The Treasure of Born-Digital Literature, and why Digital Humanities is so vital in studying it

Born-digital literature, media, and storytelling is an inevitable and exciting expansion of storytelling into the digital space. It utilizes as its tools aspects of the digital that contribute to its audiences' experiences in a way that only the Born-digital can. There are communal storytelling hubs, in which various writers and artists gather and share a story world, canon, and characters, and contribute to and build that world both through digital art and digital storytelling contributions. There are "tine games" which are methods of digital story telling in which the reader clicks through various dialogue options or choices, influencing the story or choosing what information they want to read, and how deeply they want to know the backstory of the characters. There are online literary/game/visual experiences such as Homestuck by Andrew Hussie, which was one of the most popular born-digital literary and artistic achievements of its time and continues to be one of the most famous, and first "classic" born-digital media creations to this day. Then there is the epic, slowly unveiled story of Mother9Horse9Eyes, told in a collection of strange, surrealist, yet connected responses across many different reddit threads that were collected, assembled, ordered, and theorized on by an entire base of loyal readers. Then, of course, there are hte video games, some of which are primarily vessels with which to tell stories, such as the "visual novel" games which allow the gamer/reader to embody a character and act out anything from a romantic comedy, to deeply complex stories, as well as combinations of both to horrifying results, such as the horror game masked within a romantic comedy, Doki Doki Literature Club, many of which are bafflingly studied within the humanities despite their literary achievements and affects on culture. 

Each of these types of born-digital stories and literary creations tell stories in a unique way, and utilize the medium of the digital in surprising ways that makes the experience completely different for readers and audience members from piece to piece. Some position their audiences more traditionally, such as with Mother9Horse9Eyes, which encourages reading, interpretation, and analysis, and where the writer themselves sometimes interacted with and responded cryptically to the community, yet the readership were still reading the works of a single writer and analyzing those works for their literary merit and the story that was being told. Other born-digital experiences are even more deeply hinged upon the user's input, not just inviting it, but requiring it, such as in games and in community driven worlds and collaborative worldbuilding games. These kinds of creations make the audience members not just readers, but creators in and of themselves, and readers cannot participate in these works without being active creators of their own right who then build communities of readers around themselves and their own works within the shared world as well.

It is all these aspects, and too many more to name, which make the born-digital such an exciting expanse of the literary. It is a front of creation that illustrates that literature and stories will always be at the forefront of human inventiveness and experimentation, and one day, I firmly believe that some of these early born-digital works will be what are studied, read, and analyzed within dissertations and college classrooms. For writers, expanding into and experimenting with the medium of the digital is about as irresistible as it would be for an artist to experiment with a newly discovered color that no humans had ever seen before previously. Through trial and error, through much experimenting and practice, more and more artworks would be created using this new color, and experimenting with the experience that it gives to its viewers. 

Of all the areas in the humanities, perhaps the Digital Humanities is the best positioned to recognize and begin to analyze these born-digital literary creations. It was the Digital Humanities that first began asking the questions and defining what the digital humanities would be, and why such a field was necessary and should not be confined to the realm of computer science and engineering. Digital Humanities was used to study early video games and the consoles that humans interfaced with in order to play those games. It is therefore the most equipped, and appropriate field, to begin to study the works of art that are sometimes games, but are often things that have not been named yet, have not been categorized, and, though they are beloved and treasured by their wide and diverse communities, have yet to be studied by almost anyone for the unique treasures that they bring to the study of literature. 

Down the Rabbit Hole, or How I Got One Step Closer to Accepting that I Don't Know What I'm Doing

A few weeks ago, I added the post Never Have I Ever where I stress-roasted myself because I felt incontrovertibly stupid trying to figure out what I am doing with my life Gephi. I really cannot emphasize how stressed and discouraged I was when I made that post. I have generally resigned myself to being technologically left behind from this point on, which is grim, but comforting.

 

Trying to read Lauren Klein's "The Image of Abscence" tonight before the kids' bedtime (not my brightest idea today), I made it about 7 pages when I saw her reference 'Protovis,' "a JavaScript-based toolkit for data visualization" and off I went to Google, since I knew it had to be in some way comparable to Gephi. Sure enough, Protovis is a thing and I got excited and ready to download it, till I caught the blurb right in the middle,

Protovis is no longer under active development.

The final release of Protovis was v3.3.1 (4.7 MB). The Protovis team is now developing a new visualization library, D3.js, with improved support for animation and interaction. D3 builds on many of the concepts in Protovis; for more details, please read the introduction and browse the examples.

 

and off I went to search for D3.js, which I easily found and downloaded...and could not open/run/use at all. But rather than the instinctive dispair I'm inclined towards...I kept trying. I cannot emphasize how surprising that is. 

 

The next level of the rabbit hole was googling how to run JavaScript in Google Chome, which led me to the Chrome DevTools' JavaScript page. This page provides detailed instructions, which I began following along and I totally did the thing! I typed in the lines of code and changed the little practice box to read 'Hello, Console!" instead of 'Hello World!' and it worked perfectly. Feeling exuberant, I again tried JavaScript...and nothing happened, so I clearly still don't know what I'm doing, but Dr. Drouin mentioned looking under the hood to see how it works and I feel like I finally grasped at it more than I have all semester. 

 

By this time, the kids were late for bed and everyone was frazzled...another happy night in the Pearce household. After ensuring my little heathens children were asleep, I sat back down and promptly dove into the rabbit hole head first. I went back to the Protovis page, where I did ...something?...and totally copied the code for the block quote announcement and pasted it into the plain text editor just for giggles...and it worked!! I did the thing! I went back and tried the DevTools Hello, Console! exercise again and it took many more attempts before I finally got it right (which is when I took the screenshot that I'm too tired to try working at uploading here). Now, it's 10:33 (yes, it's late—I'm old in my 30s and I don't care), I'm bordering on deriliousness (I legit just spent three solid minutes staring at dictionary.com to make sure I spelled that correctly), and a sense of calm resignation...I really don't know what I'm doing, but for the first time (maybe ever?) I'm not panicking about it.

 

...except for the part where I only read the 7 pages of Klein...

Elizabeth Losh: Bodies of Information

Losh talks about the need for feminism and inclusivity in the digital humanities.She articulates women being marginalized in technical fields even in recent times. I am interested in her take on how different voices being heard. What I do worry about, is the idea of feminist voices becoming a monolith due to technology cramming them all together based on subject manner. Just as there are stereotypes about other groups of people, the need to label others based on racial, gender, or sexual orientation seems to run more rampant than ever.

One of my favorite quotes was by Torchwood, "You people and your quaint little categories." The way technology is used may not allow for subtleties that are part of the human condition. Some women love the idea of feminisim and make it their reason for being. Some women may not just want to be seen just as a feminist, and some women may not even want to be feminists at all or labled that way. There are disagreements between 2nd and 3rd wave feminists on a host of issues. None of them are wrong for wanting to be seen as an individual of beliefs in a wide field of voices. I hope for the future that these issues are taken under consideration when archives are being created, because it is just as important as females being treated equally in the digital humanities.

 

Mapping the Boy's Journey in Araby

I decided to map “Araby” following the boy’s journey down to the Araby bazzar. As I was adding places on the map of Dublin, I realized several things that I hadn’t noticed before. The first thing I learned was that the distance from his home to the bazzar was quite far from each other, and seeing the geographical condition of both places, I could guess that the atmosphere of both places would very different—North Richmond Street, just as Joyce described, being “blind” and “quiet,” whereas the Araby bazzar is across the River, which he described as “twinkling,” and the boy could have a glimpse of the bustling nightlife of the city on his way to bazzar. Another thing I noticed was that the boy moved from North, where his house and school are located, to South, where the bazzar is opening. This physical movement from North to South aligns well with his psychological change because he is emotionally going down from hope and expectation to disappointment, doubt, and hatred. Also, because he had to leave his house after 9 p.m., he is surrounded by the darkness of the night and the silence in a lonely train riding, and with the experience of mapping his journey, I was able to better understand how these outside settings—going South alone at night—amplify as well as reflect the boy’s emotional movement.

I think a mapping of a novel enables the three-dimensional reading of a text. When I was reading “Araby” only from the book, I focused more onto the boy’s emotional journey than his physical movement, which still makes the story great. However, after mapping his journey and seeing with my eyes the geographical difference between North Richmond Street and the bazzar place (+Westland Row Station), I could clearly see how his perception of his love and himself is prompted to go through the gradual degradation by the change of surroundings.

 

Struggling to Archive Lost Game Content using the Wayback Machine

I have always really liked archiving things, either formally or informally, on the web. Whenever there is a wikia in a group that I am interested in, I often contribute content that is missing, or holes in the collective community memory. When The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim was first released, I was one of the people adding to the content on the Wiki page as I was experiencing it, screenshotting things so that pictures could be added. The Wayback Machine has been an excellent resource for me in a lot of my digital archiving endeavors, but in my most recent efforts to preserve history on a community Wiki page, the Wayback Machine struggled with the site it had documented.

The community is 4thewords, a Costa Rican writing role playing game that has been around for quite a while, from 2014 to the present. Its concept is what they call a "gym membership for writers" in which writers defeat monsters, level up, and gather resources by writing words within a time limit (difficulty higher or lower depending on the monster challenged). Though it is a very niche game, it has gathered quite a few loyal members that it serves well, and whom happyily pay the low monthly subscription fee. Those who cannot afford to pay, such as young writers or struggling adults, are often given memberships for free by the developers. 

4thewords has grown and changed drastically, and yet, a good amount of the early days of the site are documented. However there is a large and noticable gap in the documentation that I myself happened to be a part of, and remember quite vividly--National Novel Writing Month, November 2017, the "Uurwall's Haunted Mansion" event. The reason this is so undocumented is not only because the site was a lot smaller then and has only exploded in growth more recently, but also because the site itself was experimenting with a new model that I believe used Adobe Flash. In this experimental period of the game, players could actually scroll around the background like a point-and-click adventure, or classic RPG. The haunted mansion itself was illustrated lovingly, and the monsters either crouched, waiting in the corners to attack, or defended other passages that led deeper into the castle. Players would battle these monsters and try to find keys and create candles from the resources of their fallen bodies in order to explore the creepy recesses of the castle. It was epic--a classic fantasy game feel mixed with the best haunted-house horror tropes, and the only way you could hope to explore it all or have your character survive was by writing your story for National Novel Writing Month every day, passionately and studiously, as you battled the monsters.

I had just joined the site, and I remember crafting my first great weapon in the game in that event; a sword created from the magical Dark Wood I'd collected in a secret forest clearing by making my way through the entire haunted mansion.

Unfortunately, this game design didn't last. Apparently, I was one of the few people in 2017 that had a gaming computer capable of running the new site smoothly. Others had to switch back to "simple mode" where they couldn't explore the mansion, and could only click and battle monsters in a list. There were a lot of complaints, and 4thewords ended up reworking the site and creating a new model that relied and stunning art and written storylines alone, rather than animations and traditional game design exploration.

I wished to catalogue this special event that was unlike anything else I'd seen before on the site or off it. However, though the Wayback Machine indeed took a screenshot of the site during that month of November: https://web.archive.org/web/20171030002920/https://4thewords.com/

though it was able to bring me to what the homepage looked like then, I was unable to see anything further. The links worked, but perhaps it was the site's use of flash and other more complex programming that made it difficult to archive. All that can be seen when it is clicked through are blank pages: https://web.archive.org/web/20181013090955/https://4thewords.com/demo

I'm still trying to figure out ways that I can retrieve and archive this special, brief time in the site's history for those who experienced it, and those who didn't, but would like to learn about it. It is possible that the best that can be created is a written account from those who experienced it, no data and images were archived. This experience really brought home for me in a tangible way how difficult and challenging archiving websites and games can be, because even if the game still exists, many games now are constnatly being edited, changed, and revised, and the older game versions can be so different that they are almost unrecognizable to the newer game versions. Many grow nostalgic for the older versions of the game, which were actually different games altogether than the new game. This is even more dramatic than the textual, visual, and physical differences of reading a text published in different places, at different times--it is closer to reading an entirely new, changed version of a book by the same author, which may be totally different from the original work in significant ways. Yet, in this case, the original work is wiped from existence by the new version, and is often irretrevable to its users even in their efforts to archive it's existence.

My current avatar in 4thewords, with all the weaponry, clothing, and pets I've earned from defeating monsters and completing quests through the years.

Araby

I chose to map the boy's route in "Araby." I was taken with this story and its foregrounding of preteen/teenage letdown. The boy dreams and acts with a kind of tunnelvision that I am also susceptible to, and mapping his route allowed me to even better understand his dedication. The journey to the bazaar seems daunting for a 12(ish)-year-old traveling alone, especially considering how localized the rest of his life is. I also came to see more clearly the prominence of the River Liffey in shaping the boy's route and Dublin in general. This might be a stretch, but I feel like a river running through a metropolis can lend that city some sense of peace, and perhaps it made the boy's route seem even more majestic and grave with purpose. The boy's disillusion struck me as distinctly urban (maybe I have read too many articles about New York bands and "urban ennui"), and the map made clear that he has grown up in the thick of the city. He's also close to Trinity, which I understand from Sally Rooney novels to have a high reputation and whose campus connotes knowledge and sophistication. I wonder if the boy is at once allured by the sights of the city on his journey and disturbed by them, or more accurately, disturbed by the constraints of time and money and familial problems that keep him from venturing out of his neighborhood. Also, to be too literal, the boy's (admittedly kind of maladaptive) dreams dissipate by the end of the story, and the map shows a north-south trajectory. "Araby" reminded me most of "Prufrock" despite the age and class differences between their protagonists because of this commonality of self-soothing through daydreaming. There's that switch in "Prufrock"--"And would it have been worth it, after all"--that signals his walking back from the intention to ask out this girl and cushioning that sense of paralysis with reasons why he's better off on his own. While the boy in "Araby" does make it to his destination, the bazaar is almost completely closed by the time of his arrival, and in the face of his grand ambition to buy his crush a gift being thwarted, he is left embarrassed by his vanity.

https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=1pTROozIdA9Gpvso9pPvKMCY9XqFQsIQo...

Changing the artistic landscape through the digital

While readng "Reading Exquisite Code" I kept thinking about how the artistic process is being changed by algorithmic processes beyond intentional projects like Exquisite Code. In particular, I was struck by how social media as a landscape has driven artist's styles to be more similar. In the animation world, there has been a crop of new tv shows with young showrunners who graduated from the notorious CalArts, that often get criticized for having a "CalArts style", and while I think the criticism is lazy—there is a bit of truth behind the notion, I just think it's misdirected at the school itself. 

Instagram as a site has become worse and worse for independent and freelance artists as a marketing tool because of the way the algorithm works. That is to say, I think there's a sort of cannon to online digital art. Scrolling though my own feed while intermittently reading "Reading Exquisite Code"  it really struck me how much influence the algorthim of social media sites influences trends in the art world. I don't' think writing is quite as susceptible to this, since it isn't distributed through such avenues, but for visual arts, your social media can make or break your career. In order to be successful on the machine, you must constantly post to your feed, and thus a lot of artist's spend time creating content simply to post it. The meaning behind the artistic practice has changed. Content is created for the sake of being consumed rather than for the sake of creation. I'm dealing in generalizations here, but the sliced and diced formatting of social media itself, in some ways, is hegemonizing the artist's eyes.

To the Continent

I often teach Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood to my students. I got my masters at O'Connor's alma mater, which was just about ten minutes away from her mother's ranch, Andalusia. Whenever we read the novel, or watch the movie, I try to assure my students: No, it's not as awful as it seems. This is funny. I promise it's funny. Flannery O'Connor was a very funny person. There is a moment in that novel where Hazel Moates, the approaches a landlord and announces his career as a fledling prophet. She responds by asking. "Is it protestant, or something foreign (European)." Hazel says, "No, ma'am, it's protestant," which reassures the landlord.  

The landlord echoes a sentiment in both Irish and American literature in the early twentieth century, the European continent was a waste of impossible evil and moral corruption, and therefore, well-adjusted citizens of other nations ought to stay away and tend to their own affairs.

Joyce believed the opposite. Dublin was paralyzed. Dublin was death. "The continent" as the Irish called it, was life. That's where things happened. The continent furnished the conditions by which an artist could create and could survive. To a certain degree, the boy in Araby's journey to the bazaar reflects Joyce's own escape from the "blind" corner of artless Dublin.

I put the four places Joyce lived in his life in order to illustrate that his self-imposed exile is nearly a straight line away from Dublin, as if he was contradicting Bloom's won judgement that "The Longest Way Round is the Shortest Way Home."

For Joyce, the shortest way round is the longest way home.

Mapping Araby Post

I chose to map the areas in "Araby" that are vaguely mentioned in the short story and places that the boy may have gone to on a regular bases. It is interesting to note how small the boy's world is and how Joyce portrays his experiences to be that of a simple life that he lives. He spends a lot of time in his home and on Richmond Street playing with the other boys on the block. He goes to school, where he daydreams about his crush. The boy also travels to the marketplace, Buckningham street, where he takes the train to the Bazaar, and finally ends up at the Bazaar. These are places that I pinpointed on my map to convey the world in which the boy lives, moves, and interacts. Here is a link to the map that I created: 

Araby - https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1lMJCVZMKcKShO3xJr7Ka0MU5t-N-JS...

1. While working on the map, what did you notice or understand differently than when you read the story through the first time?

While working on the map, I was able to really visualize this place that the boy experiences in his everyday journey. When I researched the street that the boy lived on and explored different areas through images that I found, I was able to really place myself within this world, enhancing my reading of the short story.

2. What are the invisible barriers that shape space and movement in the story? How did making the map help you to understand that?

Some invisible barriers that I was able to pick up on were the vague descriptions of time and place and the hazy mood and tone that was established from the boy's perspective. I think that because the boy is young and does not necessarily find purpose in having a strong sense of place, this was displayed as we experience this lack of concrete imagery until we reach the Bazaar when the boy becomes especially focused on his surroundings because ther eis now significance.

3. What is a key narrative or poetic element of the story (i.e. imagery, sound, dialogue, or something else)? How does it pertain to the map you’ve made?

A key element that struck me was the hazy tone that made the experience moving throughout the story one that allowed for a cloudy perspective that didn't really provide concrete imagery. A big part of this is because it portrayed the boy as being completely enamored with his crush rather than being intuned with his surroundings. This perspective forced me to research on my own specific areas with concrete names that would help mark his journey.

Ireland and the World According to Joyce's Dubliner Characters

I decided to compare both "Araby" and "Eveline" on Google Maps because I knew that Eveline's world was far larger than Araby's, but the discrepancy was still breathtaking. Although I couldn't nail down the location of the actual bazaar itself, the boy's life is completely encompassed in an area barely one square mile. Eveline thought she was going to 'Buenos Ayres' (a whopping 6,839 miles!!), but even if she traveled with Frank to Liverpool (a mere 134 miles), she still would have traveled orders of magnitude farther than the boy in Araby.

The boy mentions in passing crossing the river during his chivalrous trip, and while Eveline knows that she will "be on the sea with Frank" she can't fathom it in any way other than drowning and it is ultimately what hems in her existence. Even though I really do want to take a cruise someday, when I play on Google Maps and inadvertently zoom too far in on the open ocean, I panic for a split second, so I can almost relate to her sheer terror.

I chose to make my base map the satellite view to try and bring Joyce's imagery closer to reality. It would only be better if the map could show the weather, I think; Joyce's descriptions of place and aura are intensely descriptive.

I think it would be fascinating to load the same data table into both Google Maps and Gephi. Gephi can't show us geographical relationships, but Google Maps can't show us thematic relationships, even though both types (and probably more) are all hidden right there in the data. For my final project, I've thought of doing just this to try and map out the locations and relationships of publishers and their books on my Goodreads lists. Why? Maybe because I feel certain that my books are likely exclusively American or Western European; maybe because it might be interesting to see what books are published where. Maybe it's just because playing with Google Maps is too much fun. 

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