Monday, January 30, 2012

Week 4: Temporality and Cruising

What is narrative and how is it affected by new media developments. The focus will be on time-based narratives with a close reading of Cruising by Ingrid Ankerson and Megan Sapnar.

Basing our discussion on the week’s readings we’ll critique these main ideas:
  • feminism
  • nonlinearity
  • temporality
  • transiency
  • rhizomatic
  • time-based narrative
  • multimodality

Discussion Questions:

Q1. How can we define nonsequentiality/multi-linearity, interactivity, narrative?
Q2. To what extent are these aspects determined by the text, the reader, the digital format?
Q3. What kinds of narratives are especially suited for a multi-linear/interactive format? Are there stories that can only be told in an online format?
Q4. Read Cruising. Analyse the structure of the narrative (is it non-linear, multi-linear?). How does it engage the reader? What are the textual mechanisms by which the text achieves engagement?

Required Readings:
Espen Aarseth, “Nonlinearity and Literary Theory,” Bill Marsh, "Reading Time: For a Poetics of Hypermedia Writing," Ingrid Ankerson and Megan Sapnar, Cruising, Jessica Laccetti, "Where to Begin? Multiple Narrative Paths in Web Fiction."

Recommended Readings:
Ingrid Ankerson and Megan Sapnar, “Author Description, Cruising.”


  1. Hi Jess: I'm having trouble finding your article "Where to Begin". The link from this post goes through to Amazon and the book "Narrative Beginnings". Is the article available online? Am I overlooking something?

  2. I have sent everyone a link via our eclass moodle! E-mail me if you can't access it.

  3. When I started thinking about multi-linear and non-linear narratives this morning, my mind immediately went to the video games I've been playing the last few days when I should've been doing some course work.

    I find with gaming, there's infinite possibilities for non-linear and multilinear storytelling that really isn't possible in other digital mediums. I've been playing Bioware's Star Wars: The Old Republic for the past few weeks, and I've been quite impressed with the opportunities players have to change the game world. Depending on which side is winning (Jedi or Sith), the game world changes, both physically and culturally. These changes are directly influenced by individual decions players are making.

    This kind of non-linear, constantly evolving storytelling wouldn't be possible on any other medium. While you could try to tell the general, overarching story of the through a series of novels, it would be fundamentally different - the interaction and influence of the millions of people playing the game make it what it is.

    I can't help but feel that going forward, we're going to see gaming emerge as one of the key players in interactive storytelling. In the last five years the industry has progressed leaps and bounds in the types of narratives it can offer players in the digital sphere - who knows where it'll head in the next generation of systems?

  4. Jarett, you make a great point about the connection between gaming and non-linear/multilinear storytelling. Don't know if you've come across Jane McGonigal, game designer and researcher, who talks about harnessing the power of gamers' sense of urgency, deep focus, and blissful optimism to solve world problems. She's the creator of several "alternate reality games" that, through dynamic narrative, involve players in finding solutions to problems such as world hunger and the end of oil (e.g.
    I think that the gaming environment lends itself particularly well to collaborative creation of narrative, so I agree with you that gaming will be a key player in interactive storytelling. I love the idea that this kind of collaboration could also lend itself to real-world problem-solving.
    McGonigal's written a book, "Reality is Broken," or here's her philosophy in a nutshell:

  5. I have been very engaged in the new media narratives (NMN) that I have enjoyed so far. Like modern art – that I also enjoy – you never know exactly what’s coming at you and how. This fact engages me in a whole ’nother way. It engages the abstract side of my brain, and allows me to sense the piece (art or NMN) instead of cerebrally analyzing words and phrases. It’s higher impact since it engages me through more senses. As well, the interaction of the multiple modes within the piece adds a depth and dimension beyond mere text.

    Cruising was no exception. I would call it linear, since the story that’s being recounted in three different ways is the same story and it goes chronologically from beginning to end in all three media, even though they are not all at the same place at the same time. Granted, you can make the text go backwards, but text cannot be read in reverse, so that nullifies its effect to some degree. While text, images and audio more explicitly recount the story, the music and background images also contribute to the narrative’s impact.

    Certainly the manipulation (speed and size) of the text and images engages the viewer/reader even more with the text, and allows greater inspection of the contents. The spoken and written text also engages through use of simile, and vivid storytelling.
    With all of the NMN I have experienced, it is necessary to study and examine (and follow the hypertext loops) at an unhurried pace (in some case re-reading some hypertext lexia that I have already read once). If I am late this week or other weeks getting to these seed questions, it’s because I have lost myself one evening in a NMN, trying to grasp its essence. Not once I have felt that I had to “read it all” whereas a traditional book or fiction would require it.

    I look forward to more of these experiences, with a goal to create my own at some point.

    1. I hope you'll share your creation when it happens :-)

  6. Aarseth's examination of nonlinear textuality* was a thoughtful read for me, in particular his approach to textual topology. Out of curiosity, I experienced Michael Joyce's Afternoon, A Story. It was certainly an experience.  I  started off innocently enough - surely it's not as bad as Aarseth makes it out to be - but twenty clicks in, I was becoming frustrated about chasing down the storyline and trying to piece together what bits I had of the novel while the connection between each little piece diminished in my mind. I assume the narrative chunks obeyed some sort of chronological order; yet they were stamped with the chronology of my encounter with each one. There was this strange, disparate triple-layer of time experience with this narrative - the chronology built into the narrative, the chronology of my experience with the narrative, and the chronology I was imposing on the narrative as I tried to sort what I've encountered into some format of story that I was familiar with. I'm not sure this multilinear experience is appealing to me.  So much time is lost.  Hyperlinks draw me into different currents and eddies that I never meant to explore, and suddenly the night is over and I'm still not done this post. Will this fracturing of attention become our cultural norm?

    I am habituated to a linear narrative. Admitting this is the first step in recovery. The linear experience is quiet, and whole within itself, within my mind. Like Afternoon, Cruising was not a quiet experience. In affecting the topology, dynamics, and maneuverability of the text, I felt forced into the author's experience of the narrative, rather than my own, strangely enough. I admire the creativity and the harmony of the elements in heightening the poem's theme/message, and the authors certainly achieved their objective in "highlighting the materiality of text, film and interface" with me. Trying to slow the text down enough to read it while being distracted by the breathless rush of the narrator and the looping sproing! Sproing! of the guitar background...not a quiet experience. Each medium (channel?) demanded attention; and when attention was paid to one, the others went rogue. Even after mastering the "driving", the piece still demanded your attention.  One small slip, and whoosh!  Off the strip goes.  This is a book you can't put down - literally, on so many levels. 

    * "Textuality"? Seriously? This word has always sounded made-up to me.  And I thought corporate-speak was bad. Academic-speak shames corporate-speak any day.   The Google Ngram viewer indicates that usage of "textuality" started to emerge in literature around the 1970's.  What else was new in the 1970's?  Microprocessors, floppy disks, gene splicing, video games, word processors, post-it notes...and the rise of "textuality". Coincidence?

  7. Q2: When it comes to creating and reading nonlinear texts, the author and reader are constrained by fundamental limitations including the format for delivering the message and the willingness of the reader to continue the journey.

    Digital format requirements

    To begin, basic requirements must be met before the reader can experience the computer-mediated content. For example, the reader must have a compatible computer or viewing device with functional software, working speakers, a selection tool for clicking links and the ability to connect to the Internet or open the e-book. After reading about Michael Joyce’s influential hypertext, Afternoon, a story, in multiple articles, especially Epsen Aarseth’s description on p. 771 of our textbook, I tried to access the story from my Nook tablet. The site was not compatible with the tablet and I couldn’t delve into the site beyond the homepage.

    After the hardware and software constraints have been addressed, the format for delivery also influences the hypertext. In order to comprehend the information presented, the content must be legible – no white fonts on white backgrounds, no miniscule font sizes and ideally, the content is presented in a language or semiotic representation that will convey meaning to the reader.

    Reader requirements

    The reader must also be willing to actively participate in the text. If a reader visits the front page of a narrative and decides it’s not worth reading then the story will not be communicated. After I switched to my computer to access Afternoon, I had a similar experience as Theresa. I read close to 20 pages and learned about the weather, the narrator’s lunch and neighbours, but I did not read an excerpt that drew me into the narrative enough to continue the nonlinear journey.

  8. Q3. In my opinion, the best types of narratives for nonlinear/interactive formats are fictional stories that can be chopped into small chunks and rearranged without losing their engaging impact. This is similar to the same type of projects and websites that benefit the most from collaborative tools such as wikis and crowdsourcing resources.

    According to Clay Shirky in Here Comes Everybody, the best projects and websites for wikis and collaborative tools are ones that are built with Lego-like blocks of information that can be rearranged. During the construction and ongoing maintenance of the site or project, the blocks can be combined, taken apart and rebuilt in new ways to meet the needs of the users. Wikipedia’s single pages, YouTube’s videos and Flickr’s shared photo albums can be viewed independently or as a group of pages. The reader can understand the information on one Wikipedia page without needing to access more pages.

    If narratives are structured with the same block format, they can be rearranged and can still be effective. A reader would be able to access an interesting piece of the narrative from one or two pages without needing to click through dozens of pages to read entertaining information.

    On the other hand, nonfiction narratives are often filled with important dates, places and characters that can be difficult to follow if they are not presented chronologically. From childhood, we are encouraged to tell stories with a beginning, middle and end so others can understand them more easily. Nonfiction can still be told through nonlinear/interactive text but it may be harder to comprehend.

  9. Wow interesting responses everyone. I'm interested in your linking of web fiction/hypertext to gaming and that certain elements (especially on the part of the reader) will be brought to the fore as born digital narratives develop.

    Later on in the term we are going to look at Kate Pullinger and Chris Joseph's "Inanimate Alice" which definitely incorporates gaming ideas. The first episode requires very little in terms of interaction from the reader, but as the main protagonist (Alice), grows and her own transliteracy develops, so must the reader. In order to proceed and develop the narrative, the reader must be adroit enough with a gamer's drive to discover/uncover and not become frustrated. It's along Jenkins' line that we are moving from spectator (though of course we did interact with books too, albeit in a different way) to participator.

    I'd love to know what you all make of the stories curated by 6 to Start/Penguin at We Tell Stories. I'm especially fond of the 21 Steps and it's use of the map as a platform for the story. There's also The Amanda Project aimed at teenage girls and the interesting and odd Why So Serious.