Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Stitch ‘n Create

Shelly Jackson’s hypertext, "Patchwork Girl" is an interesting piece of fictional literature. At right is a screen shot of the 'title' page of "Patchwork Girl."
The hypertext has five main sections within it: Graveyard, Journal, Quilt, Story, and Broken Accents, each with their own different storied to tell. The main storyline of the entire hypertext is that Shelly Jackson uses Mary Shelley’s novel, "Frankenstein", as a foundation to create her own monster, Patchwork Girl. Through the different sections of the hypertext, the interactor can experience how Patchwork Girl, the monster and the hypertext, was put together, read excerpts from "Frankenstein," and see the story of Patchwork Girl after her creation. The main theme of the hypertext is that of finding one’s history and how a person’s history really makes up who that person is on the inside.

The Graveyard section of “Patchwork Girl” is my favorite because of the stories that are told about Patchwork Girl’s body parts. The first screen shot at right shows the title page of this section. The second screen shot, which would be the lexias that the interactor normally would see after clicking on the pervious screen shot. This is an important screen shot, but just not important to this section, but to the whole understanding of hypertext because of what it says: “I am buried here. You can resurrect me, but only piecemeal. If you want to see the whole, you will have to sew me together yourself” (Jackson graveyard). The lexias basically gives the interactor a description of the whole genre of hypertext. This is because of the way that the interactor has to use hypertext, they ‘sew’ their own story since one person will click on something that other person would not click on. In “Navigating Electronic Literature,” Jessica Pressman quotes Jay David Bolter while explaining how everyone reads a different piece of literature when they read hypertext because “‘[t]here is no single story of which every reading is a version, because each reading determine the story as it goes. We could say that there is no story at all; there are only readings’” (Pressman 6). This quote completely grasps the idea of hypertext, since interactors will experience the same text, but in different orders, creating a different story/reading for each user.

The Graveyard section of “Patchwork Girl” is similar to another piece by Jackson called “my body – a Wunderkammer” (screen shots are above). The two pieces of hypertext are similar because they both talk about how body parts make up a person. In Graveyard, the body parts literally make up Patchwork Girl, but she does not have a history of her own, instead she has the history of the body parts; like how her trunk belong to Angela who was a dancer and her right leg belonged to Jennifer. In “my body,” Jackson talks about her own body, through which she makes the statement that how a person is today reflects different things that happened in their past, whether it deals with the physical body or mental ‘body.’ Also both hypertexts use the method of clicking on different body parts to hear about their history, which helps the interactor follow the story and points that Jackson makes in both of her creations.

The Journal section of the hypertext shows the interactor the journal of Mary Shelley, the character that Jackson creates based on the real Mary Shelley, who physically creates Patchwork Girl.
Also through the journal, the interactor is able to see Mary Shelley’s feelings of a creator, friend, and mother to her monster. This section shows the difference between Mary and the characters in her novel. This is because the creator in her novel does not care about his creation once he is made and Mary loves her monster as if it were her own child. Also in this part, Jackson come in to the picture as the ‘author’ of Patchwork Girl (both monster and hypertext), as the screen shot at left shows. Although that Mary is the monster’s physical creator, Jackson claims herself as the monster’s literary creator. This is shown in the way that Mary says that she feels as if she is writing when she is stitching Patchwork Girl together. Through the lexias, Jackson is showing her existence in the hypertext through her writing that Mary feels as if she is writing while creating the monster. I feel as if this is a stroke of genius on the part of Jackson since it shows that people (in the physical world) effect who a person is by their upbringing (or in the case of Patchwork Girl, her creation).

The Story section of “Patchwork Girl” uses actual pieces of writing from Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” to compare Frankenstein to Patchwork Girl and how the loving environment that the later was ‘brought up in’ made her who she turned out to be. Also in this section Patchwork Girl gives light to her own thoughts and thanks those who gave her life – those whose body parts make her up. Also she knowledges the pasts of the body parts, but she wants her own past, which is the reason that this section also shows her buying a woman’s past.The bought past, although that it is not her own, gives Patchwork Girl a semblance of having a real life since she has never been able to fit in with her scars and large build (as seen in the “birth” lexias).

The Broken Accents/Phrenology
section tells the interactor about Jackson’s experience with writing with hypertext, as seen with the screen shot at left labeled “this writing.” Also in this lexias, Jackson mentions that she has gotten lost in hypertext (both reading and writing) and that with a book it is easier because once you up a book the reader knows where they are, what page they are on, but she feels as if writing with hypertext fits her better because it allows her to jump around from topic to topic. I feel as if “this writing” lexias does not just fit “Patchwork Girl” or “my body” (which it seems to pertain to more so than the former), but all works with hypertext. This lexias in particular makes understanding the reason to write with hypertext easier to understand.

The Crazy Quilt part of the hypertext shows the different sources that Jackson either took text from or borrowed ideas from in order to create “Patchwork Girl.”This section has two parts to it the first part being shown at left. The second part, as Carolina Sanchez-Palencia Carazo and Manuel Almagro Jimenez state in their essay, “Gathering the Limbs of the Text in Shelley Jackson’s “Patchwork Girl,’” the quotes [from the sources that Jackson used] used are not documented or presented with different typographies as they are in the first part (scrap bag). “ However, the lexias are presented with different colours in order to evoke the idea of that ‘crazy quilt’” (Carazo 117). I have never been able to see this in my experiences of interacting with “Patchwork Girl,” but the idea of the crazy quilt, which is a quilt that really does not follow any patterns or rules other than it has to be crazy upon the senses, especially sight.

It is hard to write about hypertext for the similar reason that it is difficult to write about interactive fiction since each person that interacts with them receives a slightly different story because of the order they click on the links. The hypertext format works really with “Patchwork Girl” and “my body-a Wunderkammer” because of the ability for the interactor to create their own story with the text that Shelley Jackson created with a certain experience that comes from writing in the hypertext genre of literature.

Works Cited
Carazo, Carolina Sanchez-Palencia and Manuel Almagro Jimenez. “Gathering the Limbs of the Text in Shelley Jackson’s ‘Patchwork Girl.’” Atlantis 28.1, 2006. Web.
Jackson, Shelley. “my body – a Wunderkammer.”
Jackson, Shelley. "Patchwork Girl." Watertown, MA: Eastgate Systems, 1995. CD-Rom.
Pressman, Jessica. “Navigating Electronic Literature.”

Thank you for this class. It has been an amazing experience to be able to learn all that we have learned. Thank You!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

An Interesting Experience with Creating “It Had to Happen, Right?”

First and foremost the main experience that working with Inform 7 showed me was that I have a new found respect for those people who create large scale Interactive Fiction (IF) literature, especially for fun. I created a very small IF, entitled “It Had to Happen, Right?,” which created so much hardship, that I really understood the topic statement of the class that dealt with IF: “How do they do this without throwing the computer out the window!?” I was close to this point various times during my own IF creating experience due to my own lack of knowledge of writing IF. Although that working with IF is tedious and quite frustrating at times, it is very rewarding when you are able to test your IF and the error sign does not show up, as is shown at right.

The basic plan that I had in mind for my IF was that I wanted to create an interesting and somewhat challenging puzzle-based IF. The basic plot of the IF was that the player character, Roxana is reliving experiences in her memory about events that already happened, trying to see if there was any way for her to try and save her lover from having to run away from the guards that were chasing him. Henry, Roxana’s lover, is a non-character player that I have yet to bring to life, but his story is that he is in love with Roxana, but he is a commoner and she is noble born. They feel as if they found true love, but yet her parents do not see it that way so they have sent guards to find, capture, and kill Henry so that they would be free to marry Roxana off as they wanted for political gain. Roxana and Henry have supporters in the castle, Ellen the cook and Samson the butler, who try and help Roxana and Henry to find the path that leads to their true love. At left is the opening part of my IF.
I hoped that an interactor with my IF would be able to move about the five rooms in the castle and talk to the various non-player characters that are about the castle. I also wanted to have different ‘puzzles’ for the interactor to figure out, like how Roxana and Henry can run away to be together without being killed. As a ‘reward’ to the interactor for figuring out the puzzle that would really encompass the whole game, I wanted to have couple of different endings that the ending that the interactor would receive would depend on the way that the interactor played the game and the choices they made, similar to Aaron Reed’s “Whom the Telling Changed” (

The software of Inform 7 was difficult to work with at first, but once I learned how specific the program needed the text to be, it was easier. I am quite sure that I did not find or use all of the relevant capabilities of the program, but I looked around the software in effort to try and help myself understand the codified language that was needed of the program. In order to even start understanding the software, I needed the help my professor, my classmates, and “The Inform 7 Handbook” by Jim Aikin ( Also what was helpful was talking about different issues with my classmates, though normally we talked about the aggravation with the software but in those conversions, we learned about the mistakes others made and the solutions to the problems or vise-versa. Through the various sources of help, specifically Shauna’s help, I was able to leave the Library and create my other rooms, after trying to figure out different ways to declare there were other rooms. I was able to basically figure out most of the functions, I just did not completely understand the codified language of the software.
The software opened up creative possibilities in the way that the author needs to make sure that they are giving enough details about various things in order to make the IF work properly and to allow the interactor to know the various hidden clues about what to do next. Also the software allows the creator the opportunity to only have events really take place in one room at a time, so it allows the creator to just focus on that one part of the game a time. Although that software opens up some creative possibilities, it also prevents them from happening since if a creator cannot make sense of how to do format an idea they have, most likely the creator will forget the idea. This happened to me in the way that I wanted to put a piece of wood on the fire in the fireplace in my IF, but I could not figure out how to word the text just right to manage the action. Most of the limiting of creativity that takes place in IF is due to the lack of understanding how to deal with the software or at least it was in my case.
My lack of clear insight with Inform 7 also played a part of me not reaching my initial thoughts of what I wanted to complete in my IF. Out of my initial thoughts I came nowhere near to completing those goals I had set because at this point in time I cannot even possibly begin to fathom how to make different endings for a puzzle-based IF. The main thing about working with Inform 7 that frustrated me was the error messages, especially when you think that everything is correct. The other events that lead to my frustration was the way in which a creator would have to write in order to make the IF sound linear and believable (or at least believable in the world that has been created to house the IF world).
Writing If is vastly different than writing a short story on paper or Word Document mainly because of the simple difference that with a short story dialog is easy to write, as are different descriptions. In writing IF, one needs to be so specific that it manages drive the author a little crazy at points when the error message comes up and reads that it cannot mention something because it is not located in a room, but yet you have said it is in that room; this happened to me many of times in my Inform 7 experience, as you can see at left. The main difference is that IF can talk back to you, while short stories are quiet.Also with short stories, although that you keep your audience in mind, you do not have to think about them too much when writing other than making sure that different thoughts and events are clear to the reader. Where as in IF you always have to keep in mind what the interactor might happen to do in the game and be prepared (in certain circumstances) for what they would like to do or what they are thinking. Having to keep the interactor in mind while writing the IF is the hardest part (other than actually writing the text) because each interactor has their own though process, so the creator needs to think of the most common and uncommon inputs that the interactor would want to use, just in case. Keeping the interactor in mind is difficult, but yet it allows the creator to clearly see where they need to make changes before they publish the IF. This is done by finding a trustworthy, good friend and having them play the game with the Transcript function on so that we they are finished with the IF, you can see what exactly they did in order to reach the end. One such transcript is show at left.
Although that writing an IF is harder than writing a short story on a page, I found that IF was more inspiring to write because if things ran smoothly (no error messages) it gave you a reason to continue working with the IF story, whereas I sometimes become bored by writing a short story on paper where you have no real feedback unless you give it to someone to look out.
All together the Inform 7 experience was not as horrible as it could have been. Also by using the program and trying to create my own IF, I see how those that create IF become addicted to it, once they learn the ins and outs of the program and how to set up everything correctly the first time. Towards the current ending point of my IF, I realized that I like writing the story and thinking about how the interactor will perceive the piece, though I am by no means addicted – I need to learn too much to become addicted at this stage. If someone wanted to use Inform 7 to write an IF piece, I would suggest to them that they need to have the “The Inform 7 Handbook” ( nearby, but better yet to know what they wanted to try included in their IF and read those specific sections in the Handbook, taking notes, since the Handbook save my class’s sanity and computers. Reading the needed sections of “The Inform 7 Handbook” will most likely stop you from having to make sure that the insurance on your computer is still up to date in case of it growing wings and flying out your window.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

“‘May the story bring you what you seek’”

Aaron A. Reed’s interactive fiction (IF) piece, “Whom the Telling Changed,” is about a tribe that has to make a decision about how to handle the newcomers to their land; whether to fight them or to talk to them. “Whom the Telling Changed” tells about the journey that the tribe goes through and how different characters are affected by the decisions of a few. The IF, although that it is written as a fictional story, really makes the interactor think about their own choices in life and the choices of others around them, especially those choices made by people in power.
There are quite a few ways that “Whom the Telling Changed” can be understood, since it depends on the type of person that the interactor is; if the interactor is a pacifist (or trying to set the player character on a certain path in the game) the IF will have a different ending then if the interactor is more warlike. Each of the different possibilities that are in-between the two spectrums are also accounted for in the final situation of the IF. In my own interaction with “Whom the Telling Changed” I seemed to take the more pacifist route in the IF or at least more so leaning to that side in comparison to the more warlike side.

The opening of “Whom the Telling Changed” started off giving the interactor brief instructions on how to interact with the IF, which is helpful to the inexperienced interactor. After going through the instructional screens, the IF looks like the screenshot at right. From that screenshot, I looked around the tent and noticed the medicine bag and copper dagger,
but then I could not figure out what to do next so I went around the tent examining each the different items in the tent and finally realized that I could go outside and received the following output: After which I commanded the player character (the character that the interactor is playing/telling what to do) to pick up the first dagger and then the medicine and to leave the tent.
After going outside the following exchanges took place. During this contact with Sihan and Saiph, the interactor chooses who their lover is and who is the enemy. This allows for different choices and undertakings to take place in the rest of the IF. In my session, I, as is seen in the pervious screenshots, made the unknown decisions to have Sihan (female) as my lover and Saiph (male) as my enemy.
Following the contact with two non-player characters (Sihan and Saiph), Sihan and the player character go to the village’s firepit and I talk to Isi, who is the player character’s aunt. Isi tells the player character that he has to give the circlet of office to the storyteller, which leads the interactor to another decision that has to be made in the game: who is the storyteller? In my interaction with the IF, I gave the circlet to Nabu, the player character’s uncle.
Once the player character gave the circlet to Nabu, Sihan came over and talked, but soon left since she likes “to hear the stories by herself” (Reed).
After Sihan leaves, Nabu asked the villagers if they were ready to hear the story during the time of needed guidance with the decision pertaining to the newcomers.

For the next 56 cycles, which is “one input and all the output that follows it until the next input” (Montfort 25), Nabu tells the story, with a few interruptions from the villagers, mainly Saiph, but after the intermission of the story telling (once I figured out that I could make the player character talk during specific points of the story due to the words that were listed in the header of the window), Saiph and the player character both talk for the last part of the story.
The story that Nabu recites and shows to the audience in their minds is that of the adventures of Gilgamesh (King of Uruk), Enkidu (Gilgamesh’s friend and companion), and how their gods played a role in the events in Gilgamesh’s life. The story, before the intermission, tells about Gilgamesh and the gods’ gifts to him of life, courage, and leadership skills. When the story turns to talk about Enkidu, Saiph asks Nabu about the friendship of Gilgamesh and Enkidu, which seemed to me as I was playing the game foreshadowing an outcome of the IF, especially since I have yet figured out how to ‘talk’ during the story.
The next part of the story or basically the real plot of the story is the challenge that one of Gilgamesh’s gods’ makes him, to which Saiph asks about the monster that Gilgamesh is challenged to kill. So Gilgamesh and Enkidu set out to kill the monster, although that Enkidu does not want to kill the monster. Nabu goes on to tell about the making of their weapons, the sacrifices, and the travel of the two warriors to the Cedar Forest. While Nabu goes on to tell about the travel, the intermission part happens when Saiph comes over and talks to the player character

where, during my session, they seem to form a fragile treaty to do the best thing for the tribe rather than just whatever they feel like doing.
After the intermission, I command the player character to talk in response to the story. Below are some of the examples:

Soon after the warriors reach the monster, Humbaba, where they fight, and threw a net over it and captured it, but it asked Gilgamesh not kill it

Gilgamesh was unsure what to do, but before the storyteller is able to finish the story, the newcomers enter the IF

At this point in time the pervious choices that the interactor chose through the IF come into play. In my session, Saiph ends up laying down his spear, which the leader of the newcomers does not, but they talk - no fighting happens, at least I am lead to believe since it seems that my player character fainted or was knocked unconscious because my cycle went from talking to the newcomers to waking up and no one was around.

There are few puzzles in “Whom the Telling Changed,” most likely because it is not a puzzle-based IF, but more as a story-based IF. The deference between the two IF forms are that puzzle-based IF has many various puzzles that the interactor has to figure out in order to be able to further themselves in the IF. An example of puzzle-based IF would be “All Roads” by Jon Ingold, where the interactor has to figure out how to get out of a room and get past a guard in order to go anywhere or do anything in the game. A story-based IF, like “Whom the Telling Changed,” is mainly driven by text seen by the interactor during a session of IF. I feel that if “Whom the Telling Changed” was made into a puzzle-based IF, it would not have been as good as it is in the story-based IF format. The few puzzles that are in the IF are simple puzzles like what to grab as the player character’s symbol, who is going to be who in the player character’s life, and who to give the circlet to. With the few puzzles in the IF, it allows it to be more of a literary piece of art work than a digital.

In my traversal of the IF seemed to go all right throughout the whole of the IF, once I figured out the little differences mentioned above. One thing that I did not care for about the IF was how I went from standing there talking to the newcomers to being passed out near the firepit. I really enjoyed playing “Whom the Telling Changed” since it leaves its interactors reflecting on their own lives since, unless the interactor is trying to bring the player character down a certain path, the choices come from the interactor’s own personal feelings. The story-based IF format of “Whom the Telling Changed” works really well and allows for the interactors to gain the most from this labor of love that Aaron Reed put together.

Works Cited
Ingold, Jon. “All Roads.” .
Reed, Aaron. “Whom the Telling Changed.” .
Montford, Nick. “Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction.”
Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2003.