Separation & Sooth

Separation

I liked this poem a lot.. I felt it was e-literature in the sense that it had a message, even a moral for the reader. Unfortunately, much of what I didn’t like about it was contained on the very first page. I felt that making it clear that this was a work based on clinical exercises for a physical condition actually sapped some of the meaning from this work. I understand that it was meant as a commentary on how people have become so involved with their computers that is almost like a relationship, a form of slavish love, that has to be broken, in some cases by an outside force (like a physical injury). But knowing that the unknown entity being related to by the author is a computer and not another person neuters the opportunity for a rich metaphorical experience. And I was particularly surprised and irked by the fact that the author wrote this: The text seems to be about a separation between human beings, only the last two phrases reveal that it’s about a separation between a human being and a computer. Why would the author give that away?

Now for the walkthru: I found it interesting that “lonely” is the first word. The screen is stark like a blank page. The font is tiny and unremarkable. This looks like someone trying to write their story (or rewrite it) from scratch. The first imagery of a woman with her mouth open was jarring. It reminded me of a horror movie or someone being attacked or killed…. I read the text but did not do the exercise (I was tempted to but was in a populated place).  The line with red looked like a thermometer and as it dropped, I felt like it was depicting a reduction in high temperature. To me, this could have been an “exercise” about reducing stress or anger or anxiety,…. the visual aspects spoke more to that than to RSI in my opinion.

The second image of the woman in the silhouette again felt more like a relaxation technique – seemed to be more about resolving mental or emotional strain than physical strain… I did the exercise this time and it felt good (moving your shoulders)… Not sure why the box covered the text and not sure why the imagery popped up at the moment it did, although the last word was “demanding” which infers a strain on the body or mind. (I think for the first image the word preceding it was “pain” which would make sense).  I notice that the language in the poem is very active – lots of -ing endings, meaning things are happening!!

When it comes to the image of “rest”, the figure itself looks beaten down – this appears to match the copy when it talks about the body being overused and abused.  I wanted to stop the red line so i could study the image and the text in the yellow box a little more, but I couldn’t figure out any way to do it.  Maybe that’s the point – you have only a finite amount of time to yourself or to rest or recuperate and then its back to work (or to the task at hand).

The poetry is always about finding a connection with this other entity but it goes from finding the other entity interesting to eventually hating the entity for causing pain. This poem could very well be about love or relationships; how a person gets absorbed in another person to the point of resenting them (and perhaps even taking their own body and their own needs for granted.)

Interesting that when the poem (and the writer) gets to the point about complaining that the other entity doesn’t caress them, there is instruction of how to caress yourself (this red line goes down slower than others). It’s like patting yourself on the back!!

Again, I don’t like knowing that this is about the separation between a person and a computer.  It would have been so much more effective as a metaphor instead of reading it literally (about “repairs” and “receiving input” for example)…

A fascinating twist in this poem – when it told me i didn’t have the right attitude in front of the computer!  I immediately sat up straight and read carefully. I felt like the author was talking to me specifically! (complaining about the way i click, etc).  I actually felt a little embarassed, like I didn’t play the game the right away.  Could it be that the author was forcing me to go through the same kind of mental trial that she goes through when feeling that the computer has gotten the better of her?  That it is no longer she who is dictating the actions, but the computer? I certainly was forced to do things the computer’s way from that point on, being careful to click slowly (even though I was impatient and a tiny bit bored by doing it).  I had to look up the french word “desintoxication” to learn it essentially means rehab.. The “courage” panel seems like an encouragement to relax but also includes instructions about sticking your chest out – a physical depiction of being brave and toughening up under dire circumstances…

Looking back at the poem as a whole, I feel it is along the lines of “the serenity prayer” – give me the grace to accept the things that cannot be changed…..

Ah!  I hate the last two lines!!  “How to relax or massage a computer?” First of all, I think that it does a disservice to the rest of the poem and brings it to a more base level and abandons the higher purpose metaphor…  It’s not a surprise since the author told you ahead of time to watch out for the last two lines!  Also, I think it’s poorly worded, particularly in comparison to the rest of it. The imagery was effective in connecting the body’s needs and the soul’s needs – and the imagery of the people involved in the exercises seemed to represent both a troubled body and a troubled soul.  The starkness of the empty page is, I think, a possible representation of a person trying to start over in their lives or in their relationship – wiping the slate clean.  Overall, I though it was effective – and certainly the part about forcing me to change my actions to get to the end of the poem was noteworthy (I could have clicked off of it entirely, but instead opted to play by the “computer’s” rules.. But I think that all of the messaging could have been done through the language of the poem and the imagery contained therein, as opposed to essentially revealing the “hidden” meaning or twist before we even began.

scream (update my password again?)

Sooth

This is an interesting juxtaposition of imagery and text.  It is certainly e-literature, in that the text carries the bulk of the meaning.  The juxtaposition of sound, color and the motion of text carried the theme of water or being underwater or drowning in water throughout the work. As I point out in the walkthru below, I felt there was a much darker message to this work than the presentation (calling it a “suite of love poems”) let on.

I started from the top and went down – I don’t know what the object is – it all strikes me as being underwater, both the way the grass or the filaments move and the way the words are unanchored in space… Also we get to a water sound about halfway through and the colors of green and blue are like an underwater feeling.  Could all this be a metaphor for drowning in another person? As the lines move around, I get the sense they can arrange themselves in any order and it stills makes sense (there is also no clear ending to the poems, they just repeat in a loop)  Lots and lots of motion here – everything is moving all the time and the sound (of water) denotes motion as well…  The tones are ear splitting at times, like a hearing test – kind of haunting…

The words “immersed complete and immaculate” sounds more like death than love.  of course the next line is about “rich tenuous resilient joy” – the “rich” part I get, but why does he talk about being resilient?  That feels like the part of coming up from the water perhaps… i still don’t know what these images are.  The piece that looks man-made reminds me of something electrical. Of course, electricity underwater is… a bad thing.

“Weeds” also feels like the reflections of someone out of control about something out of control – the sounds like a radio flipping channels and the image of a person seemingly beaten down to the point of being prone on the ground or a bed… The terminology used about “relentless” weeds sprouting “everywhere”, the idea that he has to “contain them before he becomes them” – all of it speaks (to me) to a fear of being out of control like them.  Each of these poems seems darker than some of the language lets on.  I don’t quite buy the idea that this person is shining and laughing – that he has joy.  It seems a bit like he’s trying to put a brave face on a bad situation. Perhaps we can read these as love poems written by someone looking back?  Seeing a relationship through the filter of having seen both highs and lows?

“Body”‘s background looks like the inside of a body, like blood or muscle or innards of some type. Besides the fact that rhythm is spelled incorrectly, the idea that all of these tissues and ligaments combine into a form of reticulation, which means intersecting like a net, leads to the notion of being caught. The idea that the torrents are “inelectuable” , meaning they can’t be escaped supports the same idea.  Why make them really long, difficult words? Again, i think the poem is saying something that it appears to on its face. The last line is “lusting” which is the body out of control.  And again, while the words talk about feeling “wonder” and “blooms” inside (which seem to denote positivity), i read something darker.

In “Root”, the author has lost his own sense of self.  The music is just a single tone. The rain is sad and the coloring is a kind of depressing, sick yellow-green. There is an indication that the author is losing self-identity, arguing that his own limbs remind him of someone else’s. The second part of the poem ddoes feel more like an ode to love and positive feelings, although the feeling is positioned outside of the author and his lover – pointing out that what’s positive “hovers between us” – and is again, out of either of their control – all the action is attributed to “it”. “It” convinces solids to melt”. However, in the end, the author does seem to reference a love between them as “a flame that loves us”…

In “soul”, it starts with the word “baiser” or “kiss” but the fish image gives it an inhuman quality to the idea of a kiss.  The one way to depict a kiss with no love, no passion is to depict it as a fish opening and closing its mouth.  (I realize at this point that I had flipped the button for French, but in English it is translated as “sex”.  I wonder if the original French makes more sense here.  The poem is fine – not particularly groundbreaking or interesting, but again, I think the image of the fish is the most important thing.  The fish isn’t moving, seems to just be staying alive.  It is the opposite of the sexiness you would think would match up to this clip and in fact looks ugly and could be dying.  It’s also underwater – another reference to water that runs throughout this whole piece and seems to put the author and the reader in a situation where they are always out of their natural element.

The final poem, “snow”, is a great metaphor for a person, particularly one that is in love, to distinguish themselves apart from the other person. This author seems to argue that this is the individuals natural state – that one “cannot be alone”.  As such, the snow melts together and one flake, once fallen, can never be separated from its fellows. If I had not read the opening paragraph, I wouldn’t be sure if the author is arguing that it’s a good thing that “uniqueness dissolves”. The fact that Johnston argues says they are a series of love poems indicates that he thinks it is good, but to me, that lack of self-consciousness and handing your self over to another is a bit horrifying. I notice also that Johnston purports to address the “subterranean linkages” of solitudes in present-day Canada, but outside of the French language, I see nothing that distinguishes this as a Canadian work.

wetsock What in God’s name is this?

 


Hobo Lobo Gets Revenge

My best description of “Hobo Lobo of Hamelin” would be as an interactive fable… set up almost like a storyboard, with the scenes as static animated images, moving from one point in the story to another. The creator, Steve Nivadinovic, says it’s meant to “do its own thing”..  He also points out that it’s meant to diverge from comic book artistry but there is a lot of that here. One notable aspect of his introduction is the mention of French moviemaker, Jacques Tati.  I had never heard of Tati so I checked out a clip from one of his films, Playtime. It seems like the crux of his films is kind of a sight gag comedy that gets a lot of its fuel from how the average man interacts with the “modern” world.  It’s kind of an absurdist comedy in a way. The creator says he drew inspiration from Tati’s ethos. I can see the correlation, as he juxtaposes a common man (the wolf) with the ways of the modern world (politics and technology) that he doesn’t seem equipped to handle.

“Hobo Lobo” was also, to me, a political satire. He chooses not to put it in any particular time or place (the idea that it’s “long ago” seems undermined when we get to the parts about modern communications).  I think that helps him push a universal message about how the little guy ultimately gets screwed by the system.  I love the way the art progresses across the screen from right to left, set almost as 3D static images so that you get the illusion of depth. Steve seems to work to draw your eye to the characters he wants you to see first by using color to make characters (even messages) stand out.  It unfolds initially just the like the fable of the Pied Piper: there are a ton of rats, someone’s got to get them out of town, and a stranger ultimately stumbles onto the scene and takes care of it. But there are modern elements almost immediately. You see a gun in the princess’ basket in one of the first scenes, along with one of the rat kids carrying an IKEA box. Again, it seems like the author is trying to unmoor this story from a particular time or place, or even era.  Or maybe he’s making the point that it is as it has always been – that no good deed ever goes unpunished. In fact, I only remembered the beginning of the legend of the Pied Piper and went back to read it.  I had not remembered that most versions have the mayor of the town reneging on his promise to pay the piper and the piper leading the kids out of town to either die or drown (in most versions of the story).  So this leads me back to the idea that Steve is trying to show parallels to our time, or to any time in history. I think it’s interesting that the rat kids are the same size as the regular kids.  Maybe it’s to humanize the rats?  Or to show that driving out the least desirable members of society doesn’t necessarily mean that they are actual rodents. In some cases, they can just be dehumanized in a way that makes society or the people in charge portray them as someone on the level of a rat.  The green sky and giant moon point to an ominous turn as we reach the end of the the first act and the mayor offers an “insurmountable mountain of treasure”. We don’t get sound until the third act – and an option to control the volume which was a nice feature. I love the way this is set up. I found an interesting element to the way you can view it. While starting on page 1, you can click on page 17 and watch the entire scene roll by in a way that reminds me of a mural on giant rollers. Ah! I just made a discovery. In looking up murals on rollers, I stumbled upon an art technique called “Trompe l’oeil” – a type of art that uses realistic imagery to create the optical illusion that depicted objects are actually existing in three dimensions. I think that is a very big part of the appeal of “Hobo Lobo” – and is a good description of how he is trying to depict his story. The way the audio in this scene gives way from peaceful crickets and the harmonica to the dark tone and bright reds of some bizarre imagery definitely heightens the urgency. I watched this scene back and forth a few times. So the sickle definitely portends death – and he talks about seeing if rats have wings. Everything after that seems to be imagery of modern life or modern luxury (packaged food, tailored clothes, etc) – and even a little nod to the absurdity of American life perhaps by showing the topless Statue of Liberty.

At this point, we get into the political satire or allegorical aspect of this story. The mayor (Mayor Dick – not very subtle ha ha) takes the place of the “government” and we get introduced to the Fourth Estate channel – the logo of which is modeled on Fox News and the “reporter” is dressed as a jester or clown. And the donkey guest symbolizes the Democratic liberal. Interesting that the mayor does =not= have the support of the Fourth Estate conservatives – I would have thought they’d love “law and order” types like him… When Lobo approaches the mayor, we see more symbolism – him naked, getting a statue made (I thought of the story of the Emperor wearing no clothes…) And of course, just as it is in the legend, Lobo gets tossed and plots his revenge.   As we get into that piece, I want to note that there is something very Pink Floyd-esque in a lot of this art and it reminds me very much of The Wall. Not only do we have the judges with their curls, but the anchor for the Fourth Estate, looks like he came right out of the movie. I stared at his face for several minutes to see if I could make out other body parts or faces drawn into his eyes and nose. (Maybe he’s got two faces? Could that be it?)

hoboanchor pinkfloydjudge

We can tell through his conversation that the mayor is adept at using the institutions of power against the little guy – Hobo is turned away because he doesn’t have a properly executed contract and loses in the court of public opinion because the mayor can turn the conversation into a defense of the town’s children.  He is the personification of the evil politician – knowing all the ways to get over on people, without any of the guilt. I love the last scene where Hobo gets his revenge – the music is kind of happy as it begins and you hear the kids’ laughter. But as they get closer to the cave (where you can see Hobo’s shadow on the wall), the violin gets added and it seems a little sadder and the laughter fades. You see demons appear and when it all ends and they manage to pull the big rock down, Hobo is there looking upset and exhausted. What more could be to come (as the story promises)? I guess some sort of revelation about the fate of the kids.

This was a very beautifully done story. It is interactive and is interesting in the sense that it has a clear direction for the narrative, but the reader is not only allowed to go backward and forward, but to jump to any point in the narrative at any time. As I’ve pointed out, there a lot of little commentaries, either in text or imagery, on the absurdity of the common man’s juxtaposition to the powers that be, but the creator does a good job weaving modern times and a very old legend into one story.  it doesn’t quite feel like a retelling as much as it does a telling of the original story with a modern twist. The creator makes great use of sound, using it sparingly and only to set the mood. He could have made the text of the conversations into audio, but left it as text which I think allows the reader to use their imagination (and also substitute whatever their least favorite politician is for the mayor).  I read somewhere when looking into this project that it was described as a “webtime” story and I can definitely see that. It has the simplicity of a bedtime story and the moral (don’t screw people over) and of course, the web aspect. One of the other interesting aspects of this story is all the links. Stevan obviously wants you to know how he made this (even if, as he says, he’s not sure exactly why he did it).  By clicking the upper left corner, you go to a page that lays out his timetable and even explains exactly where he got the code (both so people understand his process and so others can follows his footsteps, I’m assuming). I also found it fascinating that he created social media accounts for his characters – on Tumblr and Twitter. Hobo even has a Facebook page. Stevan also always has a link to his own resume page (under Psss) making it easy for anyone who likes it to learn more about him, or, I assume, hire him. It seems clear to me  that the creator wants these characters to live on in cyberspace and, as he promises, a future installment of his art.

 


First Draft of the Revolution

Alternative history is a fascinating field – it explores what would happen if certain events played out differently than they did in real life. What if the D-Day invasion had failed? What if the Confederacy had won the Civil War? These opportunities to explore alternate worlds open up untold possibilities for authors and storytellers.

That is what I thought I would find in “First Draft of the Revolution”, the interactive epistolary novel by Emily Short and Liza Daly. (“Epistolary” meaning that it pertains to letters and letter-writing). I was drawn to it specifically because I hoped that it would present an experience that paralleled that of an alternative history narrative. While there were elements of that, the experience was not as exciting as I had hoped.

The interactive experience at the heart of “Revolution” is one in which the reader actively participates in the exchange of nearly two dozen letters between four different figures living in an alternate France in 1788 and 1789 (Juliette and Henri, a husband and wife, the mother superior from Juliette’s former convent and Henri’s sister, Alise).  While it takes place during the years of the French Revolution, it is set in a world of Short’s imagination in which magic and magicians are common.

The story itself is interactive in the sense that it uses a form of hypertext to present the player with options to choose alternate ways of wording letters back and forth. It is definitely e-literature in that the core of the entire experience is based in an exploration of linguistics and word choice. The choices are presented in the form of limited hypertext that opens a box on the screen when highlighted phrases embedded in the letters are clicked. The twist is that the reader isn’t shown the alternate wording that they can choose. Instead, they are presented with a brief blurb characterizing the fictional letter writers’ mindset (i.e. whether the wording as initially constituted would be too blunt, too subtle or whether it would be taken seriously). In some cases, you can erase a line completely. It is important to note that the alternate wording of the letter does not appear until after a choice is made. This is critical to the interactivity. The reader must consider their motive (or the characters’ motive) apart from the wording. Short describes it as an “interactive piece about the process of writing”. It was a fascinating take on how writing is an evolving process; how we as writers rarely (if ever) write something down on a page (particularly a letter to someone else) in one shot and consider it finished. It is the process of considering one’s word and tone, taking the audience or recipient into account, and choosing words that accurately convey one’s intentions that are at the heart of how this story works. The fact that Short opted to build the game around the written letter encourages the reader to take time and be patient (just as we would in writing a real letter). Unfortunately, though, if you aren’t into the idea of editing letters, there is essentially nothing else to the experience.  While the parchment-style “paper” and calligraphy looks great, there is no audio, no video and nothing to click except the lines on the page, the option to send the letter and the arrows at the top of the page that lead you backward and forward through the game. (You can’t go back and “rewrite” the letters once they’ve been sent.  Once it’s sent, it’s sent.)

The idea here is to give the reader the chance to think through their choice of wording before sending the letter off. As I played it multiple times, I found myself trying to adopt a persona for each character and crafting my letters to fit their persona. In one instance, I “played” Juliette as a brasher, straightforward woman. In another, I channeled a more submissive tone. Depending on his word choice, Henri could be caring and sensitive to his wife or harsh and unforgiving. But there was only so much I could do or choose, and that limited how much I enjoyed the experience. For instance, one must change a certain number of lines in a given letter before the option to send that letter appears at the top of the screen. You cannot, for example, send a letter without changing anything. In addition, only certain lines can be altered and, of course, there are a finite number of choices you can make when trying to alter them. I found that there are certain scenes you reach no matter what choices you make in the letters. By not allowing the reader to send letters whenever they felt like it and by limiting the variation of storylines, I felt the authors intentionally limited the experience. Short herself said that the story was not designed to be CYOA (“choose your own adventure”). She said “the interaction is all about revising the letters” and said she wanted to offer “lots of small, parallel choices submitted at once rather than a sequence of large choices submitted serially”. In that way, she said, she hoped the story “creates some of the texture and exploratory feel that (is often) missing from CYOA.” After thinking about that, I believe Short achieves her goal, but only partially. There is plenty of interaction here and a sense of exploration, but she’s right: much of it is in your mind, rather than in the game. So how much of that interaction actually impacts the game? Inkle, which co-made the code for “First Draft” with Liza Daly, answered the question this way. “We can tell you that every choice you make is discarded by the computer the moment that you commit to it. But do the choices affect the story? Yes. Of course they do. Partly because the choices are being remembered by the other data-collecting system in action during the game, which is the one that sits between your ears.  And partly because you’re performing the act of choosing.” In other words, the act of considering your choices and experiencing the narrative through your own choices is the game.   The problem for me was that with each successive experience, the pathway through this novel became more and more familiar and lost some of its thrill. With some letters, the reader is encouraged to change multiple lines; there is only one alternative to each highlighted line, and you must change all of them before you have the option to send the letter. It left my sharing the sentiments of critics at the site kotaku.com  “Seems like a nice little exercise for people who enjoy writing, but it’s not really a ‘game’. In another review, a critic said “Some branching paths and endings would have made it gratifying”.

On the positive side, I think there were several points of the story in which I felt that Short’s goal of forcing the reader to think through the implications of their words was driven home in a particularly effective manner. By the middle of the story, we’ve learned that Henri believes that the bastard son that Juliette has met while in exile from Paris is actually his own son and we have several options as to how he tries to find out for sure from Juliette. I tried multiple different ways, but no matter what I did, Juliette always seemed to see right through him. We also find out that Juliette is becoming more and more attracted to the friar, but also begins to suspect he is not what he seems, even struggling with telling her husband that the friar’s ideas seem “revolutionary”. The extent of her attraction is revealed, not through the written words, but through the thoughts that are revealed while she is deciding how to phrase her latest letter to her husband.  After Henri catches on to the friar’s intentions towards his wife Juliette, he decides to write a letter to her, asking about their relationship. The first option you get is just a blank page and an encouragement to start over. Your option to rewrite starts as a single line “do you take him in place of me” – very emotional, Henri too upset to even write a greeting. He rewrites it again, with a choice to criticize her for “doing wrong”, but we are not allowed to send that. It ends up being a long letter in which he admits his relationship with Bernadette (the bastard son’s mother). He also challenges her to answer to charges that she is sleeping with the friar or in a relationship with him.  Juliette goes through similar ways of thinking, wondering how much to reveal about her feelings, but eventually simply says she has been faithful.  The one line that cannot be changed is the first one: “I have not betrayed you.” So we as the “player” are not allowed to hide that truth from Henri and Juliette apparently has no intention of trying to hide it. Could the story have been more interesting if we had been allowed to do so? Perhaps, but it would then have been the reader driving the narrative and not the reader-as-character.

I should mention that “First Draft” is set in a world that Short previously explored in interactive fiction games like “Savoir-Faire” (2002) and “Damnatio Memoriae” (2006), stories about magic-users in an alternate France of the mid-1780’s. In those stories, she explains a type of magic known as “Lavori d’Aracne” in which objects (like letters) can be linked together.  The earlier stories represent a more rudimentary form of interactive fiction. However, those earlier stories are just typewritten text and rely on the player’s input to carry the narrative.  In “First Draft”, Short has taken on much more of that job herself.) As such, the “First Draft” story is rich with parallels to the actual French Revolution, which took place in the late 1780’s. Locations and dates share significance. For instance, “First Draft” begins in the city of Grenoble in the summer of 1788, the time and setting for the first major conflict of the real French Revolution, Parallels exist throughout – from references to French churches that fell in both the fictional and real world, as well as the inherent struggle between those in power and those who aren’t. Short describes her universe of “Lavori d’Aracne” as one in which “certain anti-aristocratic forces are finally discovering how to break the magical power that has kept the nobility in power for so long.” It is not a far leap to draw a rough parallel from the anti-aristocratic forces in her stories to the actual French peasantry that finally found a way to topple the ruling religious and governmental hierarchy in the closing years of the 18th century.

“First Draft of the Revolution” was recognized by the XYZZY Awards for the Best Use of Innovation a few years ago. Rock Paper Shotgun reviewed it and praised its inventiveness, although the reviewer’s mother says “the idea was all right but the hook didn’t hook me”. That echoes something from the XYZZY review, in which it is praised as a “unique mechanic and a refreshing take on interactive text.” But once again, we find the same kind of criticism we discussed previously, as the reviewer argues that the lack of choices that I mentioned before makes it feel many times that the creator is guiding you and that “the experience comes close to feeling on rails.” The review also points out that “while the project’s website implies certain choices can have an effect on subsequent letters in the web-based version, it wasn’t clear what the effect was.” As previously mentioned, I felt the same way, finding that you were destined to arrive at certain points of the story no matter what you did or how many times you played.

I came away from “First Draft” with a sense that there was good news and bad news. While I thought the whole thing was inventive and aesthetically beautiful, the limitations in the game play sapped some of the excitement and thrill. At points, it was even boring and I clicked lines randomly just to get to the next letter. I was frustrated that here weren’t more options available and that the story became predictable the more times you went through it. On the other hand, once I played it a few times, I gained a new appreciation for the way the narrative was advanced through the character’s thoughts and deliberations in conjunction with the reader’s word choices as opposed to the narrative alone. It reminded me of the fact that our own character is often held mostly below the surface and just hinted at by our words and deeds. Our thoughts provide a much clearer picture of who we are. In addition, “First Draft” shows how we can mold our relationships and alter our destinies simply by the words we chose to use and, just as importantly, the words we chose not to use. Is there perhaps a modern day lesson here for those who head to Twitter or Facebook and fire off missives without thinking them though? I think there could be, even if that wasn’t initially what the creators intended. Nevertheless, the importance of how we communicate and the importance of thinking about how we say things, not just what we say, could not be starker than it is in “First Draft”.

firstdraftcover


Thermophiles In Love

This unprecedented gathering of “thermophiles in love” an entertaining, although at times frustrating, adventure into role-playing and online “dating”. I would even go so far as to call it e-literature, due to the fact that the world was almost entirely built on the contributed writings of its participants. I took the name@acido_melioristicus.

As an acido, I tried to channel the alpha male “personality” attributed to my species. Upon reading other blogs and discussion threads by other acidos, the A-type personality often took the form of boasting and pumping up of their own attributes. I am guessing that was partly because this was the premise upon which we were asked to rest our character (magnetic, attractive, over-the-top).  Before jumping in, I checked out the “For Acidos Only” blog to see how other players approached it. What I found was that a lot of “acidos” opted for a more scientific edge, mining the language for terms that would fit their new chemical/bacterial forms. In addition, you had a bunch of people approaching it like a dating sight and “looking for love”, and also plenty of people promoting their acido-ship, even to the point of discriminating other forms of therms.

For example:

Acidooooooooooooos! Therms up to my homies. Who’s down for a party tonight? We got the vents going up on a Tuesday. Role through and DONT BRING ANY OBLIs
The last time I went volcano hunting, I ran into a hot ball of lava named Obli_5000. 5000 couldn’t keep the heat going. So. I took the molten rock, and threw it at his face.

To wade into the mix, I posted a message on discussion boards both for fellow acidos and on the general discussion board titled “Hot Springs”.  On the acido board, I tried an approach that I thought might have worked in a face-to-face social situation… seeking advice for lasting partnerships.

thermophileclip1

The result was less than spectacular. I got only the one message and less than a dozen views. In fact, the entire acido-only page only had three threads.  I thought there would be more. Looking at the other “only” blogs, it seems like in each case, one of the threads got all the views and comments (in one case over 100), while the others barely got looked at. My second attempt worked better – again, as I tried to draw out others’ creativity by asking them what they were “most likely” to be. I’m not even sure, looking back, what I meant by that, but the responses seemed to reflect the way others’ saw themselves in contrast to the other thermophiles, thereby helping define themselves.

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There was an interesting back and forth in preparing for the date and I was surprised that the Meso that set up my date actually defied the rules and put three “acidos” and one “fac” in the group – a direct violation of the “rules” of the game, which state that you should have one of each thermophile gender.  How did it go? Probably the same way you would expect a real date to go if you included multiple people with the same personality type. Sometimes we complimented each other and sometimes we clashed, although with somewhat comical results. We all worked to attribute activities and, in some cases, personalities to each other – particularly the “fac” which seemed to be thematically sidelined.  I thought it fascinating how we chose to role play. The first message from @acido_reflux showed the kind of reaction you might expect someone who is dealing with a social situation in which the rules are violated – some anger and frustration, both at the Meso in charge and at the other acidos. I did the same, targeting one of the acidos as a therm that would try to “one-up” his fellows (consistent with an A-type personality), but @acido_quiloniusA didn’t do that at all. Instead, he/she took a different direction, celebrating the combination of acidos, even arguing that @fac_krispyking was the best of the group – something I would not have expected. Looking back, I wish I had gone more in the inclusive direction, but I got caught up in trying to role play the hyper-self-possessed and obsessed thermophile, instead of exploring a different way to relate. In fact, when @fac_krispyking  blogged about the experience, and mentioned what seemed like a put-down from me, I actually felt disappointed, like I should have made more of a rhetorical effort to reach out to them. You can see the messages below.

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So…. once we got to the actual date, it was amazing to see that my fellow thermophiles appeared to also taken the lesson to heart and made attempts to be more inclusive. You can see that we each made efforts to celebrate our similarities and our common characteristics rather than emphasizing our differences. There seemed to be quite a lot of soul-searching in these blogs, reconsidering our earlier brash and aggressive behavior and searching for common ground. All the pretense of using scientific terminology and language seems to have gone out the window at this point, and everyone is actually trying to relate to one another, hold each other up and end the experience on a good note. Although there were only a handful of blogs exchanged, it felt as though my fellow thermophiles were trying to reach out to me, and I actually got a bit of a smile when I saw them mention “me” in a positive light. What an odd reaction when it comes to people I don’t know and a character I invented (and by that I mean picked a name and a bit of a back story) less than a week ago!!

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I began this NetProv with high expectations and at first, I was actually a little let down. I didn’t feel that there was a lot of participation, and I got a lot less feedback to my posts than I thought I would get. The “game” itself rests almost entirely on participation and it just didn’t seem that interesting. But as I wrote, I realized that by digging deeper, particularly into the writings and nuances of the blogs, I was able to see how our approach to our “date” and to each other changed even from blog to blog. We started to take responsibility for each other’s happiness, going out of our way to express positive feelings (even though it was difficult for any of us to completely shed the alpha personality we had been assigned at the outset). I felt that the game itself was stripped down in a way that allowed our characters to be developed entirely based on our interpretation of a tiny pre-prepared bio and our imagination. In addition, I was surprised at how one piece of writing in a digital space seemed to directly impact what followed, and not just as a direct response. The tone and approach seemed to be adjusted as we went along; when one seemed particularly harsh or aggressive, the next blog usually did some form of damage control, or dialing the overall tone back. Looking at other date groups, I seem to be one of the few that had a real interactive experience. Only six out of a few dozen discussion groups had more than one response, so it’s hard to judge whether others had the same experience I did. I saw that in the final assessment, much of the disappointment stemmed from people who simply didn’t play or respond. I don’t know that I developed any new digital literacies here, but I feel like I honed my abilities somewhat, seeing a more obvious interplay between the narratives perpetuated by the players (and that the tone and edge of a message impacted the way the response was written). As a digital experience, I think more involvement by other players would have made it more interesting, but I believe that I had the good fortune to experience a group that actually had something to say.

captureAcidos forever!!