Fate or Fantasy ?


To recap, this week we read Emily Short’s Galatea and Bronze, as well as Outrances by Thomas Crafts and Lit Fuse. Illy Szilak’s Queerskins was also examined.

Emily Short’s interactive fiction is a brilliant mixture of powerful folklore tales and contemporary game-play that leaves readers nostalgic and stimulated throughout. Before I opened Galatea I had imagined that the storyline would be sci-fi or fantasy focused, since titles like this are commonly used for Star Trek-like narratives these days.

As I began the reading adventure, I had pictured the scene to be something similar to A Wrinkle in Time‘s out-of-world dimension, isolating the correspondent and myself (as a character and reader). I was surprised to find out that the story had evolved from a Greek mythology-  this changed the way I interacted with it the second time.

On the first try, I focused on the senses -touch, feel, smell- it seemed like the right way to go since the story opened with strong sensory images (The black velvet and emerald caught my attention). I found that these commands (feel this, touch this) did not enhance my experience, as well as a command could (tell me this etc.). Directness was the only way to move the scene along, which is not the way I am used to communicating, in the real-world of social “dances” around dialogue.

Unlike Short’s second work, Bronze, Galatea felt simple and easy to follow. But Galatea did not arrest my attention the way the later piece did. With Bronze, Short created a labyrinth-like narrative that immediately pointed to its parent influencer: Beauty and the Beast. Before shotting the first command, I searched the origins of Beauty and the Beast on Wikipedia. It has been a while since I sat down and watched ‘my’ Disney version of the story (VHS-long).

Originally a long folklore tale (“La Belle et la Bête’) that was published to prepare 18th-century girl’s for arranged marriages, Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve’s version was abridged and rewritten many times before it could be told as we know it today.To my surprise, Emily’s work was referenced at the bottom of the webpage but without a link to a page of its own.

Bronze was spooky and intriguing. Every move I made enhanced my desire to continue forward and seek out more. Short’s addition of a running score at the top of the webpage that counted the number of “Rooms Searched” was exceedingly taunting. Like the kill-score in a fantasy-war video game, the room-finding felt competitive (me against myself? or me against the computer?). The looming score added an urgency that had me refusing defeat.

Years ago I remember playing a PC game that was modeled after the Decaprio-staring film Shutter Island, like Bronze, the game was suspenseful and invoked a sense of urgency because of your control over the proceeding story. Hours disappeared trying to find the way out of dark corridors and open virtually-locked doors. When I was playing Short’s multilinear interactive fiction I was taken back to the suspenseful arena of video game participation.

I would be interested in seeing the back-end of the work and see how she addressed the story in the code. It would be cool to have information about where users/readers frequented on the virtual castle grounds.

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