Monday, April 11, 2016

Just Because You Can Create Hypertexts Doesn't Mean That You Should

Do I write based on truth or lies? What if I create my own code words that only I understand and make you, the reader, guess which code words are actually code words and which ones are fake code words? And what happens if I create the blog using hyperlinks, but those links are dead, broken?

I could say that I really enjoyed Rick Pryll’s hypertext “Lies”; the opening statement was proven by the story, that lies are really more interesting, and I just couldn’t wait to see wait new and exciting events would pop up next. In all honesty, I had high hopes for this hypertext. The “truths” version versus the “lies” version was a clever gimmick. But it was written in 1992 and converted for the web in 1994. I would have been very impressed with the hypertext structure back then (yes, I had a computer and dial-up internet). But saying that “I really enjoyed” it would be a lie. I found that the use of pronouns and other ambiguities created more disjointedness between the hypertexts rather than the fluidity that Pryll was striving for. Doug Bonnema’s analysis of “Lies” also points out that Pryll’s story “is somewhat sophomoric.” Bonnema does praise “Lies” as “an ideal introduction for students to the new and multi-layered possibilities attainable through hypertext fiction.” I think that is an overstatement; “Lies” is a basic example, but one that is easy to recognize and use.

Ironically, none of the links provided by Pryll on the “Lies” webpage to his interviews and lists of other hypertexts work. So in an attempt to learn more, I started with an equally basic Google search for “Rick Pryll Lies.” I found that Rick Pryll has struggled to maintain a social media presence; again, odd for someone who touts himself as “an award-winning author and poet, best known for his hyperfiction short story “LIES” [. . .]. First published to the web in 1994, “LIES” has garnered praise from the Wall Street Journal, SHIFT magazine, and several other publications in print and online. It is cited in more than seven books, has been translated into Spanish and Chinese, and continues to be featured on the curriculae at several institutions of higher learning.” Pryll has two blog pages, neither of which has been updated since 2014: Foolishness: the life and times of Indie Author Rick Pryll and Rick Pryll’s LIES, the blog. His twitter account @rickpryll is up-to-date, but Pryll retweets more than he posts original comments. His biography on Twitter states that he is currently writing and editing a middle grade novel, but no internet search resulted in any additional information. I know that maintaining a social presence, a deliberate maintaining, requires extra time and effort. I did my best to live tweet the English Studies Conference last week #EIUESC16, but I was concerned that I appeared rude during presentations when I was on my phone in a professional capacity. I am always gleeful when someone outside my circle retweets or likes a tweet because I know that my efforts have been successful. However, it seems that a person who was an early user of a creative means for writing using programming/the internet would recognize the impact of a social presence.

So I wanted to experience more hyperfiction and preferably more creative hyperfiction. One of the top results from my Google search was the webpage for Kirkwood (Iowa) Community College faculty member Sue Kuennen’s New Media Literature course. Again, a webpage in which the links are not all up-to-date, but many were. I was intrigued by “Sunshine ’69” by Bobby Rabyd; this hyperfiction allowed the reader to travel via multiple hypertexts—a calendar, road map, suitcase, radio, and a bird. Some pages suffered from some poor choices in graphic and text placement; I could not read the text that was printed across the Summer ’69 banner. And even after downloading RealAudio Player, I received an error message for every one of the “8-tack tapes.” Maybe it was copyright issues, but if that was the problem, why not simply revamp the site and make that statement? The problem that I had with this text was that I could not find a solid plotline. I stumbled into a set of dialogue between two male characters discussing how one was leaving for basic training followed by Vietnam and how the other was planning to burn his draft card and go to prison (yes, I felt like I was reading the script for Hair), but that conflict was not throughout the links.

While I thought “Lies” was too simplistic, I found both “Sunshine ‘69” and “Cliff College: An Interactive Mystery” too confusing because of their overwhelming number of links and overcomplicated paths to travel through the links. I spent less time on “Cliff College” because I was becoming frustrated; I wanted to solve the murder, but in all my clicking and reading, I never found a murder to solve!

I also wonder if writers/programmers/designers (I don’t know what to call the people who created these works) lost interest years ago because the graphics are very dated. Both “Sunshine ‘69” and “Cliff College” look like one generation past the Oregon Trail computer game:

I could not end my exploration without finding a hypertext that I could truthfully say that I enjoyed, and I found it in Daniel Merlin Goodbrey’s “Henry”. This hypertext appealed to me because it combined a simplicity with more recent graphics, although the repetition of the graphics and music does become annoying. Sue Kuennen suggests that Henry could be categorized hyperpoetry, which might be why I was willing to accept the simplicity. Like “Lies” the repetition of lines starts quickly, so by providing a limited number of options the author does not complicate the text.

Truth—I found the puzzle (or puzzles) with S. more interesting and more enjoyable than the hypertexts. I can see the allure of writing in such a way, but I don’t think any of these creators have found a viable combination of text and hyperlinks/internet/programming to produce a work that withstands literary scrutiny. 


  1. I agree that "Lies" seems to work best because the options for navigating through the hypertext are so limited. It's surprising to me that you weren't able to find any other hypertexts that really had the quality that we would expect from online texts in 2016. Has the genre seen its 15 minutes of fame?

    (Truth: I still love Oregon Trail. And, yes, I'm ranked on the Top 10 for the online game. It brings back my childhood, and I'm not very good with all the new graphics on video games anyway--the simpler, the better.)

  2. The one question I would pose on updating these hypertexts is simply what the author intended when they originally made them. If the author chose to keep them the same, I could see it as a means of wanting to keep things original, by updating them, could it possibly have an effect on the story? The other option I see, and more likely, is that they've simply moved on from the text they created. Although it may seem selfish for the reader, it still feels as though if they were to write in the medium they could do an update at least once a year.

    As for the online presence, I do find it interesting that Pryll fails to keep up to date with social media. I can understand if he's busy, I know I usually have enough time to look through my feeds and not post, but it's different when someone has established themselves as an online figure.