Thursday, March 10, 2011

Guest Lecture: Chris Joseph

Chris Joseph is going to be sharing with us some *classified* information about his work. Please access the private post containing his lecture notes here. A password is required which has been e-mailed to you.

Chris will be answering questions about his lecture which you can post here so the class discussion remains in this centralised area.


  1. Chris, a couple of comments that I have received via e-mail:

    1) Can you tell us more about why you chose to "design" Alice

    2) What's your perception of transliteracy in relation to creating I.A.

  2. Hi there. Lost this post once again :(.
    IA certainly uses many different media to narrate Alice's story. Interesting that it uses the visual, auditory and even tactile sense in the narration. I would think that even the timing and choice of when needed to use or 'click' the mouse is part of designing the experience.This really does exemplify 'transliteracy'as well.I would think that how each 'reader' experience's the story will be different dependent on which of the senses an individual uses most or is most familiar with using. I think it's also interesting that I want to use words such as " viewing the story", " reading the story" but neither of those contexts really explains how a person 'explores' or experiences "IA".
    The time and effort to make a coherent whole out of the many different technologies as Chris alluded to (hours of work for a 20-30 second visual segment)is certainly an artform. It does make me wonder if there is equivalancies in there timewise to 'writing a chapter of a book ( traditional paper printed)" and the time and effort in segments of IA? What I did find though was that Alice as a character didn't resonate with me.As a character she seemed quite one dimensional while all of the technology was many faceted. I'm wondering if that is part of the intent of IA? In future episodes as she grows up and the technology she uses to tel her story becomes more sophisticated does Alice also become more dimensional?
    I am an avid reader and enjoy fiction, bilbliographies, trilogies - really getting a grasp of how I visualize a character and their choices and behaviors. That was missing for me in IA.

  3. I agree with Carolyn's observation. Although I did see a progression in the development of Alice's character as the episodes became more complex, the degree of depth was still not satisfying to me. I understand that the visual and sound elements are used to fill and expand the role of pure text, but for readers who like to use their imaginations to visualize stories, this type of presentation is a bit of a let down. I wonder if Chris could share his thoughts on how to build literary complexity into this type of storytelling.

  4. Hi Carolyn and Moose,

    thanks very much for your posts!

    Carolyn, as you've suggested, the timing and decision over when to include pauses and clicks is essential. There are a number of challenges there: allowing enough time for slower readers, but not making faster readers bored with long pauses; not breaking up the text so much that the narrative thread becomes lost; giving enough time for all to view the visuals and hear the audio elements (if they are considered 'essential' to the narrative, which might not be the case).

    I still find it challenging to describe the experience of watching/viewing/listening to multimedia narratives :)

    Certainly Alice does become much more complex as the episodes progress. It's a challenge of course to include the kind of characterization you might find in a novel (even a short one) that takes hours or days to read, versus an online experience that takes at most 30 minutes (and even that is stretching most people's typical digital 'reading' span). I'm hoping this might change with the rise of tablets, that are much more intimate and less work-orientated than desktops or even laptops - the experience of reading on a tablet is much more akin to the paper book experience, so might open up a space for longer and more developed narratives like this.

    How to build literary complexity - beyond the simple answer of 'more words' (and thus more reading time) - is an interesting one. I have a sense that audio can be used to develop situational and character complexity, as it is often used in movies for example. Of course there are many examples of effects and music being used in a heavy handed or clichéd way, but when used well it is often something you don't even notice. Visually there all kinds of methods to involve someone in a story, from place-setting to point-of-view perspectives, but ultimately I think generated visuals rarely compare to the internal visuals one creates when reading a story - the brain is just too imaginative. But this isn't always the case: when I think about the Matrix series of movies, for example - whatever your thoughts about the narrative - it is difficult to reproduce the impact and imagination of some of those visuals in words. Of course for every thinly-scripted 'Matrix' there is a denser 'Inception' that retains much of its complexity in word only form.

    So I guess my question would be what is 'literary complexity': is it only about the characters, or the narrative; how much it is about the individual's response to what they read/see/experience, through any medium? Is it also about the relationship that individuals have with words themselves - the literary baggage we accumulate?

  5. Ok, those are quite the questions! The 'literary baggage' we accumulate is quite a concept and requires me to be more introspective than normal!
    So my literary baggage would be my accumulation of my education, my parents values on literacy and/or book (environment I was raised in), my own values of being literate and transliterate and even the cultural connotation of words and experiences. So the printed books that I read is a different an experience for me, just as "IA" is a different experience for each individual that experiences or chooses that literary form. As an example I really enjoy Edward Rutherford as an author and the centuries that pass as you experience one of his books. The novel "London" as an example - I've been to London many times, have all of my extended family and relatives in Wales and Britian, recognize many of the architecture and am familiar with the history. My literary baggage would make reading this novel very different for someone who has never been to London,doesn't recognize the landmarks and/or doesn't feel as connected to British History.

  6. It was only after we went over some of those short stories last weekend that I began to understand and appreciate stories such as Inanimate Alice. Here’s the link to those stories:

    Instead of focusing on the words and the story itself, I tried to better understand the role the technology had on the story. For example, how do the images and graphics change from story to story. Instead of the fact that there was sound, I paid more attention to what the sound was exactly and what was its purpose. It seems to me that the selection of the technology plays a role in developing the story instead of simply complementing the text and narrative. I still think an active imagination is needed to read work such as IA, but it takes more of our senses to really capture the work.

    Chris – I think literary complexity is more about the individuals response as a reader. The stories itself can have meaning in it, but it depends on the readers experience with the text and their experience they bring to the text.

    I think this also ties into the transmedia storytelling discussion we have been having recently. Stories are being told across different platforms for franchises such as The Matrix and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and it is easier to pick out these platforms. But for an example such as IA, transmedia storytelling is happening using different platforms, but all contained in one link. Our digital literacy is tested with these sorts of examples because we need to pick apart not only the story, but the different modes of media that are used.

  7. Thanks Chris. I agree that tablets are just scratching the surface of possibility right now. I think there will be some very interesting tablet literature emerging in the next few years.

  8. Complexity of Text and Baggage of literacy

    Aarseth(1997) in the book titled Cyber text: Perspectives on ergodic literature discusses about the meaning and complexity of cyber text. For the author, cybertext “... focuses on the mechanical organisation of the text, by positing the intricacies of the medium as an integral part of literary exchange” (p.1). The project Inanimate Alice, brings out this aspect of positing intricacies into text with various media. This makes this literary exchange more intriguing .

    Aarseth (1997) also argues that any text whether it is print based, virtual, hypertext etc. they all have the following in common: “all literature to some extent (are) indeterminate, nonlinear and different for every reader” (p.2). The author claims that even print text cannot be linear because “ the reader can read it only one sequence at a time, anyway” (p.2) . But there is a sequence to most of the stories as they powerfully unfold the plot. Non linearity in reader’s experience of a text can kill the anticipation of a reader. So complexity of medium incorporated into text, let’s say as in Inanimate Alice, will not take away anything from the story but will actually enhance the experience. But the ability to read one sequence at a time does not mean the reader has to know the climax of the story non-sequentially.

    With regard to the concept of “baggage”; there are so many intricacies of meaning and experience we incorporate to text and scenes. Is it literary baggage or a ‘treasure’? (Not forgetting the idea that ignorance can be bliss.)

    Aarseth; E. E. (1997). Cyber text: Perspectives on ergodic literature. Maryland: John Hopkins University Press. Available:

  9. Thanks all for your fascinating posts. Perhaps I shouldn't have used the term 'baggage' - too perjorative - it certainly can be a treasure!

    Aarseth's book is a really excellent examination of ergodic literature, thanks for reminding me that I must reread this!

    And the points about the transmedia are also very pertinent. I'd love Alice's stories to be told across multiple platforms - intentionally rather accidentally, as at present - as I think that offers a real opportunity to expand literary complexity, to return to the earlier question. A book, a game that you play on a console, etc. - opens up some wonderful avenues.

  10. Chris - thanks so much for sharing your expertise and experience with us. You've given us more insight into the creative process. :)