Rebooting Electronic Literature: Documenting Pre-Web Born Digital Media

Traversal of Sarah Smith's "King of Space"

This live stream Traversal of Sarah Smith's King of Space took place on Friday, September 29, 2017 at in the Electronic Literature Lab. It was performed by Amber Strother, Washington State University Pullman. The Traversal documentation incldues three video clips of the performance itself along with introductory comments and the question and answer session with the audience that followed the performance.

For the performance we used the Apple PowerPC Performa 5215CD and a copy of the work from Grigar's collection. Strother arrived the day before the performance in order to rehearse and conduct an interview with Sarah Smith via Skype. We captured a video of that conversation and has been made available in this chapter. Handling the technical setup on YouTube was Greg Philbrook, The Creative Media & Digital Culture program's technical and instructional assistant. Three of the four undergraduate researchers––Vanessa Rhodes, Mariah Gwin, and Veronica Whitney––oversaw the social media engagement and photographed the event. 

Traversal of Sarah Smith's King of Space, Introduction 
This video clip shows Dene Grigar giving the introductory comments prior to the live stream Traversal of Smith's King of Space. In it, she describes the Pathfinders methodology and the Traversal process. She also introduces Amber Strother to the audience and lists those from the Electronic Literature Lab who participated in the development of the project.

Traversal of Sarah Smith's King of Space, Part 1
Strother begins the Traversal by noting the various things - including "quilting, collage, choose-your-own-adventure stories" - that inspired Smith when creating King of Space. Strother delves into the story's background information, discusses the story's prominent themes of sex and violence, and introduces the characters. She comments on the way hypertext and presentation of choices to a user/reader "offer you a way to play around and make some choices, and generate your own version of poetry or narrative." Throughout the Traversal, she shares specific facts about King of Space that were drawn from the previous day's interview with Smith.

Traversal of Sarah Smith's King of Space, Part 2
Strother restarts from the beginning of King of Space. The work's various music and sound effects and the graphic art and animation within it become prominent. An example of user/reader interaction with the work is displayed when Strother is tasked with finding an oxygen tank for Tam Ross - one of the story's main characters - by solving a puzzle. Another aspect of user interaction is displayed when Strother must make a choice that will determine where in the story the reader will be taken to next.

Traversal of Sarah Smith's King of Space, Part 3
Strother continues to read through King of Space, encountering more puzzles to solve and choices to make along the way. She questions the significance behind a set of blinking boxes that appear on a select few pages. Strother points out the fact that the reader can backtrack a few pages if desired through the "History" feature. By noticing an airlock on the screen, Strother realizes she has hit the end of a passage, which is followed by a black screen. With no other options, she decides to restart at the beginning of the work. Upon deciding to choose different links, she is led to different pathways within the work. Strother notes that there are 317 different "nodes," or screens within King of Space. She ends the Traversal by noting that although the reader is given choices, they are "sometimes forced into the actions that the piece wants you to take."

Traversal of Sarah Smith's King of Space, Q&A, Part 1
Immediately after the Traversal of King of Space ends, a Q&A session begins. Dene Grigar reads off a list of questions from users engaging in the live stream chat on the Pathfinders YouTube channel. Comments on the work's animation and art are shared with the audience, and Strother discusses how they specifically reinforce the narrative of the work at hand. In response to a question about the presence of and engagement with puzzles within King of Space, Strother notes that some puzzles - specifically the color combination one - are so hard because there are "so many different combinations," even resulting in the computer crashing a number of times. The significance behind the color "silver" in the story is discussed. Grigar asks the audience to explain how they perceive King of Space being read from the original floppy disk and a legacy computer running on its original software system. An audience member speaks up and says it makes him notice the constraints and quirks of old software systems.

Traversal of Sarah Smith's King of Space, Q&A, Part 2
In this video clip, the Q&A session continues. Dene Grigar addresses a question about obtaining electronic literature works by speaking from her own past experiences of filling out the ordering card that came with the catalog, marking which work you wanted to order, attaching a check, mailing it off, and receiving it two weeks later. The high cost of these works and the accompanying hardware systems did not make electronic literature accessible for many, creating diversity and socioeconomic issues. Differences between hypertext electronic literature and literature in the form of a physical object are discussed - specifically, the advantage of electronic literature's variability in a story line. The flawed, temporary nature of old servers and the accompanying nostalgia associated with old technologies are addressed. The Q&A is concluded by a brief discussion about the hardships involved in finding accurate language with which to describe objects associated with electronic literature.

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