various Media | the living handbook of narratology. the living handbook of narratology. Available at: http://www.lhn.uni-hamburg.de/article/narration-various-media [Accessed December 2, 2016].
ELR: Jason Nelson you have been creating works of digital poetry since the early 2000s and since 2005 you have been teaching Net Art and Electronic Literature at Griffith University in Australia. Could you tell us how you got started with Electronic Literature and where your inspiration came from?
Jason Nelson: Curiously, I began adventuring into this world very much by accident. Prior to 2000 I was a City Planner type, working with GPS, GIS and other mapping playthings. And while I adore the idea of planning, good, creative, freethinking planning of cities and places, the reality of paperwork and politics and mindless development sapped by interest, away, away, so far away.
And as the anxiety of my un/sad/dis-satisfying career built, I revisited my creative brain, attempted to find ways to combine my interest in the textual and my technical prowess.
Holy cats…I can see this just might be a very long story. A tale filled with grand gesturing cliff falls and long swims to the shore led by apologetic dolphins. So I’ll reduce it back a bit.
So after deciding to leap into creative waters, I finished an MFA in Poetry at Bowling Green State University. And honestly, the program was rather conservative, rather bland, so I was forced to find fuel for my experimental synapses elsewhere. And as I already had considerable experience with tech/code/software, and could think/build spatially from my Cultural Geography/Planning Days, I explored ways of combining screen wonders with my abstract writing.
At BGSU there was a graduate computer lab, with six old Macs. At the time I didn’t know how to crack software, so I figured I had six months to learn Dreamweaver and Flash, with a 30 day trial on each computer, moving from the window to the door.
And yet even when I started creating my interactive poems/fictions, I had no idea there was anyone else creating such things, no notion of Electronic Literature or even digital art more broadly. My inspiration instead came from maps, 19th century engineering, early magicians, L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E poetry (I took a creative writing class with Elizabeth Robinson at the University of Oklahoma during my Cultural Geography days) and a general interest in the way technology worked and didn’t work.
Ok, ok….I’ll stop there. As I’m started to ramble, ramble on, a horsey car, doors flapping in the dust of gravel roads, the wires, the telegraph wires are still there, waiting for some future/past day.
Briefly, I , very much, started creating digital literature without any idea such a world existed. Perhaps, just perhaps, that explains my unique style, that…or a bike ride concussion.
ELR: Most of your works are similar to video games. What is the purpose of the use of ludic elements in your works?
Jason Nelson: Hmmm. Actually. I’m not sure I agree with the word “most”. Statistically only a small percentage of my over 50 digital poems/fictions are directly related to games, or use, what others would call, game engines.
Sure, all, or most, of my digital creatures have play and interactivity, interface and movement as central textual elements. But only, around ten of my works would be considered games, or game-like by the game masters, those Ludic overlords who require the gates to art-games be held fast by those who alter game rules, not those who use game land/screen-scapes.
Admittedly my most well known works tend towards the game end. The idea that my game-works have spread so much more, so widely (to the millions) is interesting. What is it about a game that draws in readers/players, holds them in the creatures gaze, and compels/propels them into sharing/re-visiting?
I suppose. Hmmm. Maybe. Hmmm. Ok. How about this. When you play a game you live inside the game (at least partially). So readers tend to inhabit the gameish digital poem, they internalize the textual elements
Sidenote: By textual elements I mean more than just words. I consider all the facets, the movement and image, the sound and interface, the video and code, the words and animations to be critical, integral textual elements of a digital poem/fiction.
Indeed, I was asked recently, during an interview for an academic position at the Rochester Institute of Technology (for which I placed second unfortunately…sniff…sniff) what makes a good digital poem. My response was, in part, that the words of a digital poem should be inter-related/connected/bred with the other textual elements (mentioned above). And if the words could be ripped out, forced on to a page, and they formed a perfectly happy poem, there was something wrong.
Jeez. I have segued massively. Back to games.
I love the language of games. It’s one of the languages I, and so many others my age and younger, learned from adolescence. A game’s grammar fires forth from triggering and gathering, from exploring/adventuring/deftly tussling, the same mental play that great/good/readable books/stories/poems entice. The world is a sad and exciting little/big game, one we lose and lose and lose and lose. And yet, holy hello, we keep playing.
ELR: You clearly establish a relationship with your readers by inviting them to actually “create a poem” as in Series Eleven or Five by addressing directly to them in the instructions as in Evil Hypnotizing Mascotte or by providing them with different options of interaction. What do you think about the apparent freedom of the reader in the digital context and how important is it for you that readers sort of “dive” into your works?
Jason Nelson: I want to reach the back of a reader’s brain. To snake my hand through the vessels in their arms/hands/ears, past all manner of organs and bones, crawling up the spinal cord/chord, past the brain’s more logical homes, and grab the grey matter home of the subconscious. Dearest gawd I want to shake the hell out of your subconscious.
This is, of course, a baffling thing for many readers/critics/reviewers. Most people equate game with puzzle or fiction with story as treasure hunt. So when my work attempts to bypass all that, and thrust itself directly into your dreamy, floaty hidden voice that makes you, ummmm…you, it’s difficult to dissect, analyse and then re-assemble.
I’ve been told by writers, famous and beginning, my creative creatures are hard to encapsulate in an article. Hurrah me thinks.
It’s been said ten trillion times by ten trillion scholars, across ten trillion dimensions, that interactive work makes the reader part of the writing process. My digital writing doesn’t really exist until someone adds themselves, moves and chooses, and each experience will be very different, deviant from others.
The directions thing is curious. Adding directions into my first few dozen creations came from insecurity. I was alarmingly worried my readers wouldn’t understand where/how/when to move and click and write and select and push and run and jump and fire and cry, so much crying. So I added directions and signs, like arrows pointing to critical moments, or endgames.
And now I include an arrow or arrows in everything I create. It’s become an internal meme. The directions have shifted from useful to meta-play, self-disregarding and ego-booming. The reader is driven to the park, shown the various paths, wooded or concrete or muddy hollows, and then pushed into the grass while dogs come running, come running, their digitally paws leaving growling, barking marks, go play, go play.
ELR: One of the major innovations brought by New Media technology concerns the literary aesthetics. Along with the ludic elements and the possibility of interaction mentioned above there are audio-visual effects and hypertextual links which transform the plain text into a work of art and the act of reading into a complete new experience. Could you describe your concept of aesthetics in digital poetry?
Jason Nelson: I so totally want to just say “No”. In a kind-of curt, aren’t I an arrogant and superior bastard whose work is unapproachably beautiful and self-perfect. And the aesthetics can only be described by seeing/reading/playing the work itself.
But that is an easy place to live, one devoid of discourse. And as my work is too messy and broken and playful and frayed and strange to be allowed seating in the Perfect Club, aesthetics are the crutch my digital poems/fictions use to cross the swollen river (the deer enclosure was empty, but the horses still expected apples).
Nothing about the world, the land/city/nature/culture-scapes around us is clean and well formed and exacting. Despite roads and the square shapes of buildings, the networks and calendared schedules, most of our surroundings are tethered to chaos theory, to incomplete stories, brief visions/expressions heard while galloping past.
And yet so much of New Media art/literature borrows from the clean lines and perfectly proportioned, complementary colours of design. It pretends to work, everything intentional and inter-locked and design-porn perfect.
So my aesthetic comes from this place. This imperfect, messy, collided swirl of clanging ideas, smashed together stories, brief and disconnected phrases/visions. Sure there is always a strange attractor, always a hovering point, around which the theme of my literary creatures swarms.
And yes, sometimes my works (odd using the term work for creative digital text play) do collapse into straight narrative, direct point, simple and clear visuals. But always with the hand-drawn, the organic line and carolling poetics in mind (in the back of my mind…mind you….minding…ok ok. I’ll stop)
Did I even answer your question? How about this.
When all the various media, interface, texts, words, coding, interactivity hold hands, gather up power tools and build treehouses for wolves with jetpacks, I’m super darn chuffed (happy in Aussieland).
ELR: You have launched the new website dpoetry.com for the Dispersed Digital Poetry Project. Could you illustrate the process with an example and use this very blog to host one of your poems?
Jason Nelson: Of course I can and will! Your site/audience rocks. The notion of the Dispersed Digital Poetry project is somewhat simple. I’m creating a series of digital poems, possibly up to 50. Each of those digital poems will be hosted on a different website, with all the various sections then inter-linked and connected. So there will eventually be 50 different entry points, and as the reader moves through the series, they will be continually entering new domains (literally).
I have around 20 or so started, and will launch the series soon. Part of the process comes from my ever-experimenting creative methods. On my hard drive there are dozens of half-started/finished digital poems/fictions. Some of them are ambitious giants and others are smaller inventions, playful gizmos. The Dispersed project will give all those orphaned interactive poems homes, and in turn, bring new audiences to both my work and the sites that host a section.
So, yes, do come and play.
ELR: Erik Loyer since the mid-90s you have been creating and studying works of electronic literature. What was your approach to this field and where lies your main interest?
Erik Loyer: Early on in my career, I was interested in using interactive media to explicitly recreate the mindset of the author in the reader. This is a pretty universal goal for an artist, but I had a theory that interactive media might be particularly good at doing this in a more literal way. Like anybody, I’ve got a network of associations and memories that give context and meaning to my experiences, and I wanted to find out if I transcribed those relationships into an interactive work, whether it would convey more of that authorial perspective to a user/reader than other art forms could.
After following this trail for a while, however, with “The Lair of the Marrow Monkey” and “Mnemonic Membrane” in particular, I felt like I got an answer—that in interactive media, as with many other art forms, translation (processing and transforming my internal landscape with an eye towards evoking a specific response from the user) was a more powerful technique than transcription (attempting to recreate in digital form a set of relationships that were in my head). And so at that point I more or less left the “built it and they will come” mode of making behind.
“Marrow Monkey” crystallized my approach in other ways as well, with the poetic, graphic use of words, an emphasis on tactile interaction and real-time animation, strong musical and rhythmic influences, and narrative. An all these are still very much the sandbox I like to play in! It reminds me of the line from that Steve Reich piece “Proverb”: “How small a thought it takes to fill a whole life.”
ELR: On your profile on Patreon.com your short biography reads that you create “stories that are played like instruments. Combining elements drawn from video games and comic books with dynamic music, gestural control, and synaesthetics (…)”. What is the purpose of the use of such features a how do they affect the reading experience?
Erik Loyer: Well, I enjoy playing the piano because it’s fun, because you can make beautiful sounds with it, and because it has a powerful effect on the emotions. Those are all the same reasons why I make the kind of work I make. I have a reasonable amount of facility with the piano, so I can step right into that experience pretty much whenever I want, but it took years to get my skills to that point. What I think interactive media can go is lend the user a bit of “instant fluency” with a voice or instrument that is unfamiliar to them, and through fun, beauty, and emotion, lead them through an experience that they wouldn’t otherwise have had. I often compare the sensation I’m after to what it would feel like to live inside a musical. Characters in a musical can break into song and express with complete fluency exactly what they are feeling and thinking, with seemingly no effort. I’m trying to create that experience for users, both literally and metaphorically—what would it feel like to be in a musical where you got to sing all of the songs, and where each song was its own instrument, its own possibility space constrained by circumstance and character?
Erik Loyer: Sure. Panoply is an add-on for the Unity game engine that combines the visual language of comics with the dynamism of games. I think comics have a lot to teach us about how to design for screens, which are increasingly subdivided and increasingly being used to show us multiple streams of content at once, and so I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and playing with digital comics lately. The basic premise of Panoply is that each panel is its own camera in 3D space, and what the tool allows you to do is to choreograph what those cameras are looking at and where they are rendered on the screen over time. You can use it to create multi-panel layouts that change and develop as the user swipes from step to step. Some creators use the tool to emulate traditional comics, with each camera pointed at a separate piece of 2D artwork, while others are experimenting with creating 3D environments and dropping the cameras into them at different points.
Traditional comics gone digital are kind of the Trojan horse for the tool, but I think the implications of this kind of media for “born digital” interactive storytelling are much broader. The great thing about bringing the visual language of comics to the digital realm is it enables you to create story-driven experiences whose interfaces don’t grow out of a traditional “game mechanic” but are instead heavily tied to the graphical presentation of the story itself. The presentation actually can become the interface. We’re starting to see this in interesting comic/game hybrids like “Storyteller” and “Gorogoa,” and it’s something I’m very keen to explore and enable with tools like Panoply.
ELR: Your first work Marrow Monkeys from 1998 is no longer available online and the last works you created run on iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch only. These restrictions raise questions about preservation and adaptation of the work of electronic literature. How do you cope as a creator with the fast changes in the digital realm?
Erik Loyer: Like many artists who work with technology, I’m lured by the promise of the new and shiny, and probably always will be. The ability to reach a broad audience with powerful, tactile forms of interactivity is one of the medium’s biggest draws for me—and why I’ve never felt especially led to do installation work. While I still have video documentation of my Shockwave-based works like “Lair of the Marrow Monkey” and “Chroma” online, seeing the work itself become increasingly inaccessible is definitely painful, and the specter of Flash going the route of earlier technologies is especially troubling given the number of works I and others have produced in that format.
I don’t regret my work in Shockwave and Flash, though, and I’ll always choose the ability to reach a wide range of people with innovative interactivity today over other approaches that may be more amenable to preservation. I am, however, quite fastidious about making backups (I have basically my whole output since 1986 stored in multiple locations) and when there’s critical data that’s in danger of becoming truly inaccessible I try to convert it to another form—this past summer I enlisted my son to help me rescue musical cue point data from “Chroma” that I feared would soon be lost, and without which it would be nearly impossible to reconstruct the piece in the future.
ELR: Last March you were at the International Comics-Festival Fumetto in Lucerne in Switzerland where you taught a digital comic workshop. Could you tell us more about this project and what your next projects will be?
Erik Loyer: This was a week-long workshop in “Motion Comics” that I taught at the Hochschule Luzern during the Fumetto comics festival, and it was a blast. First of all, it was a real luxury to have that kind of time to devote to exploring split-screen media and digital comics in so many forms, and to have students who were so eager to dive in, especially given that “motion comics” are often misunderstood, if not outright derided, in the traditional comics and media worlds at large. To avoid the baggage that comes with trying to call anything “comics,” I’ve taking to calling this practice “timeframing”—the art of choreographing boxes of time. My goal with the class was first, to get the students to think deeply about what it means from an expressive standpoint to put time in a box; whether freezing it with a still image, repeating it with a video loop, or constructing it algorithmically as video games do. Next comes the ability to think critically about the creative potential inherent in juxtaposing boxes of time: what does it mean to put two GIF animations next to each other, and what can we say by doing so? We looked not only at digital comics, but at parallax scrolling websites, split-screen movies from the 1960s, video games, and more.
The students produced their own projects over the course of the week, with really fascinating results. One of them decided to use Panoply to do her project because she already had a 3D environment built in Unity as a first-person “walking simulator”-type experience. She adapted the navigation from first-person to a multi-panel swipe-based interface with captions, and felt that as a result she was able to convey the story more effectively. For me this was a great example of how the singular perspective that tends to get privileged in video games, whether first-person or third-person, isn’t always the most effective way to tell a story.
I’ve started a site at Timeframing.com where I’m very gradually adding my thoughts about this practice of choreographing boxes of time on digital screens, which I don’t believe has really been explored systematically before. In addition, I’ve been working towards the commercial release of the Panoply tools, and developing an open source framework for one-button performance of electronic literature called Stepwise that I hope to release next year. Beyond that, I’m doing a lot of experiments in split screen, in music-driven interaction, and in storytelling—my intuition is there’s something powerful in that combination of elements, so I’m noodling around trying to find it. We’ll see!
co-edited by Maíra Borges Wiese
ELR: Andy Campbell, since 1999 you publish your works on your website Dreaming Methods. How did you get involved in the field of digital fiction?
Campbell: When I was in my teens I worked in a large warehouse on night shifts unloading deliveries of sand and cement. During the daytime, when I wasn’t asleep, I taught myself to program video games for the Commodore Amiga, until eventually I became accomplished enough to make money out of it. I also started writing fiction.
I bundled a few of my games with prologues or epilogues that could be read from the screen or printed. I made disk-based short story collections for distribution in the Public Domain. My games and ‘digital writing anthologies’ were reviewed around 60 times during the early-mid 90s in the international computing press, and often featured on magazine cover disks and CDs.
During 1998-2001 my writing became heavily audio/spoken word-based, and I did a lot of performance gigs at local (and not so local) cafes, arts centres and theatres. I also began to experiment more seriously with ‘electronic fiction’ or ‘digital fiction’ – and in 2000 registered the domain name Digital Fiction which is now Dreaming Methods.
ELR: The visual composition in your works is very impressive, for its complexity, originality and high quality. How important is aesthetics in your works?
Campbell: For me, very important. I spend a lot of time on the visuals – months. I get many of my ideas and inspiration from the life and work of my grandmother, who was a painter, and even these days I imagine her sitting with me and looking at my work and commenting on its appearance and colours. If she approves, in my mind, then I’m happy. If she thinks it sucks, I work on it more, until I get the reaction I think she’d have if she were here.
ELR: Many of your digital fictions have game features, like Inkubus and #PRISOM, especially for using navigation and immersion tools to make the story progress. How do you consider the ludic aspect of works of digital literature in general?
Campbell: Because of my background in programming games on earlier home computers, I’ve always had a ‘video game style’ approach to this kind of work. Dreaming Methods is about extreme experimentation, risk-taking, pushing the written word into unusual/unexpected digital places. It’s also about creating glimpses or ‘portholes’ into atmospheric, often short-lived worlds, where text exists as an integrated part of the fabric. The technology that powers video games provides a fantastic platform for that kind of realisation. Game-style mechanics allow for reader/player exploration through common control systems. And, for me, game engines allow many layers of media to be mixed in ways that would be very tricky through browser-based technologies alone.
ELR: Some of your works, like The Dead Tower and #Carnivast, mix programming code language with verbal language in the composition of their textual parts. How to read them, or interpret their functionality (especially to readers that are not used to programming code language)?
Campbell: You are referring here to my work with Mez Breeze, which began in 2012 with The Dead Tower.
I’m fascinated by the idea of ‘digitally born’ narratives that carry little or no obvious ‘baggage’ from the ‘traditional’ writing world. Much of my non-collaborative work (including The Flat, Glimmer and Dim O’Gauble) was written spontaneously into software GUIs (Graphical User Interface) and edited/modified ‘live’ as the work evolved. Mezangelle appealed to me as an entire poetic language born out of digital, and, after being lucky enough to collaborate with Mez, is now a beautiful part of a series of increasingly rich and evolving narrative worlds.
Although Mezangelle can exist in print, I see it primarily as a kind of ‘liquid’ or ‘quantum’ language; challenging to uninitiated readers, of course, but also infused with meaning and ripe with dazzling aesthetic potential. Mezangelle can be experienced in as many ways as it can be interpreted, from studious unpacking to an almost mesmerising visual flow.
ELR: Many of your digital fictions have a kind of enclosed atmosphere, like Glimmer, Duel and The Flat, and sometimes provoke a mix of feelings of curiosity, fear and anxiety. Why is this atmosphere common in your works?
Campbell: For me, digital is a multi-layered medium which invites a curious but also fearful exploration, a drawing back of curtains behind curtains, lies inside truths inside lies. Stories don’t just start at point A and end at point B, they ripple and twist and duplicate and rewrite and mutate and bend in on themselves, much like human memories and experiences. That can be frightening, but also compelling and rewarding.
My work started out extremely enclosed and dark (Fractured, Facedown for instance) – far more than it is now. Some of it is rendered in black and white. Chaotic, scrambled, enigmatic, bordering on horror. When I look back, I feel like that was my direction ‘being born’. I was finding my way, shedding a sense of confusion and anxiety about the world around me as a young person no doubt, but also as an artist getting to grips with a complicated medium.