Video Think Aloud Reflection

For my Think-Aloud, I looked at “Flight Paths“, a story of how a suburban woman and Middle-Eastern immigrant came to cross paths. I found that it was difficult to analyze the aspects of electronic literature in this piece in the first experience with the work.  At the beginning of my video, I found myself making a lot of comments about the storyline, images, sounds and other sensory aspects of the piece.  Perhaps I needed to sort out what was going on before I could go more in-depth into the ELit aspects of the work.  I was definitely, at first analyzing the artistic components and later looking more into the structure of the literature.  At first, I was looking more at the surface level and eventually became more interested in the underlying pieces of the work.  I became less focused on the text and more interested in why the author presented the text in certain ways.  At one point Yacub was flying and his “voice”, or textual thoughts were presented at the top of the screen.  Meanwhile, the woman below had her thoughts represented at the bottom of the screen.  The presentation spatially separated the two characters so that similar pieces of text could be distinguished as being the thoughts of their respective characters.  This leads me to realize that although artistic choices of the author are not vital to the ELit structure, they can still be vital to producing a logical narrative.

I would like to see how my experience would change if I did the Think-Aloud with a partner.  I would think a second way of thinking would diversify the comments made and direct the conversation in an even more productive direction.  Having additional thoughts to add to or work off of may improve the analytical qualities of the process.

Although it was difficult to feel as though I properly analyzed the piece, I think this was a productive exercise.  Recording and evaluating my process in analyzing this piece of ELit will be helpful for improving the process of critically thinking about other ELit.

Hana Feels Review/Analysis


Excellent piece that provides perspective on interactions between those who need help and others trying to provide help. Dialogue presentations places the reader into the situation and you may gain a sense of empathy with the main character. Slick presentation, well-written dialogue, and smoothly presented. Five stars.


Hana challenges our assumptions regarding empathy by putting us in the shoes of several people, namely, Hana, a young women with mental health troubles, and Will, a helpline counselor. Dialogue decisions impact Hana’s mental state, but her reactions to your choices may not be entirely grateful; despite your attempts to help, she may only be annoyed by your questions. These interactions force the player to ask–what is it that those with problems need? Solutions, or simply comfort? Through this dialogue experience the user can gain insight into how to answer these questions.

Active Participants vs Active Observers in Interactive Fiction

Certain interactive fiction pieces have differing effects on the reader based on their structure, platform, and  use of visuals and language. These aspects of the piece come together to give the reader a sense of what Carolyn Petit in Power to the People describes as “active participation” or “active observation.”

Petit discusses the implications of Twine and some of the different platforms Twine could support. From interactive games, to interactive experiences, Twine allows for new influential literary experiences. Interactive fiction pieces that involve active participation may have different social value than those that place the reader into a more observational role. Both can come together to help one understand the experiences of others, or even influence one’s own future experiences.

Twine games allow the user to influence the events of the story and tend to place the player “into” the experiences. Typically, they are written in first person and you, the character, are making the decisions. To compliment a first person narrative, sensory inputs are often described in great detail, further placing the reader into the situation. The user becomes invested in the outcome of the game as they feel their own decisions influence a storyline that suddenly becomes their own.

Active observation literature also places the reader in the experience, but limits their role on the events of the story. The story is told allowing for the reader to explore different thoughts, events, or details more closely so that they may learn more about the situation. Although the reader can’t change the events, they can choose that aspects of the text they want to engage in. Giving the reader the ability to engage in the text in different ways, adds to the sense that the reader is observing the situation in close detail and learning about the storyline as they experience it.

These types of textual experiences can be valuable when understanding mental illness and the difficulties of dealing with them. Petit mentions Vacuum, by Travis Megill; a story told from the perspective of a mother of a Schizophrenic. The active observation experience allows the reader to dig deeper into the mother’s thoughts and memories as she interacts with her son. The experience exposes the reader to the concerns and feeling of the mother in ways that allow them to empathize and gain a new understanding of those dealing with mental illness.

In Gavin Inglis’ Hana Feels, the reader interacts with Hana, a character struggling with self-harm. Through conversations as Hana’s boss, friend, or a help hotline operator, one must respond to Hana’s experience and mental state. Granting the reader the ability to choose how to respond to Hana gives them a sense of responsibility over her wellbeing as if they were one of her friends. In the project description Inglis describes how he knew he was achieving his goal when test readers felt guilty for decisions that increased Hana’s stress levels. He wanted the readers to connect emotionally with Hana and feel connected with her emotions and well being. Those feelings may be vital to understanding how to interact with people dealing with mental illness. Hana Feels can serve as a model for how/ or how not to respond to real life situations.

Through both active participation and active observation, readers can gain a better understanding of certain social groups or social interactions by placing the reader into an experience they may have never had exposure to. By simulating the realities of the world around us through interactive fiction, everyone can gain new perspectives and appreciation for others.

Elements of Digital Literature

While exploring examples of interactive fiction, I was reminded of the Choose Your Own Adventure books that we looked at earlier in the semester. One way to compare both types of digital literature is to look at the Five Elements of Digital Literature described by Noah Wardrip-Fruin in Reading Moving Letters. The five elements: data, processes, interaction, surface and context, come together to make varying types of digital literature. I will compare and contrast the five digital literature elements of Zork, one of the first interactive fiction computer games to be developed with the Choose Your Own Adventure books.


Text in both Zork and CYOA books make up the data utilized by both pieces. In Zork, text is prewritten by the programmer and recalled as the user navigates through the experience. The CYOA books contain text segments of the narrative that are accessed as the reader chooses which action to take at the end of every page. In both instances, the text has been prewritten and will come together to form the adventure experienced by the user or reader.


The Zork program links text descriptions of places and objects to the next possible story elements. The pre-written code outlines which text to go to next depending on the user’s input. The program must recognize the user’s command by searching through the command for key words such as “TAKE”, “EAT”, “GO”, or “North”. Then it will retrieve the next text associated with that command. The code has already mapped out the possible storylines, but must keep track of the next possible steps for each text. CYOA books allow for the user to take part in much of the process. After choosing the action, readers must flip to the corresponding page of the next possibility. The author lays out the links between pages and actions, but it is up to the reader to manually follow the link to the next page of their story.


In both cases, the user interacts with text describing the story or scene. They will make choices to advance the storylines. Zork’s free-form command prompts give the user a greater sense of power over the character, when compared to CYOA’s simple instructions to move to the page of one’s choosing.


Text presented on a computer screen differs from text in a book. In the CYOA books, the data (text) is physical words on the page. All possible storylines can be read by flipping through the pages all at once, while the Zork possibilities are hidden within the code. Not sensing the scale of the possibilities may add to the intrigue of digital interactive fiction when compared to CYOA books.


When Zork describes locations and prompts the user to choose directions, it gives the program spatial qualities.   The spatial aspects of and experience with Zork is what distinguishes it from the CYOA books. It is as if you are navigating through a multidimensional space with the ability to re-trace steps in a way that does not break the storyline. The CYOA books have a strict linear story structure that can only logically makes sense by flipping the pages of the book. There are multiple branches to the story, but all branches lead in one direction, towards the end of the narrative. Zork allows for exploration of the narrative; movement forward and back through the storyline, but still coming together forming something logical.

CYOA books move the narrative in a branched, linear direction.
CYOA books move the narrative in a branched, linear direction.
Zork allows for navigation through the narrative. Movement in multiple directions.
Zork allows for navigation through the narrative. Movement in multiple directions.

Code and Poetry

Since 2013, Stanford has put on a code poetry slam where contestants create artistic pieces  mediated through computer code.  These forms of digital literature are interesting because they adhere to computer language syntax while often creating a text that can also be read as a poem. Because the code is legible by both the computer and the programmer, the code can perform computational tasks and simultaneously have literary meaning.  The code poetry can take multiple forms.  Some codes follow a strict poetic structure and can be read like a haiku, other code can be perceived as free-verse, or produce digital media once the code is executed.

Ian Holmes created the following code at Stanford’s first code poetry slam.  The code follows Java syntax and can be “read” by the computer.  While it doesn’t perform much within the computer, it could have more meaning when recited as a haiku.

Written by Ian Holmes, ThatGirl is an example of code that can be directly recited as a poem.
Written by Ian Holmes, ThatGirl is an example of code that can be directly recited as a poem.

The video below is an example of code recited as a song. The author creates legitimate code and uses several variables and commands to form song lyrics that comes together to have some coherency.

The song lyrics and code complement each other.  The lyrics describe trying to erase feelings and memories of love while suggesting a struggle to do so.  From my interpretation, the SQL code instructs the computer to try to delete data called “moment of love” from a database called “my_memory.” An exception will print an error statement that explicitly tells the user “Can’t delete my memories of you.” While the lyrics don’t necessarily flow, the computer process follows a logical sequence that tells gives meaning to the song. These relationships between the computer language and the interpreted text demonstrate some of the interesting literary potential of code poetry.

The structure of the code also has an influence on the recitation of the song. Each line of code is read as a separate stanza and changes the flow of the song.  Similar to early computer poems such as “A Throw of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance” the structure of the poem adds to the literary experience of the piece. Spatially separating ideas and words can add to the story-telling of the poem.  For example in My good memories with s, separate lines for the words try, except and while true add slight pauses to the recitation, slightly emphasizing the words.  These words are essential to the storyline and contribute to the sense of struggle and time passing. This emphasis somewhat enhances the story-telling ability of the piece.

Experiments with Syntax

"A Throw of the Dice will Never Abolish Chance" written by Stephane Mallarme in 1897, broke conventional rules of syntax and structure during the French Symbolist movement.
“A Throw of the Dice will Never Abolish Chance” written by Stephane Mallarme in 1897, broke conventional rules of syntax and structure during the French Symbolist movement.

Early Digital Literature altered traditional language syntax as computer programs remediated words and sentences into unique work.  A computer programmer’s algorithm attempts to mimic grammar and sentence syntax, but often it was not perfect. If a sentence does not follow traditional grammar and syntax rules how can it be literature?  Early experiments in digital literature struggled with this question.

Stephane Mallarme was one of the first to experiment with altering traditional sentence syntax in literature.  In 1897, he wrote “A Throw of the Dice will Never Abolish Chance.” The poem was categorized as part of the French Symbolist movement, a literary and artistic movement of French poets at the end of the 19th century.  It was seen as a revolt against traditional, rigid poem structures of the time.  “Throw of the Dice” is a short poem that does not follow any syntax or spacing structure.  Abstract sentences start and begin at different places all over the page and lines are scattered throughout the piece although the poem still maintains its sense of flow. This artistic movement sought to add value to the poem by carefully selecting words and patterns that evoke a response within the reader.  It was up to the reader to draw connections and find value within the piece.

Mallarme’s work laid the foundation for literature that alters traditional syntax.  Many of the first Computer poems were similar to “Throw of the Dice” and did not follow syntax rules.  However, Mallarme had introduced the artistic potential of this type of literature.  It can be said that the reader’s connections are what make the piece valuable literature.  Computer poems may not have traditional structure or follow syntax rules, but they can still bring meaning to the reader similar to conventional forms of literature.

Image Source: Mallarme

The Visions of “As We May Think”

In 1945, Vannevar Bush wrote “As We May Think” as a call for scientists to develop tools to better unitize the knowledge of the post-war era.  He envisions multiple new inventions to improve data collection and retrieval. Both shrinking the size of documents and the way they are stored and presented.  Many of his predictions on the future capabilities of technology turned out to come true.  However, it is interesting to consider how his writings may have been the inspiration behind the advances. He may have set the framework for what was to come.

Bush envisioned the Memex as a way to store, manage and access information efficiently.
Bush envisioned the Memex as a way to store, manage and access information efficiently.

Below are examples of inventions Bush invented and possible present day equivalents.  Bush’s main purpose for many of these inventions was to improve the way knowledge is collected and processed within sciences. He may have never considered many of the modern everyday uses of these technologies.

Portable Camera

Bush envisioned a small camera scientists could attach to their glasses or head for quick and hassle-free records of observations. He desired a quick and efficient method to gather any observations a scientist found to be significant. Today, Google Glass, or GoPro provides cameras similar to what Bush describes.  Google Glass and GoPro have found a wide range of applications outside the sciences like in areas of business, action sports and everyday life.

Dry Photography

Bush desired a quick method of photography that would allow the user to immediately view the photo, and avoid tedious development processes.  The compression of these photos and records would also lead to mass collections of data not possible at the time.  Microfilm was later developed  that allowed for large amounts of literature to be stored on small pieces of film. He wanted a way to store “millions of volumes compressed at the end of a desk.” Digital storage and digital photography have taken Bush’s ideas and created “permanent”, immediate and inanimate methods of storing data, literature and research in ways more efficient than Bush could have predicted.

Microfilm was seen as a way to compress information and allow easier access to greater volumes of data
Microfilm was seen as a way to compress information and allow easier access to greater volumes of data


Bush describes a machine in the form of a desk in which “an individual stores his books, records and communications, mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility.” Information would be fed into the Memex by keyboard and microfilm.  In a way, smartphones can be seen as present-day Memex machines.  Any research or literature needed can be stored on a phone and easily accessed whenever needed. Overtime, the type of data and information that can be stored evolved from physical film to digital information transmitted through the internet.

Many of Bush’s visions seem simple to the present day reader, however he became one of the first to outline the possibilities and applications of technology that became the foundation for future developments that we now take for granted.

Image Sources: Microfilm, Memex