Rebooting Electronic Literature Volume 3: Documenting Pre-Web Born Digital Media

Megan Heyward's "of day, of night": A Story of Wanderings, by Dene Grigar



When Megan Heyward visited the Electronic Literature Lab in November 2019, I had the opportunity to document her multimedia novel, of day of night, for this book. We also prepared this entry for ELMCIP, re-produced below:

of day, of night is an experimental interactive narrative / hypertext/ electronic literature work produced in Macromedia Director 6.0 by Australian artist Megan Heyward that fuses moving image, literary, game and interactive aesthetics into interactive digital form. It received initial production funding of $76K AUD from the Australian Film Commission (now Screen Australia) in 1999 and was exhibited internationally from 2001 to 2013 and published by Eastgate Systems, Inc. in 2004. To date, it is the only interactive narrative/ hypertext developed by a writer from outside North America.

The plot of the story involves a woman who has lost the ability to dream. She sets a series of creative tasks in order to start dreaming again; such as finding and collecting objects from various locations in the DAY (a street, market, river and café), imagining their fictional traces and histories, and rearranging the objects. As the user traverses the work, objects, memories and histories collide and create new meanings in the regained dream environment of NIGHT.

of day, of night has been exhibited to interactive media and electronic literature audiences in Australia, Germany, Japan, Switzerland and the USA, receiving attention for its rich visual and aural landscapes, game-like interactions and engagement with the creative potentials of interactive narrative. It received high commendations in peer-reviewed national Australian digital media awards, including AIMIA (Australian Interactive Media Industry Association) 2003, the 2002 Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature, and was a finalist in the VIPER International New Media Competition in 2002. Following its initial exhibition period of 2001- 2004 and commercial publishing by Eastgate Systems, Inc. in 2004, it has also been included in retrospective electronic literature exhibitions in the US in 2012 and 2013.

The work was developed for CD-ROM using Macromedia Director as the authoring program, and comprises 63 Director files; 31 video files, and 132 sound files. The majority of the production work was undertaken by Heyward including writing, producing, directing, interface design, animation, video editing and compositing, and most of the Director authoring. Sound design is by Sophea Lerner, music by David Claringbold, additional video compositing by Chris Caines, and advanced Lingo programming is by Sohail Dahdal. It is estimated that of day, of night took over a 1000 hours to produce.—Grigar and Heyward, ELMCIP

To experience of day, of night readers need access to a Macintosh Power PC G3 (or higher) running Mac OS 9.x to 10.4. Readers using PCs need Windows 98, 2000, or XP with 64 MB of memory. The novel has not been updated for computers running MacOS X 10.5. Since CD-ROM drives are not available on Macintoshes and PCs, the work in its current state is no longer accessible to the public, hence the impetus to document it in the book.

Those of us familiar with Director are aware that it was highly effective at creating interactive narratives with a cinematic quality. Heyward takes full advantage of its capacity to create rich and lush filmic scenes and high fidelity sound to immerse us into her dreamscapes in this haunting tale. The 31 video files that comprise the piece fade in and out much like memories lost and retrieved while the music of a slide guitar imbue it with a bluesy mood that glides the reader from snippet to snippet of memory. Heyward’s voice fuses the disparate scenes into a coherent story about a woman's wanderings, a search to regain her sense of self. For what are our dreams if not a series of journey through our past, present, and potential?

Beginning the Journey

The story begins with a montage––a woman walking down a neighborhood sidewalk and then running alone in the woods, images of a doll floating in water, a picture of a compass, someone drawing an infinity symbol, a tin can opening. A slide guitar riffs as this opening clip plays, and a woman’s voice muses, “I have a sense where this comes from, though I am not sure where it all heads. My story starts in somewhere in the middle.” The words, “This is a story for wandering,” appear on the screen. The scene gives way to an interactive map superimposed with images––the face of the woman who was walking and running in the opening sequence and other images from the opening sequence. Moving the cursor from left to right across the top the words “before,” “halfway,” “realise” appear and activate images and the sound of footsteps. If we do nothing, the map eventually disappears, giving way to the video montage we previously viewed.

Clicking on “before” takes us to the statement written in blue against a black background, “There was nothing particularly unusual about my life before any of this.” The sound of wind blows softly as if in a tunnel. Mousing over “before” introduces a video montage that introduces us to Sophie. She tells us that she works as a photographer in a governmental department, she has a university degree, is the youngest of three children, and that her life was not “remarkable” until this moment. The phrases, “A problem with dreaming,” “of day of night,” “ map of sorts,” and “a handful of objects,” repeat between the clips, all looping as if stuck in time. In the clips, Sophie is examining the objects––we learn later she's trying to trigger her memory. Clicking on the screen we are asked to choose between two paths, “begin of day of night” or “return to where you were?” The former allows us to start over from the beginning; the latter takes us back to the map.

Returning to the map, we choose “realise.” Here is where we learn that Sophie came to realize that autumn she had “lost the ability to dream.” Clicking on “dream” moves us to “day” where she relays her problem with dreaming. A video clip is positioned beside the image of a shawl where words are superimposed. We learn that she consulted a doctor who could find nothing physically wrong with Sophie and advised her to “get out more.” Perhaps, the problem would “right itself,” he unhelpfully suggests.

“Halfway” takes us to the section where Sophie reveals she is 35 years old, exactly the same age the poet Dante is when he began his journey to the afterlife in the Commedia. Like him, she has arrived at the “halfway point” in her life. We also learn that she has tried “tonic exercises,” “music,” “lurid books”—but nothing seems to return her to normal: She still “cannot dream.” In each of these three sequences words appear and disappear on the screen, some so quickly that we cannot make them completely out. Others, like “lurid books,” tease us to click on them but take us nowhere. They are but phantasmagoria.

Once we visit these three areas, we can access other places on the map. “Act” tells us that she has begun her own method of regaining her health––undertaking a series of small tasks that she hopes will help her to begin dreaming again. An image of paper appears where we can access the list of tasks she has devised for herself: “wander through unfamiliar places and locations,” “find and collect objects, things which appeal, describe the objects . . . imagine their traces and histories; write their histories; and finally "arrange them into a display cabinet," "a dreaming space, a space of dreams." 

We join Sophie as she begins this journey of regaining her dreams, using the words on the map as our guide. “Collect” tells us that Sophie starts by collecting objects that will “yield a story.” She “wonders through places to collect objects, old forgotten discarded things.” “Markets” shows Sophie at an outdoor market, a montage that also includes objects we’ve seen before—like the doll—along with others she comes across in her exploration. Clicking on the scene reveals another "map of sorts" comprised of these objects. Four of them are interactive: doll, box, car, and van. Clicking on each brings up a video loop of Sophie exploring the object. 

In “[d]escribe” she tells us that she turns each in her hand to find a fragment of a memory. These are the objects we have previously encountered. Selecting “box” we learn that it induces Sophie to remember the box of face powder that she had wanted but never purchased. The "doll" brings back her memory of Susie, her constant companion as a child. "Car" is the toy her brother played with on the floor of her home. "Tin" evokes a memory of her father and the tin of fishhooks he used to catch flathead and bream. "Van" is a replica of the Mr. Whippy ice cream van that had been given to her brother Tommy for his 3rd birthday but she played with when no one was looking. The "bottle opener" reminds her about her father who would use one like it to pop open the cap of the two beers he’d drink while sitting on the front porch after work.

Another word on the map, “Peruse,” shows 26 pages of a “small handmade book” arranged on the screen. We join Sophie by clicking and interacting with each one. Another word on the map, “Street,” shows Sophie walking down an urban street and finding a box of trinkets that looks to come from just after World War II. The magazine, compass, and matches are explorable objects that each evoke a video of Sophie handing them. “Café” shows Sophie walking into a café and sitting at a table. In front of her are two objects, a pack of cigarettes and a notebook. Clicking on the notebook, we watch Sophie as she turns its pages. The cigarettes evoke a video of Sophie exploring the pack and setting it back down on the table.“River” shows her walking in the woods near a riverbed. The sounds of birds call in the background. There we conspire with her to find some of those objects––a bottle opener and a tin. Clicking on each evokes a video clip of her exploring the object. The scenes loop until we can return to the map.

Going back to the map and selecting “Arrange,” we learn that Sophie arranges the objects “into the cabinet in some kind of order.” Twenty-eight hooks are numbered in rows of four lines the cabinet. Beside it are the objects we just experienced with Sophie. Once we move these to the hooks, a series of video montages are revealed. We have unlocked memories that give way to yet another "map of sorts" with eight numbered hooks.

#11 evokes the words, “in the river I could see.” Sophie is running to the river and sees a doll floating along the shallow water near the riverbank
#8 evokes the words, “on the balcony a man and a woman.” Sophie is pulling at iron gate trying to get in
#20 evokes the words, “something was written.” Sophie is getting into a car and consults a notebook with the word “northeast” written on it.
#5 evokes the words, “from the earth I pulled.” Sophie is digging up a tin in the garden and eats the contents, an act that results a hallucination of worms writhing in the tin
#13 evokes the words, “slowly, the brush traced.” Sophie is picking up drawing implements and paints the infinity symbol we saw in the opening montage
#16 evokes the words, “an urn filled.” Sophie is looking into an urn of water where pink flowers are floating
#17 evokes the words, “backward and forward.” Sophie is swinging—first she is a child, then she transforms into the adult she now is
#24 evokes the words, “she spoke in a voice.” Sophie is standing in front of a woman who sits on the front porch shelling peas and speaking in a voice Sophie cannot understand

Sophie’s whispers these phrases to us as the videos unfold dream-like––some, such as the memory of the swing, with a sense of peace; others, such as the tin of worms, like a nightmare. When Sophie completes the last of the four tasks, the story shifts to “night,” where she begins to regain her ability to dream and becomes whole again.

The Way to Knowledge and Sophie's Dreams

of day of night joins other journey stories from the Western literary tradition that explore the struggle of human beings to make sense of life and of their lives. The juxtapositioning of the light "of day" and darkness "of night" suggested by the title of Heyward's novel lulls us into thinking she is following blithely in their Platonic wake. This is not the case. While it is true that of day, of night, like the Commedia, does rely on faith, hers is not predicated on some ephemeral concept that dwells in some transcendental realm beyond our mortal reach––but in the physical world we live in every day. Unlike stories like Petronius’s Satyricon and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, both of which depict the physical world as carnal and crude, of day of night shows instead earthly things as the route to healing and being made whole again. The objects Sophie––and we––see, touch, manipulate in our hands, and engage with serve as guides in her journey to knowledge and back to her dreams. They remind us that life requires us to employ our senses in a way that links mind and spirit to our body and the world around us. Sophie's understanding of self comes from wandering among the objects and the stories of that world. 

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