Living Inside the Poem: MOOs & Blake's Milton

  1. 1. Ron Broglio

    Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech)

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Every new media work can be located somewhere along an axis whose poles are archival at one end and performative at the other. Academic production online weights heavily at the archival end of the continuum. There is, however, the other side of the axis which is hauntingly underused in scholarship. Arguably, new media's unique contribution to the humanities is its performative nature. The reason why the performative side of the web has seen little academic use is simply because we have yet to think of most literary and cultural texts as performative. The performative nature of the web calls us to re-evaluate familiar texts on new ground. So, I pose the question, how can we use the performativity of new media in humanities scholarship? The goal of this paper is to better define immersive textuality.

In his poetry, William Blake has already thought through the problem of producing immersive environments. His characters are continually creating windows and doors into new worlds or falling through space and time in such a way that the fall creates both space and time. Through their immersive interaction with one another and their surroundings, Blake's characters forge the world upon which the narrative is staged. In like manner, Blake wants the reader to immerse him/herself in the poem such that "doors of perception" open for the reader, creating new worlds and new possibilities. Blake asks that his readers move facilely between the folds of the illuminated plates and the world in which they read his prophecies. The fold between the physical self and textual self at work in Blake's book medium can be highlighted in MOOs by capitalizing upon the difference between typing person and player character.

The Georgia Tech design team selected Blake's poem Milton as its object of study. The poem is concerned with the problem of possession and poetic inspiration which fits nicely with the team's interest in creating an immersive textuality. The goal in immersive textuality is similar to that of McGann's quantum poetics: to create a field of play that omits an outside objective space for contemplation. In the MiltonMOO thought should take place as action within the game space. Normally the reader occupies a double position—one inside the poem through the act of reading and a second position outside the poem in the "real world" beyond the book. However, Blake's poem problematizes the second position and collapses it into the first. He does so throughout the poem Milton most commonly by placing "real" British place names such as Lambeth or London next to fictional names such as Beaulah and Golgonooza. Real people such as Milton and Blake find themselves alongside Palambron and Rintrah. Real life objects such as hammers and looms take on epic proportions as the creative Hammer of Los and the Wheels of Enitharmon.

The MiltonMOO realizes these same folds between reality and fiction. Through a series of inspirations and possessions, the player loses his or her identity and the player's name ( changes to that of a character in the poem. At each character change, the point of view, the surrounding, and the MOO spaces open or closed as options for the player. Several special features and technical innovations of MiltonMOO aid in the goal of immersive textuality. Event aware rooms help establish different character points of view and allow the MOO to keep track of where the player is and has been in the various space/time realms of Blake's poem. Use of the _html serves different players different visual objects based on their reactions to events. Furthermore, Flash game pop-up screens change the action in the MOO rooms' _html and the events for the player characters.

Successfully negotiating a room opens up new spaces to advance the narrative and game play. In any moment the players are aware that there are many other fields and levels not visible to them and that having traveled through other spaces once, they will never be served and described in the same way again. In constructing an immersive textual experience, the goal is to create a feeling of being situated within deep spatial folds and a particular temporal moment. If such immersion is successful, a player feels that each action is a performance and event structure that in the typing and textually performing affects the very architecture of the poem—what is encountered and where the narrative might lead—as well as the meaning of the poem for that player. As a first step toward immersive textuality, the game play of MiltonMOO actualizes folds both for the player inside the game space and for his vegetative self that is typing.

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Conference Info



Hosted at Göteborg University (Gothenburg)

Gothenborg, Sweden

June 11, 2004 - June 16, 2004

105 works by 152 authors indexed

Series: ACH/ICCH (24), ALLC/EADH (31), ACH/ALLC (16)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None