Thursday, May 15, 2008


Dr. Ian Bogost, a recent seminar guest in HUMlab and a professor at Georgia Tech (a university) has as part of his regular Gamasutra column discussed 'texture' in games. Ian gives an excellent account of texture, "tactile sensations that people find interesting on their own", in relation to the haptic qualities of computer games. He talks about Tetsuya Mizuguchi's Rez (2001) one of the most imaginative games I have come across and a skillful mix of textual synesthesia and kinetic participation.
I wrote about texture in my last thesis chapter but have since removed it from the draft. I use 'texture' in a very different sense to Ian's use of the term, but there are related areas. The main area of commonality between the texture of Bogost and the way I describe it is in relation to what Ian writes is "as if they were layered through time". I use layering as a way of describing the "procedurality" of digital texts (Murray 1997) in terms of reception.
I am still fond of the concept of texture and would like to develop it later (post-PhD). I decided to blog the rough 4 pages I wrote on texture, just to get it out. This is also my first entry of the thesis content on the blog as I hurtle towards the defense of my text sometime early next year.


I approach the relationship between design and response using the concept of texture. In relation to digital media artifacts the concept of texture is present in the early work of theorist Jay David Bolter, however it is restricted to the verbal and reading as the form of response. Bolter does however construct the digital text as primarily spatial and texture is the range of possible orientations from which the reader approaches and responds to the text. (See Bolter 2001) The main source for my own adoption of texture as a device for analysis of digital story telling and response comes from the spatial theories of Henri Lefebvre. Lefebvre defines texture in relation to architectural and urban space which “does not have ‘signified’ (or ‘signifieds’); rather it has a horizon of meaning: a specific or indefinite multiplicity or meanings, a shifting hierarchy in which now one, now another meaning comes momentarily to the fore, by means of - and for the sake of – a particular action” (Lefebvre 222) Texture is constituted by change over time (“comes momentarily to the fore”), choice in the face of hierarchy (such as rules, laws or physical conditions) and the possible responses (action) to the hierarchies. Texture according to Lefebvre is applied to digital works of literature to account for the unfinished elements of the work, the need for the respondent to engage with and enter into the text in order for it to function, and the multiple arrangements that emerge from each encounter.

The emphasis of ‘fitness for use’ in design effects the reception of digital literary artifacts. Hence my own development of texture as a means to discuss both the representational elements of the corpus works as well as those aspects of the work which emerge from the indicators of implied response. When applied to ‘interactive’ or participatory works of digital literature such as those of my six corpus works, texture provides an analytical path moving through time, from the authored work to the encountered artifact and on to active reception. As Lefebvre points out, texture transcends social practices such as literary signification because it is based on consensus through use, which is always changing, and the accommodation of otherwise distinct forces such as presence/representation, time/space and the spatial (see Lefebvre 222). In digital texts the spatial becomes a unifying principle for the sonic, written, visual and coded elements of the text.

The elements of digital text are arranged not only in a syntactical sense but also according to the spatial properties of the artifact, which is part of design. At the level of design, space is created as inseparable from the digital artifact that becomes “a mere platform for places, themselves construed as sheer positions.” (Casey 74). In the following chapter on story structure and implied response I shall return to the concept of place represented in the text as a narrative device. In relation to design and response it is space which determines time in the texts as any movement through the text manifests in the time/s represented by the text. Rhythm is one outcome from the design of space in a digital text that manifests through texture as time. By arranging particular textual elements through design a particular rhythm can be established for response when the text is activated. These rhythms only exist when the text is being responded to and therefore it is not possible to discuss them as being only part of the text as it is encountered as an artifact. Rather the rhythms of the text are only ‘alive’ when the work in being responded to, it is only their indicators that are recognizable when the text is not active in response. Texture encompasses the features of the digital literary work in response and as a material artifact. Texture is neither the mechanics of materiality nor the address of narrative nor the play quest of the labyrinth, but rather functions through each, including as part of the experience of responding to the digital work.

While the response to the work is, of course, not present in the text, by reading for indicators that are present in the text as the textures of design, it becomes possible to evaluate assumptions and expectations represented in the text regarding response. In digital works textures are comprised of features that cite response, not only spatial, as in Lefebvre’s concept, but also within the design, linguistic and aesthetics components represented. Potential is always present in the work, but texture occurs as affect only when the digital artifact is activated. Activation of a text as the contours of texture is achieved in a form of performance that constructs response as ritualized sets of behavior and guided interpretations. The actions and interpretations that are the rituals of response to digital literature follow the textures of its design. Texture is the experience of the text in the sense of ritual, where the elements which make up aspects of its physicality, such as instructions, design, narrative, code, guide interpretation and response. One simple example of texture is the hidden link that opens the next part of the digital work and is the only way to progress through the text.

The meeting between the text as artifact and the text as experience occurs in the concept of texture. It is not sustainable to separate the experience of digital media from the contexts and pretexts of that use. Design is one field where the contexts of use as response to digital texts and the meanings embodied converge, as “digital technology cannot take us to a place that is purged of cultural assumptions. Even when we go into cyberspace, we bring with us our cultural assumptions - along with, and attached to, an image of our bodies.” (Bolter and Gromala 186) To respond to a digital text is to recall and participate in particular assemblages of culture significance as texture.

How texture can define a work of digital literature is present in an example of the dialogues between one of the corpus texts and another online website. Google is the most popular search engine on the internet today (Nielson 2006). Google is an obvious choice to locate the online work Alleph by Sakab Bashir. By entering ‘Alleph’ into the Google software returned as the first hit; “Alleph_Home: is a sequal to and a partner project to – uses the Arabic alphabet and it's numerological associations to…” (Google 1) The link provided by Google to Alleph lead to the Flash Update page for Alleph, where the respondent is prompted to update their Flash Macromedia software: “SORRY - This site requires the Macromedia Flash Plug-in version 6 or above. You have an old version of the Flash player that cannot play the content we've created. Click the button below to download and install the latest version now.” (Alleph, Flash Update). Responding to the address of the flash update page as requested did not solve the impasse. The same Flash Update page opened again once the update had been performed. Only by noticing the URL of the webpage did it becomes clear that Google’s search motor algorithm, based on its preferential linking system, had ranked the Flash Update page for Alleph much higher (by nine subsequent pages) than the text’s opening splash page. The search for Alleph using Google illustrates how design, in this case the separate webpage for a Flash Update, delineated a particular response to the text. It is difficult to imagine that the creators of Alleph could have designed that access to their work was to be determined by the Google search engine. It became so and is an example of how texture emerges only in the active engagement with the digital text. The dialogues between the website, the linkages between the Alleph flash update page and the Alleph splash page became a part of the texture of Alleph.

To examine the relationships between design, texture and response in digital literature it is necessary to consider interactive design. Interactive design in a broad definition is concerned with how humans interact with technology. According to Löwgren and Stolterman one of the key principles in designing interactive artifacts is that “the product is never really finished, but keeps evolving though its lifecycle by the users’ own appropriation and modification,” (Löwgren and Stolterman 92). The description of the product of interactive design as “never really finished” and “evolving thought its lifecycle by the users” is similar to the role of language in creative literature. Language is never totally owned by anyone, but rather is participated in or shared for it to become communication. In the sense that every time a work of digital literature is located and responded to there is a new interaction taking place it should be viewed, like language, as unfinalized without a ‘last word’ being possible according to the “dialogic mode of address” (Bakhtin 1984. 63). Each new user of a digital work of literature brings new element/s to the interactive life of that work and the work is “organized as an unclosed whole of life itself, life poised on the threshold”. (Bakhtin 63) The parallels between the dynamic and interactive materiality of digital texts and Bakhtin’s concept of language are considerable. The Bakhtinian concept of dialogic language, where the many voices of the heteroglossic linguistic community make meaning, is present in the materials of digital texts as symbolic and simulative assemblages. In a dialogic of heteroglossic exchange there is no ‘last word’ rather the nexus of meaning goes on, in ebbs and flows, building dialogic networks. The “unfinished” nature of the interactive text is should be considered in relation to how a digital work is designed as well as its structural and material components, and how the dialogic interactions between each convey meaning.

Works Cited and Consulted

Bakhtin M.M. The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. 1981. Ed. Michael Holquist.
Trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin: U of Texas Press, 2002.

---. Speech Genres and Other Late Essays. Trans. 1986. Vern W. McGee. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2004.

Bashir, Sakab. Alleph. Accessed April 8, 2008

Bolter, Jay David. Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext and the Remediation of Print. Mahwah NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers, 2001.

Bolter, Jay David and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. 1999 Cambridge Mass. MIT Press, 2000.

Casey, Edward S. Getting Back into Place: Toward a New Understanding of the Place World. Bloomington: Indiana UP. 1993.

Google. Accessed 15 April 2008.

Lefebvre, Henri. The Production of Space. London: Wiley-Blackwell, 1992.

Lowgren, Jonas, and Erik Stolterman. Thoughtful Interaction Design: A Design
Perspective on Information Technology
. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2004.

Murray, Janet H. Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace. Cambridge MASS: MIT Press, 1997.

Nielsen. NetRatings Search Engine Ratings 2006. Accessed April 9, 2008.

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