Exploring Human-Computer Interactions in Digital Literature

Recently I’ve been interested in the different ways through which readers directly interact with content. Excluding the typical communications we see, such as comments, likes, shares, I asked myself: in what other ways do users respond and affect the media they experience? I have dug into this question before, and created a project that allows the reader to play an active role in the story. This is commonly referred to as interactive stories. As a tool I used Twine, “an open-source tool for telling interactive, nonlinear stories” that allows the user to develop the paths of the game by creating links. However, there are many other ways to create interactive experiences.

During the last couple of days I’ve been spending a lot of my time researching works and authors, in order to decide on my next project. I’ve explored works that use command-entry, such as Jim Munroe’s Everybody Dies, which is a great example of the implementation of puzzle-solving in storytelling. Emily Short’s Galatea is also a work that fascinates me, not only because of Galatea’s intriguing character, but because of how Short makes the reader an active member of the conversation.

The user has to input commands in order to explore, examine, and go further into whatever story the author has created for them. This tactic is immersing the person, intriguing them into figuring out the right verb to use, or the right question to ask; interactivity makes us the key to unraveling the narrative.

As I went further into the rabbit-hole, I found works that responded to the presence of the reader on the computer screen: the mouse. Rather than using the keyboard, as the command-entry interfaces do, some works use the pointer as the main tool through which the reader has an effect on the text. A basic example of this, which has nothing to do with text, is this whale that follows your mouse. The engine used to animate the whale is Scratch, it is simple to understand and allows the user to get acquainted with scripting language. Paper.js is another tool, “an open source vector graphics scripting framework” which offers a variety of examples on creating animations that move with the presence of the pointer, but is however a bit more advanced than Scratch.

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Alan Bigelow’s This Is Not A Poem, is an example of the implementations of pointer and text interaction. If you like Bigelow’s multimedia take on the “normal” poem, you can read a short detailed analysis on his work here. Other works that interact with readers and the mouse, are Jim Andrews’ Stir Fry Texts. The words appear as your average text, but act in a way that we wouldn’t usually expect from the words on our screens; and it all depends on the user’s presence. And as technology advances so do the interfaces through which we, as humans, are represented on the machine. For example, touch screens allow your fingers to act as the mouse, and Virtual Reality simulates the environment around the user; your presence on the screen no longer has to be tied down to a virtual pointer.

To me the ways that these authors are including the reader as an active and essential part of the work, is an enriching experience. No longer are we bound by the page, forced to follow linear experiences. There are options, different endings, interpretations, and they all depend on a connection between creator, reader, and machine. These are some of my conclusions on the subject, I encourage everyone to read, or rather interact with these narratives. There are many more to explore, and after doing my own investigations I feel inspired to labor on my own project. Hopefully, you will be able to interact with my creation soon.

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