>>Sidestepping the Known: A Loose Chronology of Meztext[ing]s

1 February 2015

>>Beginnings: A Library, An ‘A’ and a ‘B’

When I was in my late primary school years, I was shunted into an accelerated reading program. This program was designed for kids who had either outpaced their schoolmates in terms of reading ability, or who whizzed through books [while still comprehending them] at a voracious rate. As part of this program it was decided that I should be given special privileges in order to join the primary public library. I was to be allowed to borrow books intended for adult consumption.

When the day arrived to venture into ‘The Proper Library’ [as I’d internally labelled it] I was determined to prove that I was just as mature as the adults with whom I’d soon share borrowing privileges. I ventured into the library foyer solo, with no adult chaperone. As I marched along the hallway past ‘The Children’s Library’, the thought hit me: I had no idea how to navigate this place. As I reached the front desk, my card was prepared and waiting, but [probably due to understaffing] there were no adults to show me the ropes. So, being the somewhat timid but determined youngster I was, I marched directly between the first shelves of books I saw. I had no idea what category of books huddled there.

I *was* aware [thankfully] of how books were organised in a library setting. I knew that if I selected the first book on the top row, it would be by an author starting with A. And so I grabbed the first three books located there [that I could reach], all by an author I hadn’t ever heard of: Brian Aldiss.

The section I had stumbled into was Science Fiction.

This simple act of selecting those books [written in a genre that would soon become an enduring favourite] shifted something. My life trajectory tilted. The tilt was subtle, but enough to make me realise that *this* was the way to tackle life: head on, by marching into the hiccoughing unknown with some type of fantastical accompaniment.

This sudden awareness of being an interloper who had stumbled into a previously off-limits information space helped shape my fascination with play aesthetics, fabulism, system theory, allegory, learning, subversion and connection. The idea that my future self would obediently trot down a life-path leading sequentially from sanctioned stepping stone to codified stepping stone was all-glitched-up that day. By essentially leapfrogging standardised methods of accessing information, I cottoned onto the value of testing and stretching boundaries of all stripes.

The notion of sidestepping [while not strictly subverting] tradition became my mantra. I built-riffed off this reality over the years, gradually refining my need to cobble creative output with eyebrow-raising-interest in ingesting, debating, absorbing and ultimately, playing.

>>TxtTales and Assorted Beasties

This concept of sidestepping the known came under some pretty standard fire during those post-Beginnings: A Library, An ‘A’ and a ‘B’ years. Thankfully, focused absorption, exposure to digital artists such as VNS Matrix, and the desire to incessantly create helped keep the ‘conventionally directed’ at bay. After finding myself verge-balancing on the edge of a successful academic career in the Applied Social Sciences, I decided to dig in and *make* instead. My rationale: there was something definitively frissonic [and worthwhile] on realising I did not need to pander to the established. This behavioural pattern of actively modifying constrictive systems [to circumvent the acceptable] helped cement my love of story.

And so I strained and battled all manner of cordons. I gathered aficionados [and fast friends] and enemies [mostly of the pedagogical and/or stiff-upper-lip variety]. But most of all, I courage-struck and grasped technologies in my then bared and [sometimes rictus] grinning 24-year-old teeth. In 1994, when a friend of a f[r]iend introduced me to a computer lab filled with internet-enabled machines, I grinned and ‘bit’ down hard.

The first Meztext works classifiable as ping-worthy are spontaneous collaborations created via the Internet/web. In 1995, I spot-hunkered in a series of interchangeable computer labs and proceeded to create text fictions with other likeminded boffins connected via browser-based chatrooms and y-talk. My fictionalised inserts peppered those of Melbourne University students, Palo Alto based scientists and Swedish software engineers to create rambling, ingenuous text-sets. These texts would nowadays be known as flash fiction, interactive fiction, and/or labelled as ‘Alternate Reality Game-like Play’. Using Telnet, Mosaic [Netscape] and email as our playgrounds, we digitally shuttled missives filled with tales of Vikings, Jesters, and other assorted beasties.

In this period, we gang of fabulists construction-toyed with what would soon be recognised as electronic literature, code poetry, literary games, and the nature of online collaboration. From the value of simmering anonymity to the deliciousness of avatar [naming] adoptions, nothing was set. Spontaneity seemed the key. If you thought blisteringly hard [or for too long] about a snippet in a chatroom setting, your chances of contributing right *then* and *there* were lost. The [often ephemeral] game threads popped up quickly. They plot-shifted even faster. We all learnt how to produce story snippets quickly, by riffing on – and mangling – content.

I [or rather my chosen avatar at the time, ‘Ms Post Modemism’] next produced Cutting Spaces – my first HTML-based interactive fiction – from this lushness. Before manifesting as a signature Meztext, in 1996 this work pushed and pulled its way into the Norway based Online Exhibition and zine called The TUG Project. Cutting Spaces played with the audience, making them cyclic and plot-vulnerable in a hiccough-looped narrative. Cutting Spaces was a project designed by a meta-author determined to drag and push a reader as far as hypertext allowed.

MALFI was another project spawned during this time. MALFI [short for Multi-Artificial Life Form Interface] was a fictionalised version of a ‘more-human-than-human’ form of artificial intelligence. This AI was on a hell-bending quest to achieve autonomy from its scientific confines. First written as a non-standard story in 1996, MALFI morphed forms later that year so as to be shown at the Virtual Universe Online Exhibition [via the Public Art Forum and New-Media Symposium] at Prague’s Goethe Institute. The resultant MALFI project:

‘…promotes a proactive experience through providing the audience with the ability to play Electronic God [or Goddess] – that is, to create the future of the MALFI entity via crucial narrative choices. One hyperlinked path/set of choices allows MALFI to attain freedom/autonomy, the other leaves MALFI dependant on its scientific confines. These choices impact on the resultant MALFI persona, and leaves the viewer with an interesting emotional twist – if they direct the hyperlinks to ensure MALFI gains independence, they are surprised to discover that maybe MALFI doesn’t want it after all, thus encouraging them to interact again with the project in order to ascertain MALFI’s motives.’

MALFI Catalogue Description as part of the SEC (Secondary Consciousness) Exhibition, Herzlia Museum, Israel, 1996.

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2 Responses to >>Sidestepping the Known: A Loose Chronology of Meztext[ing]s

  1. stickykeys says:

    Great piece. Should be essential reading on all education forums and curricula.

  2. Pingback: Codework + Code Poetry: What The...? | @MezBreezeDesign

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