Blueful

[center]"Somewhere else is, perhaps, understatement."
-- Aaron A. Reed, Blueful[/center]

What the hell is Blueful?

On the surface, Blueful--half-short story, half-viral marketing--is a surreal, follow-the-link-style scavenger hunt.

As the "player"--and I use that term very loosely--you cruise Web 2.0's most familiar destinations, searching for prose fragments and story snippets among the user-created content. Like a tourist on vacation, you make momentary pitstops at Cafepress.com, Google Calendars, Livejournal, Flickr, Last.fm and more, all the while piecing together a broken narrative. Essentially, Blueful uses the Internet itself as a mechanism for its storytelling, which is weird and brilliant and makes you wonder why nobody has done it before. Go check it out. It only takes 20 minutes, from start to finish. I'll wait.

Done? Okay. So: What the hell is Blueful?

Technically, I suppose, Blueful is interactive fiction, but only in the most literal of senses. While you can "flip the pages", so to speak, you can't influence the narrative at all, except for a single choice at the end of the game. In some ways, this linearity reminds me of the classic Photopia, one of my favorite interactive fiction games of all time.

But for interactive fiction, Blueful's narrative is woefully inadequate.

As far as I can decipher, Blueful is about an artist who loses his mind and decides to retreat into his paintings. While fleeing fame and generally exploring the joys of lunacy, he shacks up with a mysterious woman in the mountains. Then he struggles with commitment issues, while watching a wolf kill a moose.

It didn't make sense to me, either.

Of course, I admit I may have entirely misread the plot of Blueful, as the narrative itself is a mishmash of obnoxiously self-aware poetry and nonsensical metaphors. For a Vladimir Nabokov fan, I have startlingly little patience for pretentious art; I only played about five minutes of Braid before rolling my eyes and switching to Lumines.

With its e.e. cummings-esque presentation and florid adjectives, I found Blueful especially frustrating. As soon as you think the narrative has finally become clearer and more intelligible, it swerves right back into whackadoo territory.

What's worse is that with all the clicking and cutting and pasting (Blueful forgoes embedded hyperlinks), it's almost impossible to hold onto the thread of the story – or even what you read just five seconds ago. In particular, I found it difficult to remember plot points when the pages transitioned from sound to text, like the switch from Youtube.com to Zoho.com. Thus, you’re left with only the vaguest flash of plot and character, which doesn't offer much context for the overrought, surrealist imagery.

It's almost funny: Here's a piece of interactive fiction where the story sucks, but the gameplay really sings.

Perhaps I'm being too harsh on Blueful. After all, it is just a viral marketing stunt for Aaron Reed’s new work, Blue Lacuna. But I'm disappointed by its wasted potential. As an interactive fiction writer, Aaron A. Reed is brilliant; his previous game, Whom the Telling Changed, is one of those rare knock-your-socks-off, can't-stop-thinking-about-it-even-at-3-AM kind of titles. And while it's just as heady and intellectual as Blueful, it suffers from none of the same pomposity. I hate to think that Reed was being intentionally obtuse here, in the hopes that players would download Blue Lacuna just to find out what the heck is going on.

But what bothers me more is that, even if Blueful is just a marketing tool, its gimmick is genius. This rambling tour through Web-icana, passing through the Internet's best landmarks and tourist traps and hidden gems – it really makes you feel like the virtual world, in which we spend so many hours and days, is a real, physical landscape, one that could be captured on a postcard and sent to Grandma. It's like a love letter to the Internet, in the vein of Shadow’s romp through American roadside attractions, or Steinbeck and Charley’s jaunt on the Rocinante. Even though I hated the story, I never wanted the telling of it to end.

But interactive fiction hinges on the strength of its narrative, and a gimmick will only last you so long.

Blueful is fiction that fails at its basic function, like poetry without rhythm or a play without dialogue. And yet, it also transcends that function, pioneering genuinely unique storytelling possibilities that I hope others will explore further. Despite all its flaws, the exercise is worth checking out.

What the hell is Blueful? I have no idea. But I want to do it again.

Comments

Whom The Telling Changes is going to be a weekend game for me, I think. It'll be a first!

I only played about five minutes of Braid before rolling my eyes

Yes! Finally someone else that didn't think that game wasn't good enough to mount and hump their monitor for.

I think you're being to hard on Blueful. The story isn't too difficult to understand; it's a lot like one of Ursula LeGuin's short stories (the title escapes me, but also involves a world-hopper).

My impression of the whole thing wasn't interactive fiction, but sort of like an installation piece at a museum. The use of medium was half of the work, but what is really interesting is how one struggles to IGNORES the medium to get at the story.

There's also some great whimsy in the choice of how the media are layed out - he avoids obvious choices, and makes it fairly easy to follow. Yes, you have to cut-and-paste most hyperlinks, and type about a third of them. But he's basically challenging you to keep the story in your head while you work to catch up with the world-hopper character. Much like what the character is described as struggling with.

I wouldn't call the whole thing brilliant, but I think it's skillfully executed, asks interesting artistic questions without belaboring the point, and is a nice ripping yarn to hold it together. It happily occupied 20 minutes of my time.

Just downloaded the Telling, and I'll be looking up this guys work. Thanks for this post, KaterinLHC!

Nathaniel wrote:

The use of medium was half of the work, but what is really interesting is how one struggles to IGNORES the medium to get at the story.

That's an interesting point, but what good does a really distracting medium do for its story? What does it add to the experience that balances out everything it takes away from it? You could draw comparisons to pop-up books, I suppose, but there's a reason you don't try to tell particularly complex or meaningful stories in pop-up book form.

And if the point of Blueful was to get the reader to try to (unsuccessfully) ignore the medium of the message, then why even tell it through that medium in the first place? Unless you're trying to be grand and clever and make some deep meta-comment on the inextricability of message and medium, in which case: Been there, done that and don't need to do it again.

Enjoy the Telling. I know I did.

Well, I can't be sure because I haven't played it, but to me it sounds like an ARG or Alternate Reality Game.

And if the point of Blueful was to get the reader to try to (unsuccessfully) ignore the medium of the message, then why even tell it through that medium in the first place?

The medium is the message.

I think it's more complicated than that. The point was to have the reader engaged with the subject matter: you have to actively work at getting at it. The 'work' is not just typing URLs, but scanning the pages, looking for the narrative amongst the noise of the public web pages intended for other things. It's all about finding signal in noise, about keeping your eye on the ball - which makes the reader have to work at it - you're engaged.

I was asking questions like: why this web site for this part of the story? How does bouncing sites relate to Wayfaring? Is my relationship with the passing sites like the protagonist passing through worlds - experiencing them, but not really caring because I was focused on the thread winding through them? Are the choices of medium distracting me? Or is it enhancing the story, like free verse or E. E. Cummings work?

Yes - he was using a sledgehammer to nail all of the above home - that's why the work comes across as more than slightly pretentuous - but I think it was ultimately successful.

At the same time, there's a little something to be said about permanence of message. I noticed that one of his links (the one with music lyrics) had the Blueful-relevant content bumped down a notch or two by new posts. So while we may be able to bound across the net today, one wonders what broken shambles we'd navigate in a year or three.

Spaz wrote:
At the same time, there's a little something to be said about permanence of message. I noticed that one of his links (the one with music lyrics) had the Blueful-relevant content bumped down a notch or two by new posts. So while we may be able to bound across the net today, one wonders what broken shambles we'd navigate in a year or three.

He could be the Ozymandias of the internet! How's that for pretense?

All I know is that I hit the tinyurl.shapelesscloud part (heat) and ran into a brick wall. I expect that there's supposed to be an email for me to read in that inbox, but I'm unable to read it. ...Which is too bad, since I was sort of enjoying where this is going.

Regarding navigation... it probably isn't what the author intended, but I found it easiest to go through quickly once and then back up using my browser buttons and then read through it carefully the second time (again, via browser buttons). This got around the annoyance of interrupting the reading to copy/paste links and such.

I can't get around the pretense of the piece however... splitting the piece across different sites and media is simply a technological version of E. E. Cummings writing. The author even did this more explicitly in a few cases, such as the Google calendar and the spreadsheet. The text itself seems pretty coherent however, despite phrasing that made me feel like I was reading a grad student's project piece. I found the use of "you" incredibly irritating however. Who is the author talking about? I've certainly never done any of those things, so I must conclude that the author is speaking about himself in the second person, suggesting a disconnect in his psyche which I'd probably relate to Camus' "L’Étranger" if I were from author's school of writing.

With the story's focus on painting, I must conclude that the use of disparate media is intended to parallel the story. The author painted the story, his canvases scattered across the internet like breadcrumbs, just like the paintings in his story. Each piece could be considered a discrete work in its own right, and the meter changes from piece to piece.

Some general comments, as I read through:

[color=white]I find it interesting that "you" transcends reality into the supposed truth of things, only to find this truth represented by the paints he mixed, thus making it all fake again. Was this intentional, or am I misreading it? This whole part is like a rendering of Plato's Allegory of the Cave that somehow misses the point.

I felt that launching the reader into a fantasy world was kind of a weak "out" in what could have been a poignant story. It transforms a character study into an exercise in flaunting imaginative imagery. This largely ruined the story for me. I suppose one could argue that this shift represents the author's sudden and complete detachment from reality, but I think it could have been done much more effectively in a subtler manner.

The text popups on YouTube felt very artificial and contrived to me, which stood in stark contrast to what the author was trying to say, lending a dripping irony to the piece. This is thematically similar to the previous page that seemed like a rehashing of Plato's Allegory mentioned above, or a ridiculous work I remember from highschool where the author talks about stripping back layers of his personality like an onion to find his true nature within--Gide's L’Immoraliste perhaps? Again, I'm not sure if the irony is intended, but it's inescapable for me.

And then the piece ends at dodgit.com with an empty "blueful" mailbox. Is this intended? I had thought it was supposed to end up back at the starting site. I guess this is a testament to the ephemeral nature of the internet. Viva Ozymandias! um, the Wayfarer![/color]


Overall, I think the idea of scattering a piece of fiction across the internet is an interesting idea. It makes the piece more interactive in a way that's vaguely reminiscent of the cooperative fiction pieces like ILoveBees. I think the author may be onto something regarding the format. As for the content of the piece itself though... the story seemed promising but ultimately fell flat in a way that made the entire project seem hopelessly contrived. I'd like to see more people experiment in this direction, but I'm not left eagerly anticipating a more serious work by the same author. Here's to hoping that Telling is better.

I think somebody deleted the email that was supposed to be at dodgit, which is why it stops. That's the other downfall to this type of narrative -- other people in the right circumstances can totally ruin it by breaking a chain in the story.

I wasn't intrigued by it, i couldn't really follow the story, i spent more time typing out urls than trying to grasp the story. Interesting idea, but the execution proves it's not very good way to tell a story.

Well, I can say I saw it through to the end.

I had the most fun just tracking the "clues" to each site. I admit, somewhere in the middle I stopped following the story and was more interested in where it would take me and what media it would use to show the next bits. I tired of the actual story pretty early on, but since half the journey is getting there I can honestly say I enjoyed it.

Xeknos wrote:
I think somebody deleted the email that was supposed to be at dodgit, which is why it stops. That's the other downfall to this type of narrative -- other people in the right circumstances can totally ruin it by breaking a chain in the story.

At least there was a contingency for this with the keywords you could enter at the homepage. It didn't stop me from getting through to the ending. And I was pleasantly surprised at how he decided to give you the ending. The whole thing kept me on my toes.

Really? I typed in "heat" into that little bar. It said "logged", but nothing happened.

EDIT: Oh, wait, I see it. Next to logged is a white hyperlink with there to go next. I didn't see it because it blends it to the white portion of the background.

For anyone who liked this, we tell stories has some stories told using web sites too. Personally, I don't consider Blueful (or the wetellstories stuff) much of a game, but it is an interesting way to tell a story.

Anyone had a crack at the blue lacuna interactive fiction yet?

In theatre there is this conept - Brectian analysis - the main thrust of which is that by causing some tonal dissonance in presentation (i.e. performance, music, stage sets, lighting, props) a director can jar her audience into paying attention to the content being presented (i.e. events, themes). The thought is that in a cohesive play the audience may be lulled into passivity and uncritical engagement by the familiarity of the entertainment medium. The goal is to interupt that familiarity and inspire critical engagement.
With everyone commenting on how Blueful may not have had the strongest of narratives but was still a real "link clicker"* of a narrative, I am wondering whether a reversal of roles between content and presentation in a Brechtian view would shed light on what Reed has done. Reed writes interactive fiction:** what is unique and special about it is its interactivity. It is possible that what Reed would most want to highlight about his work is just that: its interactivity. So, with a jarring narrative*** that feels out of place what is left - highlighted - in relief is the medium.

*sorry. I could't resist
**based on what KaterinLHC has said
***jarringly bad apparently
also. my apologies to anyone who actually knows anything about theatre: I don't.

[quote] Blueful is fiction that fails at its basic function, like poetry without rhythm or a play without dialogue. And yet, it also transcends that function, pioneering genuinely unique storytelling possibilities that I hope others will explore further. Despite all its flaws, the exercise is worth checking out.

This jump in the story: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User_ta...
Was erased by someone.

(cur) (prev) 20:50, 31 January 2009 82.247.204.182 (Talk) (36 bytes) (←Created page with 'page deleted on user page, wikipedia')

Which blows. I wonder who is behind the IP 82.247.204.182

I don't think this actually accomplished anything. It felt like a story book with pages made of cement. I could read a page, sure, but then I'd have to spend a good 15 to 30 seconds trying to get to the next page.

Why not put it on a single page instead of going so heavy on the copy-pasta? The medium was only a hindrance.

kilroy0097 wrote:
Which blows. I wonder who is behind the IP 82.247.204.182

Free SAS / ProXad,
8, rue de la Ville L'Eveque
75008 Paris

Mack wrote:

Brectian analysis

Cool. Another bit of pseudo-intellectualism I can pull out at parties. Always wondered what that term meant.

I think that probably you're right- this is an interesting insight, although I doubt it was the author's explicit intention.

FenixStryk wrote:

I don't think this actually accomplished anything. It felt like a story book with pages made of cement. I could read a page, sure, but then I'd have to spend a good 15 to 30 seconds trying to get to the next page.

Why not put it on a single page instead of going so heavy on the copy-pasta? The medium was only a hindrance.

Ah... but would you have read the short story if it had been on a single page. Would it have been montioned on gwj?

Frankly, I want to write a book some day with cement pages. No, make that marble! With fine corinthian leather bindings! Yeah!

"inappropriate use of userpage"
Hooray for deletionist Wikipedians!

I like how the narrative is woven amongst the chaos of ordinary website conventions. Though the breaks make the story hard to follow, I've just been enjoying seeing how each website has been used in an unintentional manner.

I'm extremely relieved to have gone off as instructed, then return to not be confronted with how awesome that just was.

I found it overly... uhh... ARTSY!, bold, italics, and exclamation point included. If there was a way to have the text red and blinking, I would do so. It tries very hard to be oh so very deep, and fails. This is the reason I don't read emo poems or cut myself while browsing deviantART.

A clever way of going about things, but the idea of a web based trail is hardly new... I followed a link here, and will likely follow another one away.