poem.exe and pentametron

My third choice of e-literature to explore is pentametron and poem.exe, two twitter bots. They were previously presented in class by one of my fellow students, and we discussed a number of things in relation to these two pieces. While I am therefore somewhat familiar with these works, the presentation and following discussions really got me thinking about bots and how they fit in within the worlds of e-literature, which is what I will go into here.

According to Liam Cooke, poem.exe is “a bot which generates haiku-like poems and publishes them to social media.”. The bot essentially picks three-to-four lines from different verses of a poem, may substitute some words for another, then decides whether or not to publish it based on some built-in parameters relating to the seasonal references found in the lines. Altogether it produces poems that are indeed very close to actual haikus in structure, though usually with more or less vowels or even two or four lines, rather than the intended three. It is on the one hand impressive to think that a bot can produce poetry at all, but at the same time it’s kind of amusing to see the results when scrolling through the twitter feed of the bot. Whatever original meaning the lines may have had, have been broken apart and then re-contextualized when put together with lines from other verses.

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Halloween season must be near.

There’s two points of interest here, one being meaning. In class we discussed whether there was any need for humans to create poetry, if a bot could simply be programmed to do it for us. My opinion there is that there is absolutely room for both to exist, in that a human poet may have an intended meaning behind their words and choice of structure, whereas a bot cannot yet intentionally and knowingly produce meaning. This is where the other point of interest comes in, namely interactivity. In class we argued that interactivity is a part of the piece, because the reader has to partake by trying to produce meaning by themselves. Of course one can interpret human poetry in many different ways, but where a human poet will have their own understanding of their work, a bot will have none. Add in that the poems themselves appear nonsensical due to being pieced together from multiple verses, and that they are close, but-not-quite fully haiku poems, and it sort of feels like you’re being tasked as a reader to find your own meaning from them, if any.

Pentametron is a twitter bot that retweets messages that happen to be iambic pentameters, but usually does so in groups of four that altogether reads as a verse with a rhyming scheme, usually in a/a/b/b form. This is a fun one because there is a sort of unintentional interactivity from the general public, in that anyone’s tweets could potentially become a part of the piece just by posting a sentence that happens to match the bots parameters. It is a bit more difficult to read however since one tweet only contains one line by itself, which does not appear particularly meaningful, but it is therefore interactive for the reader too in that you have to piece together the verse by yourself. Once you do so it is kind of fun to see how the verse reads and sounds if you read it aloud, and I think it’s pretty neat that a bot is able to pull this off. Of course, like with poem.exe it isn’t flawless and it is definitely a bit harder to read since there is no clear start or end to the poems. It is also to me less about creating meaning from a whole verse, and more about discovering the rhymes as you go.

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It sure rhymes, but who knows if it could even mean anything? Does it matter? Should it matter?

In the end they are both very interesting and fun bots to study as they produce poems that really only us as readers can give any real meaning too. They are also limited by whatever programming and parameters are involved when it comes to picking what words to use in their tweets, but that does not mean it makes for bad poetry, rather they are pieces of e-literature where you can’t really do wrong when it comes to interpreting them. I think it is okay if you can’t really find meaning in an individual poem, as everyone will view them in different ways. Sometimes a poem you don’t understand, someone else may find deep and intriguing, and vice versa.

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Quings Quest VII: The Death of Video Games

Quings Quest VII is a game made by Dietrich Squinkifer in 2014. It was presented this week in elitclass and as such I was fairly familiar with the work before trying it out for myself for this week’s blog. I also took the time to read up on the work on the eliterature collection volume 3 beforehand as I wanted a clearer understanding as to why the game was made. According to the author statement, the game was made to express his frustrations as a result of the tense situations surrounding Gamergate, and how divided the gaming community became in their endless arguments of what video games should or shouldn’t contain. As such the game is both a nod to old school games while containing everything that supposedly ruins video games, making it something of a playful parody.

To navigate the piece you have to click on links found throughout the game’s text, making it a mixture between an old-school text-adventure and a hypertext piece of e-literature. You also have a lot of freedom of choice when it comes to trying out different links. Some of them let you move around, or offers additional background story, or humorous anecdotes, but most are not necessary to finish the game. To me that gives the game some replayability, should you feel inclined to learn everything, but without making you feel like you miss out on too much if you don’t. The overall story itself is fairly linear, and you don’t always have the freedom of turning back so the length of a playthrough can therefore vary a bit.

Aside from the text, there is the game’s logo on the title screen as well as a starry background that goes with the space setting. Otherwise there are no other visuals, leaving you to use your imagination as one would with text-adventure games back in the day. There is also music and the occasional sound effect accompanying a screen to set a certain mood, be it relaxing, funny or tense.

Overall it is a very simple piece to navigate, and even if you miss out on some text you will still have a good understanding of the story. The story itself is essentially the main character and their genderfluid compatriot lamenting how the misogynerds invaded their home planet ‘Videogames’ and decided for everyone else what was supposed to be right. There’s also the character Frankie, who could represent those who didn’t necessarily directly side with anyone in the conflict, but did so indirectly by not voicing their opposition as they benefited from one side anyway.

While there are two different endings, they have a similar feel to them. The first has you blowing up what remains of the home planet, so that a new one can regrow, hopefully as a better place than it was before; or leaving the world behind to collapse in on itself while searching for a new home. It paints a somewhat hopeless picture of how things must’ve felt at the time, but also a hopeful outlook that maybe when things blow over something good will come of it. I thought it was a pretty amusing game, and I quite enjoyed the retro style and references found within.

Soliloquy

This week’s piece of electronic literature is Soliloquy, created by Kenneth Goldsmith.

I decided to go in without fully reading the description so that it would make for a bit of a surprise what would happen. When you at first open the piece you are greeted by two quotes that pertain to the work in some way, and to begin with I did not pay them that much attention, nor did I know what the title of the work actually meant, but I will be getting to that shortly. After these two screens you are given the freedom to pick a weekday, and from there an additional ten separate pages for each day to potentially explore. I randomly picked Friday, and was greeted by a single word; “Hi.”. I went on to page two, where there was an entire sentence, and so on until I tried to move the mouse around on page five. That was when it hit me that each of the pages were filled with a wall of text with seemingly little rhyme or reason. It was at this point that I took a step away from the work to read the description, as well as look up what the title meant and I reread the quotes at the beginning to help gain a better understanding of what was going on. Soliloquy is the act of talking out loud to yourself, and Kenneth had been recording himself doing just that for an entire week, before gathering it into one collective work.

Now, despite there being no sound or imagery I was still left with quite the impression when I first noticed that there was far more text on each page than I thought at first. It also meant the piece seemed a bit more overwhelming in the sense that there would simply be no way to really understand what all of the text is about, because it is in the end just a guy talking to himself. And in a similar fashion to when you think to yourself, the brain is pretty bad at sticking with one topic for too long, so Soliloquy in a way visualizes through text just how unstructured our thoughts can be even when spoken out loud in an informal setting. It also means that it doesn’t matter all that much what order you read it in as there is no greater narrative or meaning to the topics that are brought up.

Despite there being no sound or imagery I was still left with quite the impression when I first noticed that there was far more text on each page than I thought at first. It also meant the piece seemed a bit more overwhelming in the sense that there would simply be no way to really understand what all of the text is about, because it is in the end just a guy talking to himself. And in a similar fashion to when you think to yourself, the brain is pretty bad at sticking with one topic for too long, so Soliloquy in a way visualizes through text just how unstructured our thoughts can be even when spoken out loud in an informal setting. It also means that it doesn’t matter all that much what order you read it in as there is no greater narrative or meaning to the topics that are brought up.

This makes me question how it is considered a literary work. Because when it comes to literature you have a set of expectations as to how you understand them, yet so many of these are broken here.

Technically the piece is chronological, in that it overall takes place over the course of a week, but there is both the freedom to choose what day to explore, as well as a lack of other defined times that makes it difficult to discern what time of day a part of the text might take place. The same goes for place, as one can at best guess where Kenneth is for one sentence, yet the following line could be somewhere else entirely and you would never know without context. This is where I think the two quotes at the beginning of the work comes in;

“Don’t for heaven’s sake, be afraid of talking nonsense! But you must pay attention to your nonsense.” (Ludwig Wittgenstein)

Reporter: Why don’t you write the way you talk?

Gertrude Stein: Why don’t you read the way I write?

The first quote could perhaps suggest that it is okay if what is said makes no sense, as can be said for a lot of the work, yet at the same time it isn’t meaningless if you actually pay some attention to it. Even if not everything is clear to me as a reader there are still details to be found in the text that can paint a picture of a scene sometimes.

The second quote is an interesting one, as -indeed- the entire work is written the way Kenneth spoke for an entire week, and I feel this can be understood either literally or symbolically. Certainly, you can read it all in order and you will indeed read the work as it was written. Or you could read it in any order you like, and given how nonsensical the writing can appear to be then it stands to reason that so too can the order you read it in be. There doesn’t have to be some greater meaning as to why you read one part before another, just like how not everything you say during the day will be in a specific order. So how is it a literary work, exactly? Well, even if it breaks the conventional rules of literature, there is still some sense of time, place and progression going on throughout the text. It may come across as nonsensical, but it isn’t meaningless or pointless either.

In the end it makes for an interesting and thoughtful piece even in its simplicity. No pictures, no sound, only the written words that were spoken over the course of a week. And it does not have to be more than that to be intriguing.