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

Mark Bernstein's "Those Trojan Girls": Classical Storyspace Channels a Classic Story, by Dene Grigar


Mark Bernstein’s Those Trojan Girls, a contemporary retelling of Euripides’ The Trojan Women set in a boarding school in a future period called the Occupation, was published in 2016 on a USB Stick and as a downloadable digital file. Originally entitled Decline and Fall, it recalls similar stories of conflicts among schoolchildren found in Harry Potter novels and others such as The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Built with Storyspace 3.2, the work is currently available for readers with access to Macintosh computers running MacOS X 10.5 or better. In light of the other hypertext narratives included in this volume, most of which were published close to two decades ago on what are now outmoded hardware and software, the question to ask is, Why are we documenting a work that is still accessible to the public?”

Several good reasons exist for including Those Trojan Girls in this volume. First, we are documenting all of the 48 works published and distributed by Eastgate Systems, Inc. in order to maintain the integrity of the collection. This work constitutes the most recent of them. Secondly, it is written specifically to experiment with making a hypertext narrative “exciting” and producing a melodrama aimed at Young Adult fiction (Bernstein, “Thoughts,” 1), the latter of which has largely been ignored as a genre of hypertext writing and, so, represents a unique approach to the form. Finally, like Michael Joyce’s afternoon, a story and Stuart Moulthrop’s Victory Garden also included in this volume, Those Trojan Girls is produced with Storyspace software; however, readers’ experience with it differs from those earlier works due to enhancements to hardware over the last 30 years and to Storyspace itself. In his essay, “Storyspace 3,” Bernstein lays out the features of the platform that takes it beyond earlier versions of it, most notably sculptural hypertext and stretchtext. The end result of the recent upgrades to Storyspace is that Those Trojan Girls serves as a bridge between the earlier classical hypertexts previously published by Eastgate Systems, Inc. and the world of eBooks and interactive media we find ourselves in today.

Bridging the Gap

A 15-year gap exists between the last hypertext novel published on the Storyspace platform, Richard Holeton’s Figurski at Findhorn on Acid in 2001, and Bernstein’s Those Trojan Girls. [1] A noticeable aesthetic, defined by the affordances of the computer systems for which the software had been originally developed, emerged in these earlier works, a style that came to identify them as “The Storyspace School” (Hayles). Features include a heavy emphasis on text and black and white bitmapped images used sparingly, if at all. Works like Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl and Tim McLaughlin’s Notes Toward Absolute Zero defied Storyspace’s navigational structure built on hyperlinking between lexias by utilizing image maps. [2] Critics of works of The Storyspace School, like Paul La Farge (La Farge, "Why the Book's Future"), fail to contextualize them within the constraints of the period and do not consider the role these works played in moving readers from the world of print literature to that of electronic (Bernstein, “Storyspace 3”). Both are enormous contributions to the field that even today goes largely unrecognized. Interestingly, in the “About The Hypertext” lexia found in the “Getting Started” section of his novel, Bernstein refers to Those Trojan Girls as “classical hypertext,” aligning his novel with the key works of that early period. In many ways his novel is reminiscent of Joyce’s, Moulthrop’s, and Holeton’s, following the aesthetic and structure of nodes and paths they made famous. That said, his revisioning of Storyspace in its 3rd version functions as a bridge between the previous hypertexts that Eastgate Systems, Inc. published and experimental interactive works readers encounter today on storytelling platforms like Twine or as apps on their phones. The result is that Those Trojan Girls remains constant in Bernstein’s approach to publishing “serious hypertext” embraced in the 1990s while at the same time contemporizes its aesthetic and functionality for readers today.

Those Trojan Girls as Proof of Concept

Bernstein has used his own work as a proof of concept for software he builds. The Election of 1912 co-authored with Erin Sweeney, for example, is the first work Eastgate Systems, Inc. published. It was built on the Hypergate authoring system Bernstein developed in the late 1980s. The company went on to publish two more works on that system––Robert DiChiara’s A Sucker in Spades (1988) and Sarah Smith’s King of Space (1991)––before it shifted attention to developing Storyspace 1.0, which Bernstein had licensed from Jay David Bolter, Michael Joyce, and John B. Smith’s Riverrun Ltd.

Those Trojan Girls, produced 32 years later on Storyspace 3.0, constitutes yet another example of this strategy. As Bernstein states in his essay, “Thoughts about Writing an Exciting Hypertext,” he set out with this work to show that hypertexts could be “exciting” and uses two key features to achieve this goal: sculptural hypertexts and stretchtext. The former involves, as Emily Short states “having pieces of text that appear based not on links but on other variable conditions” (Short, 1 Dec. 2016). Although Bernstein claims in his discussion with Stacey Mason that sculptural hypertext is new to Storyspace 3.0 (Bernstein and Mason), he does recognize that some early Storyspace hypertexts, like Judy Malloy's its name is Penelope, possesses this feature (Bernstein and Millard). Stretchtext, which “replac[es] a section of text with a longer, more detailed section” (Short, 1 Dec. 2016) shows up for the first time in Storyspace hypertexts with Those Trojan Girls, though it had previously been used extensively in works like Samantha Gorman and Danny Cannizzaro’s Pry (2014) and Mark Marino’s Living Will (2012)

Storyspace Then and Now

But what stands out for those of us who come to Those Trojan Girls with a long history of reading Storyspace hypertexts are features that bridge the past with the present. Readers find, for example, a full color launcher icon not unlike they would encounter on their smart devices. Clicking on it (rather than tapping as one would do to an app for a smart device) gives way to an interface resembling the title page of an eBook that contains copyright information and hyperlinks leading to the book’s “Front Matter” and its Preface via a link called “Commencement.” But unlike an eBook, Those Trojan Girls unfolds through the hyperlinks found in the various lexias or via the visualizations found in the Toolbar located in the View option in the top navigational menu. While hyperlinked lexias and three of the visualization maps––map,” “outline,” “chart”––are common to Storyspace literature, other features are new. “Attributes” lists all of the approximately 465 lexias by title in alpha order. “Timeline” is, as the name suggests, a timeline of the story that runs vertically down the left hand side of the screen. “Treemap” offers the most compelling look of the story in that it organizes it around major lexias to which other lexias are clustered. To read the lexias reflected in these visualizations, readers can slide the interface over to the right hand side of the screen, creating a split screen effect. Clicking on a lexia via of the map view, for example, on the left hand side of the screen causes the information found in that lexia to appear in the right.

Those Trojan Girls also features animated links that draw attention to particular nodes. Clicking on the “Front Matter” shows seven yellow and four gray animated links, reflecting those “anchored to text spans” and those “anchored to the writing space” or what Bernstein calls “plain links” (Bernstein, Storyspace 3”). While Bernstein made animation possible in works published on the Hypergate platform, like King of Space, it was not possible to produce kinetic text in Storyspace 1.0 or 2.0. Works produced with those versions of the software were as still and silent as any print novel. Joyce’s afternoon, a story experimented with a series of one-word lexias that appeared to move on the screen if readers clicked along the default path quickly. [3]

Those of us who created hypertexts with Storyspace 1.0 on our Macintosh Color Classics may remember the care we took with color-coding the nodes. Those Trojan Girls contemporarizes the Storyspace style with its customizable interface. Readers can maintain the default gray background or choose another color or gradient. Text and link colors also can be changed. The typeface can differ from the default Hoeffler 16 pt. text. Likewise, readers have control over the color and style of the maps and outlines.

Concluding Thoughts

Bernstein says that Those Trojan Girls “follows in the footsteps of classic hypertexts like afternoon, a story, Victory Garden and Patchwork Girl” (Bernstein, "Those Trojan Girls Catalog"). Like them, his novel relies heavily on text for conveying its story, it arrives to readers as visually stark with no images or sound, and it retains the node and paths structure associated with those works. That said, Those Trojan Girls moves beyond that aesthetic with other features. Sculptural hypertext allows, as he explains it, for “sections where almost anything can follow nearly anything else” (Bernstein, "Those Trojan Girls: A Discussion”). Likewise, stretchtext, animated links, the sliding window, and customizable interface embue the work with the feel of experimental interactive media. In sum, it functions as a bridge between then and now, connecting classical Storyspace to channel a classic story. [4]


[1] Eastgate Systems, Inc. published three works between Holeton’s and Bernstein’s own, Judd Morrissey and Lori Tallery’s My Name is Captain, Captain (2002); Roderick Coover’s Cultures in Webs (2003); and Megan Heyward’s of day, of night (2004). However, none of these were produced with Storyspace.
[2] John McDaid’s Uncle Buddy’s Phantom Funhouse also utilized image maps but it was created not with Storyspace but with HyperCard 2.0.
[3] Joyce’s interest in simulating kinetic text was discussed during the Q&A following the reading, “An Afternoon with afternoon,” documented in the chapter on Joyce in this volume.
[4] To date, Eastgate Systems, Inc. has published only three hypertexts on the new Storyspace 3.0 platform: Joyce’s afternoon, a story, featured in this volume; Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl, featured in Pathfinders; and his own novel.

Works Cited

Bernstein, Mark. Those Trojan Girls. Catalog. Eastgate Systems, Inc. 2016.

---. “Thoughts About Writing an Exciting Hypertext.” Eastgate Systems, Inc.: Watertown, MA, 2016.

---. "Storyspace 3." Eastgate Systems, Inc.: Watertown, MA, 2016.

Bernstein, Mark and David Millard. “On Writing Sculptural Hypertext.” Proceedings of the Thirteenth ACM Conference on Hypertext and Hypermedia. Association for Computing Machinery, 65-66.

Bernstein, Mark and Stacey Mason. "Those Trojan Girls: A Discussion between Mark Bernstein and Stacey Mason." Eastgate Systems, Inc.: Watertown, MA, 2016.

Hayles, N. Katherine. “Electronic Literature: What Is It?” Electronic Literature Organization. 2 January 2007.

LaFarge, Paul. "Why the Book's Future Never Happened." Salon. 4 October 2011.

Short, Emily. “Those Trojan Girls (Mark Bernstein). Emily Short’s Interactive Storytelling. 1 December 2016.

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