Only Linear Narratives Have a Wrong Way

This commentary was originally posted on October 18, 2017, to the Electronic Literature class blog for Digital Studies 220 at Davidson College

Good morning, Electronic Literature. Doing the Let’s Play video for this class has motivated me to think of these blogging assignments more as conversations and less as papers that require a direct point with three pieces of evidence. (Funny, though, because the latter more accurately reflects the assignment we had for the Let’s Play. I guess I’m trying to indicate more of a commentary on the tone of the writing.)

I’m sad to say I will not be in class to discuss how to rob a bank, which was actually the piece I chose to do my Let’s Play video on before I realized it was on the syllabus! I love this piece. I’m going to embed my video below.

*As a quick note, I mentioned a tiny detail about an app game showcased on the user’s back screen as “Taylor”. It’s actually called “Lifeline”, where you work with and guide the character, Taylor. Probably will hear more about that game from me later in the semester on this blog.

I covered most of the main points of what I wanted to say about the work in the assignment, though now having sat with the The Language of New Media reading for about a week and a half, I want to think about this piece in the context of the narrative versus the database. This piece is situated solidly in the narrative camp in a way that is almost profound for its representation on a digital platform. I’m thrown back to the conversations we had on the second day of class about the impending death of the eBook – as it failed to take advantage of key affordances of the new platform it has migrated on, instead, mirroring the mechanics of reading a material book. While I definitely do not feel that way about Alan Bigelow’s work, and I think that he creates the effect of swiping quite intentionally as a form of passive consumption, I’m still kind of left flabbergasted by the lack of effort I have to put into reading and following the story, and there is pretty much no way I can conceive to do it differently. Just like a book in print, if I wanted a different read on the information and characters provided, I’d have to literally blatantly skip pages. Every detail in the narrative is provided for a reason.

Most of my conceptualization of the lack of “database” in this piece comes from the fact that there is little ability to navigate spatially on the screen (though also notably, little ability as well to consider this piece particularly encyclopedic). The options are quite simple, forwards with the right arrow key, or backwards with the left. In fact, you can only go so far backwards on the left before the screen forcefully informs you “wrong way!” and puts you back on course. I’m reminded of the little flying koopa that puts you back on track when you’re going the wrong direction in the Mario Kart franchise. I’ve attached images of both below for comparison.

The “Wrong Way!” sign if you go too far backwards in how to rob a bank by Alan Bigelow:
The character at the top is indicating that you are going the “Wrong Way!” in the GameCube game, Mario Kart. Image taken from TheUltimateTailsFan28’s Youtube Video:

Anyways, even the other piece that we read for class today, which could also be clearly and uncontentiously classified as digital narrative and literature, at least challenges the form of the webpage a bit more than Alan Bigelow’s work by giving us some room to navigate the space and choose different directions. This piece, however, also relies heavily on the narrative structure in that it requires all things to be read and interpreted with the author’s end point and framing centrally in mind.

Works Cited:

Lev Manovich, “The Database” from The Language of New Media (2001)

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