The Intruder by Natalie Bookchin, Xiao, Xiao

While doing a little research and deciding what creative works to teach in my intro to new media studies course, I decided to catch up on some work that I hadn't caught before due either to laziness or the lack of a high-speed connection. At the Progressive Dinner Party that Marjorie Luesebrink and Carolyn Guertin put together a couple years back for Riding the Meridian, I ran across The Intruder, a work in director/shockwave that retells a Jorge-Luis Borges story of the same name in ten games. Using cheesy 80s-style video-games as an interactivity device, Bookchin engages the reader in delivering the (linear) text of the Borges story, which is told in voice-over. In her commentary on the collection, N. Katherine Hayles writes: “In one of Bookchin’s games, the object is to bounce a female figure back and forth between two paddles, thus making the user complicit in the story’s plot. Another darkly funny game presents the user with two buttock-like circles with a hole between them, from which fall objects associated with the woman, which the user tries to catch by moving a virtual bucket. Because the games compel the user to enter dynamically into the production of text, they serve to connect the user in surprisingly powerful ways to the narrative; I found myself more engaged with Bookchin’s deliberately kitschy games than with Borges’s satirical tale, which is dark enough to make most readers feel emotionally distanced from its brutal plot.” Bookchin actively positions the reader of the story as the intruder, not as the “intruder” Juliana betwixt the bonding males, but as the intruder in the telling of the story itself. In order to get the text to proceed forward, you need to “win” or “lose” games ranging from pong to a quickdraw shootemup to asteroids. My favorite aspect of this work is the subtle irony of Bookchin's selected “games” and the way that they relate to the story — as the two brothers fight over a woman, you shoot at another shooter. As the story of the brothers' execution of the woman is told, you are targeting an icon of a woman from above, in a helicopter. The games echo the irony of the story and also call into question the kind of objectification that many of the popular early (and current) videogames inscribe. So the games-as-story become a kind of meta-narrative of the iconic violence of the games we casually play (and often enjoy).

Ken Tompkins also recently passed on another fun/ironic piece in flash — The Xiao Xiao Stickman Series by Zhu Zhq are essentially full-feature kungfu films, boiled down to their essence. The hero and villians are stickmen. The flash movies are nearly as, or more, engaging than many like films. They are all action, no characters, no costumes, line drawn setting, no dialogue. Which makes me wonder — what do we actually come to these films for? What call are they answering? I think they also say something about the effective use of flash. Depending on what the author/animator/creator is trying to achieve, fewer bells and whistles and iconic rather than realistic imagery may be more effective than the everything-and-the-kitchen sink approach.

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