Textual vs Multimedia

Astrid Ensslin Interview

‘Going by the popularity of audio-visual narrative gaming (most AAA titles) compared to the more nichey existence of text-only, interactive fiction, one might be inclined to think that film has more promise than text. that being said, in the age of Twine and mobile (literary) gaming and phone-/Wattpad-based novelistic reading/writing, the importance of text has regained some momentum.  Furthermore, there’s been a lot of experimentation with different combinations of text and audiovisuality in recent years – especially on the mobile market. Take Blast Theory’s Karen app, for example, which combines text adventure communication with soap-style television realism.’

Scott Rettberg – ‘The American Hypertext Novel, and Whatever Became of It?’

Joyce’s Afternoon is an exclusively text-based hypertext—it included no images or other multimedia assets. Compared to many contemporary works, it also had very limited use of computation, including links, some limited “yes/no” text parsing, and guard fields that limited access to some nodes until other nodes had been visited. Writing on the first hypertext experimentalists in his Literary Hypertext: The Passing of the Golden Age, Coover (1999) notes that: [E]arly experimental writers of the time worked almost exclusively in text, as did the students in our pioneer hypertext workshops at Brown University, partly by choice (they were print writers moving tentatively into this radically new domain and carrying into it what they knew best), but largely because the very limited capacities of computers and diskettes in those days dictated it.Coover noted that these constraints were also empowering. The writers working with hypertext in the 1980s and 1990s were not primarily focused on manipulating images or animations or in complex programming tasks, but were instead mostly working with words, lines, texts and scenes, just as any other writer of the time would have been, but were working within a computational environment that offered new ways of remedying narrative techniques that were largely derived from the canon of modernist and postmodernist fiction that preceded them. Though the majority of the hypertext systems available at the time did allow for some use of visual media and other media assets, text was clearly the dominant mode of expression.

Coover noted that these constraints were also empowering. The writers working with hypertext in the 1980s and 1990s were not primarily focused on manipulating images or animations or in complex programming tasks, but were instead mostly working with words, lines, texts and scenes, just as any other writer of the time would have been, but were working within a computational environment that offered new ways of remedying narrative techniques that were largely derived from the canon of modernist and postmodernist fiction that preceded them. Though the majority of the hypertext systems available at the time did allow for some use of visual media and other media assets, text was clearly the dominant mode of expression.

A particular innovation of Sunshine ’69 was the diverse range of navigational options it presented to the reader, in addition to the in-text hypertext link. In the absence of the reading conventions of the book, authors of nonlinear fiction can provide readers with other navigational tools to guide them. These tools can be as simple as the ‘alternate reading order’ that Julio Cortazar provides the reader of his Hopscotch (1966) or can make more elaborate use of the multimedia capabilities of the computer. Once the readers get past the animated Flash introduction to the work, each screen of the novel has four buttons linking to ‘Calendar,’ ‘People,’ ‘8-Track’ and ‘Map.’ Each button links to a different navigational apparatus, so that readers can navigate by character, chronologically, according to musical selections, or by a map.

Grammatron included more than 1,000 text elements (some of them scripted and some randomised), thousands of cross-links between nodes of the text, many still and animated images, a background soundtrack and spoken word audio. Grammatron was pushing toward a Gesamtkunstwerk mode of hypertext writing and was as much a philosophical exploration of ‘network consciousness’ as it was a novel. It was also situated specifically as ‘Net Art.’ Amerika made a conscious move to position himself in an art world context in this and in later work. Grammatron was received as one of the first significant works of Net Art and embraced within the art world context, and was exhibited at the 2000 Whitney Biennial.

With Grammatron, we can see several strands that would become more marked in later years, including the move away from a specifically literary audience and an openness towards other cultural contexts, such as conceptual art and performance. Grammatron also marked a shift from hypertext per se towards hypermedia, in which text is one of many media elements. This multimodal shift became even more pronounced in subsequent years, particularly with the rise of
Flash as an authoring platform in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

James O’Sullivan – Electronic Literature’s Contemporary Moment: Breeze and Campbell’s “All the Delicate Duplicates”

ALMOST A DECADE has passed since 3:AM Magazine founder Andrew Gallix, writing in the Guardian, proclaimed the imminent death of electronic literature, that is, literature with an inherently computational aesthetic. There was some merit to Gallix’s argument, his concern being that the form’s emphasis on multi-modality was such that the word would eventually get lost. In many instances — say, where play is accentuated — this has indeed been the case. But today, for every work of e-lit that is more game than literary game, there are those pieces where language remains essential. All the Delicate Duplicates, the latest brainchild of Mez Breeze and Andy Campbell, is a superlative example of the latter, and thus a serious rebuke of Gallix’s assertion.

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