The Interlaced Poetics of
A Collection of Speeches & Papers
Shuen-shing Lee. (2002) "The Interlaced Poetics of Representation and Simulation: Explorations of Ergodic Literature." A Collection of Speeches & Papers Delivered at the Sino-Canadian Conference on English Teaching and Knowledge Building. Taichung, Taiwan: Chaoyang University. p. 32-43.
The Web Version (14 March, 2002): 24 pars.
The dichtung-digital version:
|1||I. "Interface as Content" and Beyond
|2||Richard Pyrill's "Lies" (c.1992-1994) is a story of two lovers sharing lies and truth. There are two hyperlinks on each lexia, one labeled "lies," and the other "truth." A strong sensation of "aporia" (Aarseth 1997: 90-2; 1999) or aesthetic dilemma arises when the reader is hovering over the two links, divided by their implications: Do you want to listen to the narrator's lies or truth? But is the narrator's "truth" really true? The hyperlinks in this work enjoy a mixture of indicative and suggestive functions. Put another way, they have been upgraded from a merely indicative tool of navigation to an artistic object re-engineered with robust suggestiveness, an integral technical device which enhances the aesthetic dimension of the text (Lee 2000: par.17-20). In this sense, "Lies" anticipates a new approach of maneuvering the interface as a suggestive element in hypertext literature.
|3||David Rokeby's concept of "interface as content" urges us to realize "the profound and subtle way that the interface itself, by defining how we perceive and navigate content, shapes our experience of that content" (1998: 27-8). His observation leads to the threshold of recognizing interface as an essential constituent of ergodic works. His vision of "beyond literal simulation" also endorses the possibility that interface assumes a pivotal role in the augmentation of cybertext artistry (1998: 36-7). Later we will illustrate this vision with more distinct interface design in cybertext, particularly those allied with ergodic modes such as playing and gaming.
|4||The uniqueness of the hyperlinks in "Lies" makes it a very rare exception in the early days of text-based hypertext literature. However, things have changed rapidly since hypermedia entered the scenario, along with the help of faster computers and the widespread of software packages such as
Frontpage and Flash. Though not without its counter-currents, as articulated in Robert Coover's nostalgia for text-based hypertext (2000), the incorporation of hypermedia into textual works has dominated the trend of hypertext writing. Most important, however, the hypermedia interface is not insulated from the lexias as an indifferent point of transit but rather is actively infused with literary merits like the other constituents of the text proper.
|5||One of the core concerns of interface design in digital art is "interaction" or "ergodic action." This is particularly the case for such cybertext forms as computer games in which ergodicity is the sole point of engagement which the rest of the constituents support. The forms of interaction as found employed in ergodic texts can be categorized according to Espen J. Aarseth's definition of "user functions" (1997: 64 ) or in accordance with Marie-Laure Ryan's strategic types of textual changes initiated by "the user's input" (2001: 73-6). To some degree, both categorizations identify the complexity of interaction as forms of expression. Nevertheless, their aesthetic discussion of interactive forms is yet to be extended, partially because such newly created works are limited in number. Distinguished scholars in the field, all deeply immersed in the cultural dimensions of hypertext, have touched upon the aesthetic subject but not to the depth of its potential. Michael Joyce (1995; 2000) and J. Yellowlees Douglas (2000), though exceptional, talk of pure textual hypertext only.|
|6||II. The Playful Mouse
|7||Roger Caillois' Man, Play and Games has identified
paidia and ludus as the principles that characterize play and games, respectively. Subsequently, he "proposed
'paidia' as an equivalent to the English noun 'play', and 'ludus' for the noun 'game'"(Frasca 1998). Caillois' distinction between play
(paidia) and games (ludus) can be summarized in a formula by way of Andre Lalande: games are dominated by the ultimate goal of win-lose or other similar binary patterns of opposition, while play embraces no goals of such kind (Frasca 1998). To illustrate activities with diverse ratios of
paidia and ludus, Caillois sets up a graph with paidia and
ludus on opposite ends and their hybrid species in between (2001: 36). The spectrum is an excellent tool for the analysis of a given computer game, visual or textual, online or console-based, once its ratio of
paidia and ludus elements in it has been approximately ascertained. Another scale of similar intention is proposed by Talin, using "interactivity" and "storytelling" as the two opposite attributes: "In general, games with highly scripted, sequential structure are on the right [interactivity], and games that lack this are on the left [storytelling]" (1998: 154).
|8||The two categorizations, respectively employed by Frasca (1998) and Talin for analytical perspectives for videogames, can shed light on the not yet fully explored dimensions of play and game elements in hypertext literature. Hypertext narrative and non-narrative, a digital product similar to computer games, have absorbed
paidia elements into their literary communications. Similarly, it is not striking to see traditional writing assimilate elements of
ludus, evidently influenced by the binary nature of computer games, thus giving way to "literary computer games," a term derived from the subtitle of Jim Andrews' "Webarteroids." The goal of
North West Coast Printmakers (anonymous), for instance, is to successfully complete a journey of American Northwest Indian cultures in the least amount of time. The rescue of an alien and an environmentalist constitutes the defaulted mission in
The Guardians of the Millennium (Lynn 1999). These two examples manifest the binary structure of win-lose in their narratives.
|9||Play modes pervade hypertext works. Random links (Moulthrop,
Reagon Library), stumbling in a dark screen looking for exits (Harrell, "Nightmare Wanders Father Song"), tricky "mouseover" design, and cutup generators all belong to this category. The combination of both play and game patterns in a hypertext work is not uncommon either.
"Ludus is a particular kind of paidia," cites Frasca, "defined as an
'activity organized under a system of rules that defines a victory or a defeat, a gain or a
loss'" (1998). Thus, literary games of exploration such as North West Coast Printmakers and
The Guardians of the Millennium all employ a strong element play.
|10||The ludic nature of computer games can shed light on the study of hypertext narratology as well. Frasca's comparison reveals that computer games are cybertext embedded with "a set of narrative possibilities" or cybernetic machines that can produce "sessions of narratives." Most notably, "producing narrative and being narrative are different things" (1998). This essential distinction helps to differentiate hypertext literature, a type of cybertext, from its print counterpart. Therefore hypertext literature dictates an approach that caters to its unique structural features. Michael Joyce's interstitial reading, for instance, serves this purpose rightfully (1995). Stuart Moulthrop (1999b) takes one step further with Joyce's concept of interstices applied to the reading of the computer game
Myst, which in a way has set up a beachhead for the interdisciplinary study of hypertext and computer games, both of which actually share a vast array of cybernetic forms.
|11||Caillois defines play as "an activity….in which playing is not obligatory…, circumscribed with limits of space and time…, creating neither goods, nor wealth, nor new elements of any kind…," and "Governed by rules…, accompanied by a special awareness of a second reality or of a free unreality…," "the courses of which cannot be determined" (2001: 9-10). With this definition in mind, the elements of
paidia embedded in the multicursal construction of hypertext literature become clear. If the number of hyperlinks on a lexia exceeds one, the lexia becomes an arena of access options. A work composed of such lexias turns out to be a maze-like playground, wherein the
(Flash's Action Script).
|12||Like hyperlink, in some literary hypertexts mouseover is strongly suggestive. Linkages of such kinds contribute to the artistic metamorphosis of the playing situation. Artistic manipulation of mouseover can be found in Loss
|13||Deena Larsen's "Carving in Possibilities" is another significant example of mouseover effect. Texts and a graphic bust of Michelangelo's "David" in this work unravel step-by-step in response to continual random re-positioning of the mouse. The motion of the mouse, accompanied by pounding sounds which imply steel carving stone, connotes the process of transforming a shapeless rock into a statue with a human form. The mouseover design, more than just a tool to divulge verbal, graphic and aural content, induces a series of implosions in the text as a whole. First, it brings forth a clash of distinct materialities through the process of remediation. Second, the remediated environment works as a testing ground for the exchange of information disclosed from each medium. Third, the three distinct types of texts, proved to have messages of correspondence and compatibility, merge into a recombinant object. The result of the transfusion unifies a group of seemingly scattered puzzle blocks into a clear figure. In the case of "Carving in Possibilities," the application of mouseover elevates the playground of random search to that of a metaphorical quest for a certain object.
|15||III. Representation vs. Simulation
|16||"Teddy will comfort me" is the only phrase on the "Bear" page in Nobody Here (anonymous). Above this phrase rests a visual
paidia environment wherein the reader/player is invited to torture a Teddy bear with an array of objects such as scissors, tape, and nails. Irony immediately arises from the clash between the text (representation) and the
paidia situation (simulation): the consolation is derived from sadistically torturing a cuddly toy rather than being comforted by its cuteness. Notably, it is the input of physicality from the reader/player which converts the
paidia situation into a signifying system.
|17||"Webarteroids," a verbal transfiguration of the classical video game "Asteroids," involves fighting word-invaders. In its first Canto, the default defensive is the word "poetry," whose mission is to shoot, cracking open charging words or phrases such as "death," "fear," "insecurity," "nothing," or even "poetry" itself but in different colors.
Roberto Simanowski reminds us that "the more skillfully you play, the more words you read/understand, until you will be able to construct sentences: "The battle of Poetry against itself and the forces of dullness," and "poetry poetry all is poetry destroyed and created." He continues with a very perceptive comment on the relation between reading and fighting in the game: "The attempt to decipher these words (sometimes twisted 180 degrees) absorbs the attention one needs to fight attackers: reading is threatening your life, like on any battlefield"
(2001: section 2).
|18||Symbolically, "poetry" is a weapon against the dark side of life and destroys even itself for the sake of resurrection. The interactive form of "Webarteroids," in which the gamer assumes the role of a poet/fighter responsible for the gaming consequence of winning or losing, has re-energized such cliche motifs as "poetry vs. death" in literature. This work transfers the motif of resistance from the platform of representation to that of simulation, wherein the imagineering (imagining + engineering) experience is greatly different from the imagining perception.
|19||It is noteworthy that the binary goal of games can easily corrupt the seriousness of text as gamers may wield all possible means to achieve their goal and subsequently degrade the verbal reading and demote aesthetic appreciation to secondary status. To distance the impact of the binary goal from its textual seriousness, Robert Kendall's "Clues," a detective narration of interaction, chooses to blur the importance of its final goal, that is, to diminish the implication of a success vs. failure pattern in the game. Thus, the goal exists, but only with enough relevance to sustain the illusion of progression in a specific situation in the gamer's
|20||One has to re-read/re-play "Clues" in order to appreciate the artistry of its interaction design. It is rarely possible for the reader/player to identify the nine clues required to obtain the winning goal with just one trial, mainly because there are no covert tips readily accessible in the reading concerning the discovery of the right trajectories.
|21||Obviously there is a goal-oriented drive that sustains the reader's retrials. However, for the reader who places the winning goal as the priority in his engagement with the game, the textual reading will make little sense. The goal-oriented reader eventually would just click and not read at all, since the unrequited efforts will indicate that reading has offered little help in figuring out useful suggestions to the location of clues. Subsequently he will also recognize that this game is of little fun since clues are indefinite all the way through the detective case and no final answers but abstract talks offered at the non-/conclusions of the game. Ironically, a hint from the narrator is already available at the prelude to the game: "No need to go further. It's all my fabrication. I'm the answer."
|22||At first glance, the verbal text of "Clues" is problematic in terms of detective story convention. In view of literary games, however, "Clues" is a simulation of detective reading with corrupted form and content. In terms of representation, the narration is non-storytelling wrapped up in the form of detective storytelling. Regarding simulation, the gaming ends, either winning or losing, sustain the philosophical vein of ambiguity pervading the whole text. The detective non-story and the blurred gaming goal seem to pose a challenge to their respective convention but with little impact. But on the contrary, the convergence of the two twists, or the interlaced poetics of representation and simulation, gives birth to a cybertext of meditative immersion, a new species transcending the type of immersion presumed in popular culture. The ergodicity of "Clues" injects new life into the convention of text-based detective stories which have succumbed to lack of innovation in form. The poetics of simulation contribute to the elevation of a popular form to an artistic one.|
|23||VI. "Beyond Literal Simulation"
|24||From technically simpler interface design such as hyperlink to complex behavior modeling, we have witnessed an evolution of literary form initiated by digital technology and compounded by artistic imagination. The evolution has shown no sign of exhausting the energy of digital artists whose imaginations run abreast with the advance of digital technology. We will soon see this trend of artistic simulation bloom into ergodic literature since digital technology has made the creative tool for such work easier to use and available to all writers.|
1. My reading is based on an earlier version of "Clues," finished around November, 2001.
Aarseth, Espen J. (1997) Cybertext: Perpectives on Ergodic Literature. Baltimore: John Hopkins UP.
----. (1999) "Aporia and Epiphany in Doom and The Speaking Clock: The Temporality of Ergodic Art." Cyberspace Textuality: Computer Technology and Literary Theory. Ed. Marie-Laure Ryan. Bloomington: Indiana UP.
Andrews, Jim. (2001-) "Webarteroids." 1 March 2002 <http://webartery.com/webarteroids/> (This work, retitled "Arteroids," is still in progress)
----. (2001-) "Arteroids." The Remedi Project 11 (2001). 1 March 2002 <http://www.theremediproject.com/projects/
"Bear." Nobody Here. 1 March 2002 <http://www.nobodyhere.com/justme/bear.php3>.
Caillois, Roger (1958, 1961, 2001). Man, Play and Games. Trans. Meyer Barash. Chicago: U of Illinois P.
Coover, Robert. (2000) "The Passing of the Golden Age." Feed. 1 March 2002 <http://www.feedmag.com/templates/
Dinkla, Söke. (1994) "The History of the Interface in Interactive Art."
ISEA'94 Proceedings: The Next Generation. 1 March 2002 <http://www.isea.qc.ca/symposium/
Douglas, J. Yellowlees. (2000) The End of Books or Books without Ends: Reading Interactive Narratives. U of Michigan P.
Frasca, Gonzalo. (1998) "Ludology Meets Narratology: Similitude and differences between
(video)games and narrative." 1 March 2002 <http://www.jacaranda.org/
----. (2002) "Simulation 101: Simulation Versus Representation." 1 March 2002 <http://www.ludology.org/articles/
----. (2002) Digital Poetics: The Making of E-Poetries. Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama P.
Harrell, Curtis"Nightmare Wanders Father Song." New River 4. 1 March 2002 <http://www.cddc.vt.edu/journals/
Johnson, Steven. (1997) Interface Culture: How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate. New York: Basic Books.
Joyce, Michael. (1995) Of Two Minds: Hypertext Pedagogy and Poetics. Ann Arbor: The U of Michigan P.
----. (2000) Othermindedness: The Emergence of network Culture. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P.
Kendall, Robert. (2001-) "Clues." 26 October 2001 <http://www.wordcircuits.com/clues> (work in progress).
Larsen, Deena. "Carving in Possibilities." Frame 6. trAce. 1 March 2002 <http://trace.ntu.ac.uk/frame6/
Laurel, Brenda, ed. (1990) The Art of Human-Computer Interface Design. Berkeley: Addison-Wesley.
Lee, Shuen-shing. (2000) "Digital Poetics: An Introduction to Hypertextual Forms."
Intergrams 2.1 (2000): 52 pars. 1 March 2002 <http://benz.nchu.edu.tw/~intergrams/
Lynn, Vicki. (1999) Guardians of the Millennium. Aug 27. 2001 1 March 2002 <http://www.theguardians.com>.
Moulthrop, Stuart. (1997) Hegirascope 2. 1 March 2002 <http://raven.ubalt.edu/staff/
----. (1999a) Reagan Library. 1 March 2002 <http://raven.ubalt.edu/staff/
----. (1999b) "Misadventure: Future Fiction and the New Networks." Style 33.2: 184-203. Or 1 March 2002 <http://raven.ubalt.edu/staff/
----. (2001) "The World Without Cybertext." 4th Digital Arts and Culture
Conference. 1 March 2002 <http://raven.ubalt.edu/staff/
North West Coast Printmakers. 1 March 2002 <http://kafka.uvic.ca/~maltwood/nwcp/eindex.html>.
Pryll, Rick. "Lies." 1 March 2002 <http://www.users.interport.net/~rick/lies/lies.html>.
Rokeby, David. (1998) "The Construction of Experience: Interface as Content." Digital Illusion: Entertaining the Future with High Technology. Ed. Clark Dodsworth Jr. New York: ACM Press.
Ryan, Marie-Laure. (2001) "Beyond Myth and Metaphor: The Case of Narrative in Digital Media." Computer Games and Digital Textualities. IT University of Copenhagen.
Simanowski, Roberto. (2001) "Fighting/Dancing Words: Jim Andrews' Kinetic, Concrete Audiovisual Poetry." 1 March 2002 <http://www.dichtung-digital.com/
Talin. (1998) "Real Interactivity in Interactive Entertainment." Digital Illusion: Entertaining the Future with High
Technology. Ed. Clark Dodsworth Jr. New York: ACM Press.