Thursday, February 7, 2008

Patchwork Girl, Hypertext and Games

One of my first reactions to Patchwork Girl – after the confusion about how to navigate it subsided – was an expectation of some sort of goal that I, as a reader, was supposed to achieve. I imagined that if I spent enough time navigating the story and reading the clips of text, I’d "get it;" I’d find some sort of figurative equivalent of a "you win" or "game over." I don’t mean to compare it to a game… well, I do, but if you’d prefer not to, you could say I was looking for the equivalent of the last page of a book.

But I really do mean to compare it to a game, as one of the many thoughts that entered my head while I was reading Patchwork Girl was a memory about online "mazes." I used to frequent message boards associated with the website, and these message board often formed into quazi-cults oriented around a particular theme.* The members we’re so committed that when one of the message board sites went down, everyone went crazy. To fill the void of new free time without the message board, the administrators created an online maze. When you navigated to the recently crashed site, you’d find a text box for a username and password, with small hints either on the page or in it’s source code as to where you could find that information. Once you got past this first page, you found a picture that suggested a new URL, which was the address of a flash video that, once you decoded it, linked to another page, and so on and so forth. A game. This is exactly what I think of in reference to hypertext. They had built not just a webpage, but an interactive hypertext and digital media map/maze. Very similar to Patchwork Girl, but of course more game oriented rather than literally oriented. And in this case, there was a “you win” page. Ironically, though, I don’t think anyone ever made it that far.

But I feel this whole, for lack of a better word, digression, misses the fundamental point of Patchwork Girl. It’s not meant to have a final page. The entire point, at least from my perspective, is to explore, interact, and quit when it seems appropriate. The experience of every reader can, and should, be entirely different.

On an entirely separate note, for anyone who once owned a Sega Dreamcast, there was an amazing game called Rez that seems to accurately represent Gibson’s idea of cyperspace. You play the role of a computer hacker who breaks into computer systems through geometric interfaces. It also adds the element of music; sound results from every move you make in the game, meshing into an intricate electronica soundtrack. Here’s a video:

*These online quazi-cults resemble a much less violent and serious version of the Panther Moderns in Neuromancer. There’s also an interesting article in WIRED about more intense versions of these online cults, centered around the website Read it here.

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