Week 3 + 4: Hypertext & Twine

I have recently been researching the history of hypertext in the context of the development of the internet, so was excited to use this assignment to explore this research using new methods. This research started when this summer my friend and classmate Emma Rae Norton and I researched and designed a Feminist History of the Internet Walking Tour for ITP Camp. I am now working on converting part of it into an Adjacent article, focusing on the 1980’s and 1990’s in lower Manhattan. The writing process has been challenging partly because I hold a lot of the connections between people and events in my head and I find it hard to write them down into a more linear historical narrative. I once tried to drawing some out on a huge piece of paper and Emma and I started to hand code a website to visualize and experience them in a different format.

For this assignment I was interested in using Twine to take the reader on this tour in an interactive and networked format. I was also curious as to whether this would help me discover new connections between places and people or more clearly visualize the strongest nodes. 

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I had planned to go through my Adjacent article draft section by section and add snippets of the text to nodes, but I found myself jumping around. I decided to let this happen and wasn’t too surprised that this was how my brain thought about and processed all of these dates and facts. I was also interested in what the most commonly visited nodes or links would be, so added in the code to track how many visits each page gets.

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As I was creating the nodes in Twine, I also kept trying new groupings to try to find the ones that looked better visually, but eventually gave up on making it look “clean.”  Some groupings emerged, but one of the main takeaways was that the connections are more complex than I had previously realized. There seem to be infinite connections I could add. New ideas for how to split up the nodes also kept popping up in my mind as I was constructing this. I enjoyed hiding little “surprises” that were harder to get to with only one link in (like Jaime Levy’s rap) and wondered if people would be able to get to them.

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You can see this online version of the tour here.

If I were to continue developing this, I’d like to add photos and create pages for some of the other connections for common phrases (such as media studies) and years.

Week 2 + Presentation

Presentation

This was my week to give a class presentation and I was assigned the topic of alternate reality games. Below is my presentation.

Here are links to my sources:

Alternate Reality Game, Wikipedia

Playing Games

My Body

This piece uses hypertext to explore different parts of the author’s body. There is an entry page, but I soon got lost moving through the hypertext links, sometimes ending up on the same page and sometimes wondering how to get back. This also allows the reader to start to re-arrange the piece - for example, reading one paragraph from the first page, clicking on the hypertext link and reading that passage, and then going back to finish the first page.

In terms of decisions that the reader has to make, they have to decide where to click first and how to move over her body, which part to move to next through hypertext links or if they want to try to return to the first page. Other questions that that came to mind was, should I read all of the text on each page or jump around and eventually circle back enough that you read it all?

Hypertext works well here - it adds understanding of how the authors sees parts of her body as connected, like a map or a mental map of a space. In some ways though it was hard for me to finish reading each passage because I wanted to see what the other body parts were she was referencing. I found myself clicking back and forth, sometimes being surprised sometimes thinking “oh that makes sense” and more often than not comparing to my experience with my body.

Depression Quest

This narrative has branches but still keeps a linear structure that the reader can go back to, unlike My Body in which the reader can choose their own path and enjoy feeling lost. This structure is very clear to the reader with the presence of “back” and “next” buttons which don’t exist in My Body. Within this structure, it gives the reader some choices that lead to different branches but all continue linearly moving the story forward.

There are points where the reader has to make decisions to move to different branches. In some cases, choices have been taken away, in this story indicating what someone who is not depressed would do. Within each branch, the reader can choose to get more information about a certain area of that path or move forward quickly without reading deeper.

Hypertext feels appropriate here because the story’s goal is to put the reader in the position of a person who is depressed and have to make hard decisions, even though many of the options feel small in the moment the hypertext function helps the reader understand how they have different outcomes and lead to new choices.

A Dictionary of the Revolution

In this dictionary hypertext us used to visually show the reader the “strength” of the connections between words. Instead of linearly reading through the dictionary, you can click through in the order you choose and explore connections in a manner that feels more natural and dynamic.

The reader has to decide how to navigate through the dictionary: do they read through in alphabetical order, visually noting the connections? Or click through to read about the strongest connections? Or choose what looks to be the weakest connections? Or do they click through at random?

Hypertext feels appropriate here and to me as a reader feels more intuitive than trying to read a list or dictionary in a linear way. Sometimes the number of choices feels overwhelming, but that is also reflective of reality. As a reader, I really got a sense of how complicated this environment was that I think I wouldn’t have understood if I had simply read the definitions for a list of terms.

Similar to 80 Days, this experience feels less like hypertext (in a traditional sense on the internet with links) than My Body and Depression Quest and more like an “interactive web page” or data visualization. This story is most similar to My Body because there is no prescribed way of navigating the site and it’s clear how each page (or term) references and is connected to the others - the authors have laid this out clearly and a big part of the “journey” is exploring, understanding and thinking about these connections..


80 Days

This game uses hypertext to make decisions in the form of answering questions and taking new actions. These lead to additional narratives and new options for decisions and actions you can take.

The player has to decide how to answer questions and what actions to take next. These often feel like small differences and sometimes the player get forced in into one path after-all (for example, pretending to lose the tickets and being forced to say that you forgot to buy them).

Because this is a game, the branching narrative feels appropriate here. Even though it’s a linear journey the player still feels as though they have a lot of choice over which direction to go and what to do. Perhaps it was the phone interface, but at first it wasn’t clear to me what action I “should” take or if one was necessary at all. While it’s not clear how much the choices change the outcome, the small choices of how to respond did make me feel as though I had my own personality, rather than being forced into a character chosen for me.

Compared to the other stories, this feels less like hypertext because of the game elements and most similar to Depression Quest in its structure (but a much more complicated version).




Sketch 1: Tracery

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When I was a kid, the book In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories was very popular at my elementary school. One of the scariest stories to me was The Green Ribbon about a girl who wears a ribbon around her neck and when it is untied her head falls off. As a child this was one of the scariest stories to me (you can see the buzzfeed reaction here, proof that I wasn’t the only one who had nightmares about this for years).

A couple years ago I read Her Body and Other Parties which revisits this story and re-tells it in a short story called The Husband Stitch. 

As the name hints, I think that this story can still be classified as horror, but I now see the story as scary from girl/woman’s point of view instead of from the boy/man’s. I now see that the conflict and violence is drawn out over the course of the entire narrative. I love this story because I feel it captures a part of my experience of growing up as a girl and being a woman in our society that I have never quite been able to put into words. 

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For this assignment, I decided to revisit this short story to understand what Carmen Maria Machado changed about the discourse that showed the story in a new light for me.

For reference, here is a short version of the story, similar to what I read as a kid.

I was curious about the following: how does the story change if the ribbon is tied around different body parts? How much does the ending (the exchange between the husband and the woman) change the rest of the story? Does it matter what kind of man the husband is (good, bad, etc) or what kind of woman the wife is (beautiful, plain, odd)? Does the story change if the woman has a daughter instead of a son? 

I wanted to retain the original story I read as a child, but in order to add the other variations I wasn’t exactly able to do this, although some versions are close. The changes in the story are subtle, but I think do achieve telling the story with different discourse - a head falling off is very different than a finger falling off, and a “bad” man asking to untie the ribbon is different than a “good” man asking. The core story remains the same: this is a normal and unremarkable love story (meaning a heterosexual relationship between two cis people) and as time passes they meet, fall in love, get married and have a child. Throughout, the boy/husband/man asks over and over about the one secret the girl/woman/wife has: the ribbon tied around part of her body. Finally, at the end of the story, he unties it.

Below are a few different versions generated by tracery.

You can see my code here: https://editor.p5js.org/lpj234@nyu.edu/sketches/1q9s0BcXSV

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