Medea Project: Take 1

I’ve long been thinking of how to make a “digital translation” of Medea. For awhile, I planned to do so by using the Dragon Age toolset and create a visual encounter that played through the story of Euripides’ Medea. This proved doable but cumbersome, and I’ve decided instead to make a purely text-based translation in Inform 7. (The design of the translation is greatly influenced by Emily Short’s work and relies heavily on Eric Eve’s Conversation Framework extension.) I’m going to use this space to talk about the questions that are raised about the text, about narrative, about characters, etc., while I work on and eventually complete this project.

I’m still in the early stages of planning out exactly what the conversations trees look like, but already I’ve encountered a few interesting questions about the text itself. First, though, some ground rules.

  • This is not a literal translation. It may seem like a silly statement to make, one that should be assumed, but one should never assume that Classicists are not being literal to the text.
  • This will have text that doesn’t appear in Euripides. I’ll describe this a bit later when I talk about details that I need to fabricate for the medium. I am transforming a play into an interactive fiction. Consider some of my inventions to be stage props and costumes, if it bothers you.
  • This is an experiment. My dissertation studies a particular form of narrative most often found (or perhaps just most visibly seen) in video games and interactive fiction – post-primary narrative. My thesis states that this narrative form is actually inclusive to all narratives and asks then how a post-primary perspective can help us understand how characters are developed by readers. This project is an attempt to explore Medea in a post-primary setting to both see how well the material translates and thus how useful (or useless) digital translation may be and to see how my theory of character development holds up when tested through Euripides. The translation works by finding the decisions or illusions of decisions which the characters make in the play and creating an interactive fiction around them. Although I have stated I will not be literally translating, I am also not straying too far from Euripides’ version of the story.

Now for the first-met questions.

Who am I?

For this interactive fiction I’m writing, I need a character for the reader to play. Our minds may first assume that Medea is the go-to character, but in Euripides, the audience actually begins the story far from Medea. The Nurse introduces the audience to the current state of things and it is through the Nurse’s monologue and then dialogue with the Tutor that Medea’s mindset is first portrayed. So for my fiction, I’ve decided to have one of the playable characters be the Nurse.

The Nurse’s perspective is not the only one we meet in the play, and it will not be the only one available in the interactive fiction. There will be three playable characters, all with different perspectives, all with complete stories to be played out in whichever order the reader desires. Each has his or her own information for the player to discover and only through playing all three will the story have been fully experienced. Each has a variety of decisions to make and at least one unique version of the ending to find. The three are the Nurse, Medea, and Jason.

Where am I?

I began writing the introductory scene of the fiction and realized I need to describe the location for my readers. Perhaps they want to look around or explore their surroundings a bit. The play left this up to the scenery folk working on the stage, so Euripides had no need to describe the setting in which the Nurse begins her soliloquy. This is the first instance of pure invention readers will find in the fiction, and one I find somewhat problematic. It is only through the way I imagine the setting that the readers will see it. Setting, then, is something I cannot give agency to my players to design. They still must help create it by imagining it in their mind, but the design of the location is almost purely authorial (as opposed to the actual linear narrative experience each player has – a collaboration between author and reader).

What is happening?

I want readers to be able to explore. The location is not that vast, but the bounds of conversation provide not only the information Euripides gives us in the text, but also a lot of background or extraneous information that would have been assumed. For example, my readers may come to the fiction having no inkling of what the Argo is. They can ask their interlocutor and he will have the ability to explain some of the background. Does this obstruct the flow of the story? If limited, I don’t think so. It is entirely optional and also helps mimic the varieties of context in which the play would originally have been seen. The reader can simply press through the plot as quickly as possible, ignorant of background facts, or take the time to explore the area and exhaust conversation possibilities. She can do both, one after the other. It is my job to decide just how much information should be available – too much may drown the actual story in details while not enough may make the world (and its characters?) seem quite shallow.

I provide the narrative toolset to the players. They take the tools and design their own unique narrative experience.

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kateri
    Mar 16, 2011 @ 21:21:02

    I am very excited about this! :)


  2. Mike
    Mar 17, 2011 @ 21:45:37

    Is there some mechanism or signal for readers/players to distinguish between conversation which is setting background or ‘extraneous’ information and conversation which is driving the narrative forward?

    I have no idea how this interface will work, so take all this with a grain of salt. It seems that for the narrative to feel cooperative (author + reader) and designable by the user, there must be some mechanic beyond “This NPC is repeating the same information over and over…I guess I have to do something else.” Probably games have already gotten far beyond that and I am just not hip to that fact.

    I always enjoy reading about your projects.


    • Adarel
      Mar 18, 2011 @ 13:05:58

      There isn’t really a mechanism for distinguishing between pure plot and just information. The project is more about exploring the setting and characters than about a set linear experience, so I don’t think I’d want to separate them. It isn’t so huge of a setting or so vast a variety of conversation options that the reader should ever feel lost.

      There are certainly clues or guidelines as to how to continue the conversation, so the reader shouldn’t ever feel stuck. There will most likely be repetitions, but that’s also part of the genre. It sometimes takes reading something a couple of times before you see the important part. But, also, there are ways to get the NPC to kind of push the reader to a new topic if it starts to get too repetitious.

      Most people will come to it already knowing the story so they’ll have preconceived ideas of how the plot should go. For them, especially, I’d not want too many narrative markers because I’d rather they take some time figuring out exactly what is happening. One of the most fun parts of int-fict, for me at least, is accidentally reaching an ending that surprised me and going back to see what else I could have done.


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