Patchwork Odysseus: Reimagining Frankenstein as a Hyperlink Epic Poem

Coming into this project, I knew I wanted to create something that blended what I had learned as a New Media student and my passion as an English major. Of course, the two already went very well together, as this class was an English elective that focused heavily on narrative and rhetoric as much as it did new media culture and history.

Before this class, I had previously read both Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and many of Homer’s epic poems. What I hadn’t yet experienced was Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl, an immersive hypertext narrative experience which introduced me to an entirely new medium of literature.

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After reading Patchwork Girl and rereading Frankenstein for this class, I knew I had a great opportunity to attempt my own interpretation of (both) Shelley’s work. For my fresh new lens, I decided to reconstruct the story of Frankenstein as an epic poem. I decided on this lens because while rereading Frankenstein, I was struck by how many overt references there were to Greek mythology. The “Modern Prometheus,” the concept of hubris and likening oneself to a god, the commentary on femininity and wifehood.

This quickly proved to be incredibly labor intensive to start. The main body of my work would of course be my lexia, in the same medium as Shelley Jackson’s but in the writing style of Homer with content from Mary Shelley. In order to fully connect many of the aforementioned themes between works of Homer’s and Frankenstein, I basically had to reread both The Odyssey (my choice of inspiration) and Frankenstein another time. However, I’m very glad that I did this, as I think it not only made my final hyperlink narrative fully connected and fluid, but it helped me realize a new interpretation and appreciation for both works. In the end, the main four themes I connected between the texts became the four source links on the main page of my final project: Modern Prometheus, which is about Shelley and womanhood; journey, which is about travel and isolation; hubris, which is the desire to become godlike; and alive or dead, which is about the nature of humanity and companionship.

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To make my hypertext true to Shelley’s form, I had to create a website where I could begin creating and hyperlinking pages to one another. I chose WordPress, due to my existing familiarity with it thanks to this class! I struggled a lot initially with formatting the site so it felt similarly minimal and easy to navigate like Patchwork Girl. To achieve the minimalist and “stumbled upon” vibe, I had to leave all of my pages untitled, which made it very confusing when I had to construct my final map linking all the lexia to one another. There is probably a much easier way to do this somewhere out there, but it all worked eventually.

My favorite part in constructing my hypertext were the pages where multiple lexia were offered as an option. Here, my epic poem reconstruction became a sort of choose-your-own-adventure in the same way as Patchwork Girl, where there is not one linear way to read my text. An example of this is a page under “Modern Prometheus,” which gives you two choices: pity or admiration.

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If you choose pity, you are taken to another page with three possible different lexia to click on, each offering their own story. If you choose admiration, you are taken to one lexia on a long path of many others, which has a different tone than the above stories.

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In the end, this project taught me a lot about navigating WordPress and working through mazes of hypertext. It gave me new appreciation for Shelley Jackson, who wrote and linked hundreds of lexia to my fiftyish over two years. Even with my small number of poems, the maze I created was already quite complicated and hard to track. I can only imagine her storyboard looked like that of a deranged cop trying to solve a 40-year old serial killer cold case.

See mine for yourself! Link to my hypertext project: https://patchworkodysseus.wordpress.com/

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Augmented Empathy: VR/AR’s Impact on Gamers

Game psychologists are looking to a relatively new gaming medium to explore the effects of in-game experiences on the real lives of gamers: virtual and augmented reality. According to the Virtual Reality Society, virtual reality gaming is “where a person can experience being in a three-dimensional environment and interact with that environment during a game.” In contrast, augmented reality gaming is “the integration of game visual and audio content with the user’s environment in real time. … While virtual reality games require specialized VR headsets, only some augmented reality systems use them.”

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What these two forms of new gaming have in common is the integration of the gamer into immersive storytelling. Rather than watching the effects of gameplay choices play out on a flat screen using a controller, the gamer becomes the controller and experiences the impact of their in-game decisions in real time.

In the case of augmented reality, gamers can even experience the impacts of their decisions on their real environment through a camera. This leads to a sensation gamers call TINAG, or “This Is Not A Game,” in which one of the main goals of the game is to deny and disguise the fact that it is even a game at all (Virtual Reality Society).

Because of the real-world, real-time feel, gamers often feel there are higher stakes to their in-game decisions. Game psychologists argue that “VR experiences can impact the empathy of their users and immediately translate to positive real world behavior.” One example of this comes from a study done on VR gamers who were instructed to cut down a virtual tree. After cutting down this tree in the game, the gamers used an average of 20% less paper in real life.

Another study suggests that the more a gamer immerses in the environment of the game, the more likely they are for in-game choices to affect their empathy outside of the game. For example, when a gamer picks and customizes an avatar, they often bring traits from their real life into their game life. This causes them to identify more strongly with their in-game persona and blur the line that separates gaming from real life.

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AR and VR games are the final frontier in eliminating that line completely. When your in-game character is no longer distinguishable from your true self, your choices in and outside of gameplay affect one another inherently.

The implications of this empathy-building through gaming are massive. Some game psychologists argue that it is the moral responsibility of AR/VR game developers to consider the empathic development of their gamers when creating storylines, often with a focus on empathy for other persons, animal rights, and the environment.

Whether or not you believe the onus of creating a more empathetic generation falls on game developers, the impact of these AR/VR games on the emotional development of gamers is undeniable and will likely only grow as the technology flourishes.

Kathleen Shea

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563214003999
https://www.vrs.org.uk/virtual-reality-games/what-is-vr-gaming.html
https://venturebeat.com/2018/09/24/augmented-reality-can-foster-empathy-and-games-can-take-advantage/
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563217305381