Review: Porpentine’s All Your Time-Tossed Selves

All Your Time-Tossed Selves
by Porpentine
Digital Fiction – Google Forms

When it seems as if every book is a copy of The Girl Who ​                   , every film is a sequel, and every TV show is a remake, some writers still write. Still experiment. Still play. Porpentine, most commonly known as a prominent Twine author, is one of these. Her latest digital fiction, All Your Time-Tossed Selves, is a simple experiment, stepping away from Twine as a platform and using Google Forms instead. Its short length, linearity, and thoughtful contemplation make it a great read for those who love poetry with a bit of story, even those who aren’t very familiar with digital fiction.

All Your Time-Tossed Selves is a short, poetic narrative that can be played in 2-5 minutes. The narrative places the reader in a dying city, flitting from memory to dialogue in multiple-choice, drop-downs, and radio buttons laid out as lines of poetry. The work proceeds mostly linearly; the reader choices may alter the subsequent text, but only slightly, and the narrative soon converges back to its main thread again. As it is quickly read/played, it lends itself to re-reading/playing, which allows the reader to reconsider various lines and take different meanings from their choices. While the reader/player agency in All Your Time-Tossed Selves is mostly illusory, the act of reading each line and selecting one that resonates, for whatever reason, gives the impression that the reader-player is diving deeper and deeper into the text, accessing it through one chosen line at a time.

The work itself is not earth-shattering in terms of its poetry or narrative, though there are some very affective moments in which the brief passages allow the simple Google Form interface to fall away into the remnants of a doomed world. Rather, it is the platform and the experimentation itself that are prominent here.

The tradition of digital fiction bristles with experimentation, particularly in the technologies that are used to build it. Historically, digital writers re-purposed digital technologies such as Flash, HTML, JavaScript; and even though some specific DF engines have emerged (Storyspace, Inform7, Literatronica, Twine, Texture), All Your Time-Tossed Selves demonstrates that creativity is always reaching out to play with a new medium.

Google Forms as a medium obviously has some limitations: the customization options in terms of visual effects are few, resulting in a sameness of form. Yet these limitations enhance the more literary aspects of the work, enabling the reader-player to focus less on flash-whizz-bang, and more on the text. The plain, nondescript interface slips away much like the pages of a book; it backs out of the way of immersion in the poetry itself.

By the same token, it permits a modicum more of cognitive engagement in the reader-player than a simple hypertext. As the work progresses through the selection and submission of multiple choice answers, clicks on drop-down lists, and checked options in radio buttons, it offers the reader something more to do than simply clicking on a link. At the same time, the arrangement of these options suits the poetic medium, as each option can be laid out as a line in a stanza. Porpentine has both subverted the medium of Google Forms for creative purposes, and made use of its affordances for affective communication of the text.

Finally, Porpentine has enabled the “See previous responses” function of Google Forms, which enables the reader-player to see all of the options, and what other reader-players chose for each. This pie-chart laden review of the text gives an alternative reading path for the reader-player, and also a sense of community with those who have gone before, and provides fascinating fodder for those interested in reader-player behavior, from psychologists to writers. Why are so many reader-players driven to explore the letter-writing exchange that is alluded to, as opposed to exploring the player-character narrator? What can this data tell us about what readers are looking for in a text — whether interactive or not? What can this data tell us about this text itself?

The bar graphs and pie charts can’t answer all of these questions, and perhaps it would take the pleasure out of the poetry if they did. Nonetheless, they offer yet another path back into the work, sifting through the rubble of the text and its destroyed city. And who doesn’t enjoy pondering a narrative in its aftermath, in some form or other?

Try All Your Time-Tossed Selves for yourself, and add your comments here!

You can find more of Porpentine’s work here.

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