Most of the critiques I have about “weird tape in the mail” are general feelings I’ve accumulated towards interactive fiction/electronic lit in general, so I’ll start with some individual praises for the specific story I’m reviewing:
- I appreciated the images and gifs, even if they look like they were made in ms paint. I think the use of extra media adds to the interactivity of the narrative and helps the reader to orient themselves in the space of the hypertext. I believe I’d be particularly engaged in a narrative that used maps to more specifically and geographically orient me within my story.
- The uncle was not appealing in the least, but I appreciated the presence of a second character (and “weird tape in the mail” also included a pseudo-stalker/second “you,” as well!) which also heightened the sense of “interactivity.” Lots of stories and games seemed to be just “you” exploring a space, turning over rocks and looking around for objects. Maybe I just have a skewed sense of what “interact” means, but I tend to associate it with social discourse rather than with space (or in this case, hyperspace). What could be even cooler, I think, is if these stories were truly interactive–what if you met other “readers” along the way?
- The element of mystery in this story was compelling. Instead of just looking for something (the correct gay planet, for instance) you were searching for an answer.
I did have one “specific” critique for “weird tape in the mail,” before I get to the general:
- The anti-consumerist message in this story was way too overt. Almost every action was accompanied by a so-called urge to shop, the identity of the horrible uncle was primarily based on his flawed vision of utopia (a pristine mall) and, of course, one of the two dour ends to the tale takes place in crowd of crazed shoppers. In terms of thematic elements, I just found it to be overdone to the point of distraction.
In terms of my general impression of this mode of writing, I think the characteristic that stuck with me most was the use of the “you” narrator. Second person a form of speech we don’t come across much (especially in narrative), I think, and I found it really disorienting. As I discussed in my previous blog post, it creates a weird protagonist/narrator hybrid, but one who has little to no control over the narrative aside from the order in which one clicks links. And to reiterate a point I brought up before, I think the “choice” of the hyperlinks is usually a total illusion. The writer/programmer always ends up bringing you back to the thread he actually wants you to continue. In “weird tape in the mail,” looking at the toilet before you go outside to find the tape doesn’t impact the narrative at all. It makes sense that the writer only pursues alternative threads to a point, but I think it takes away from the power of the reader when he or she realizes they’ll end up going where the writer wants them to, in the end.
The use of “you” also seems to pointedly enforce identification with the protagonist, but I found this jarring. That isn’t my bed, those aren’t my blotchy legs, that isn’t my mound, or my uncle, or my car. I would have cleaned my apartment when I moved in and gotten rid of a strange, unidentified mound that turned out to house an alternative-me. I do think the images in “weird tape in the mail” mitigated this issue somewhat, because you could at least consider an avatar-you rather than reader-you. When Adam Dickinson writes, “you peer into the bowl,” the image of the toilet is visually situated on the screen so that you are, in fact, peering into the bowl. But the line continues, “and it calms you.” Something about telling me how “I’m” feeling is off-putting to me. I can empathize with a narrator who expresses feeling calm (or not) but being told anything is often not something I value in literature.
The command-orientation of hypertext is very “telling” oriented, and I think that’s where the problem lies for me.