The inspiration behind my creative project came from my interest in hypertext fiction and artificial reality games. The proliferation of new information technologies, such as the Internet and social networking sites, has led to fundamental changes in the structure and content of literature. Hyptertext fiction, named for its use of hypertext links, allows readers to engage directly with the narrative through a “Choose Your Own Adventure” format. Readers click links that lead them to further installations of the story, a process that inherently benefits a non-linear narrative. Artificial Reality Games (ARGs), a relatively new form of viral marketing, meld the virtual and the real into a narrative that exists across several platforms. Participants solve puzzles on the Internet as well as in real life in order to receive the next clue or the next installment of the narrative. I am fascinated by this defining quality of ARGs, which erases the boundaries between reality and fiction.
Internet-based narratives lead to fundamental changes in the relationship between authors and readers. Both authors and readers share ownership of the text, because readers are often active participants in determining the trajectory of the narrative. In fact, the actions of the players in an ARG might determine its course and its outcome. Most online websites have a comment section, so it is possible to easily transgress the line between reader and author. Ultimately, this reveals the democratizing potential of the Internet. Anyone with access can become a consumer and a producer of information. Traditional forms of authority are subverted. As the adage of the 90s goes, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”
I found the proliferation of non-linear narratives and the growing lack of textual authority interesting in the apocalyptic context. Our initial discussions about the apocalypse concerned the role of binary thinking. Apocalyptic narratives based on religious ideology viewed the apocalypse as the triumph of good over evil. Such binary thinking promoted absolutism and a static understanding of such concepts as good and evil. Much of our class focused on deconstructing this desire for a singular truth, and a linear narrative. I would argue that the Internet, and the narratives it inspires, has the potential to reject absolutism. How can one search for truth on a medium that promotes multiple truth? Who can gain control of the narrative when the boundary between creator and creation no longer exists?
My interest in the Internet and its transformative role in modern society led me to structure my creative project as a hypertext. The inspiration behind the content of my creative project was a article I read a few months ago about a computer worm named Conficker, which exploits a security flaw in Microsoft Windows to infect computers. The worm has managed to infect millions of computers across the world, including computers used by businesses and governments. The discovery of Conficker led to a cat and mouse game between security experts and the shadowy creators of Conficker. Most ominously, the worm remains mostly dormant and has yet to reveal its full potential as a security threat. After learning about Conficker, I began to wonder what would happen if the worm managed to disable the millions of computers it has infected. This would drastically undercut the stability of our communication networks, potentially leading to a collapse. The breakdown of communications might be followed by the almost simultaneous collapse of the financial system, as well as the disruption of our electric grid and other services, throwing our government into chaos. While there is a point of origin for this catastrophe (the hypothetical computer worm), for most, if not all people, this would seem like the disintegration of their known world.
“The Fall,” then, examines the world close to four decades after such an event. The main platform for the story is a blog run by J. Stevens, a twenty-something year old woman living in New York City. Fascinated by the events of the Fall, her blog is devoted to any and all information about that period in time. In her “About Me,” she claims she is searching for some objective truth about the Fall, and many of the articles on her blog are devoted to dismissing crank theories. Her blog is open to the public, so the comment section is filled with people agreeing and disagreeing with her and each other. By reading through J. Stevens’ blog, and the blogs of her commentators, it is possible for a reader to piece together a partial timeline. After the collapse of the interconnected systems that constitute the modern world, New York (and possibly the rest of the world) descended into chaos. The reader learns that the city was under military control for several decades, until an interim civilian government of the larger metropolitan area managed to regain control.
Since I also wanted to explore the concept of truth and origin, I created the Memory Project, which is rumored to be a compilation of first-person accounts of the days preceding and directly following the Fall. During the chaos of those original years, and then the subsequently repressive governments that came to power, there is a dearth of actual first-hand information about the Fall. For people like J. Stevens, whose parents were children when the Fall occurred, the Memory Project takes on a mythic quality, spawning numerous conspiracy theories about its content, its origins, and its current location. The ultimate goal of the narrative is to lead the reader to excerpts of one account from the Memory Project, though of course it is the reader’s decision whether they chose to accept the ending or that such a project ever existed.
Ultimately, my project taught me the difficulties and the importance of world building. One of the challenges of writing a post-apocalyptic text is that the author has to negotiate between how much of the old world to retain and how much of it to discard. It raises the question of what is integral to human society, and what is based upon the conditions of the world. For me, it revealed the limits of my inventiveness. The major drawback of the world I created is how much it still resembles our own. I have a greater respect for all of the authors we read in class and their capacity to create internally consistent narratives. At the same time, one of the benefits of the hypertext narrative is that it is a perpetual work in progress. Anyone, from the author to the reader, has the power to contribute to the narrative, filling in the plot holes and expanding it in new directions.
1. My Project: Through a Mirror Darkly
(It used to be hosted on both Eportfolios and WordPress, but I moved it entirely to Eportfolios to make it more streamlined. The articles which dead-end in pictures from the Soviet space program are those I have not written yet.)
Please check this out if you want to see an example of professional hypertext fiction.