SurREAL: Dramatis Personae on the Digital Stage

Organized by Susana Pajares Tosca
Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain
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Abstract: This panel will examine the textual (verbal and non-verbal) construction of characters as the key to representation and identity in cyberspace. The concept of “character” is not established a priori, but comes into being as participants in the digital world or text render words, images and movements into a perceived identity.

The panellists will address questions of representation, fiction and reality as well as discussing techniques, patterns and codes used in creating and interpreting digital characters. Is it possible to represent oneself realistically in cyberspace? What is the relationship between realistically intended projections of ourselves and make-believe or fantastic characters? What are the relationships between the construction of characters in narrative and dramatic fiction and in computer games and online communities?

In four complementary and interlinked perspectives on characters in digital environments, we will discuss how real and fictional people are represented and/or represent themselves in the varied contexts of online communities, computer games, hypertext fiction and artificial intelligence.

Lisbeth Klastrup´s paper examines how in some digital fictions and/or worlds, the programme is brought to the centre of the stage of action as a “character.” Represented as a perceptible subjective consciousness or “implicit narrator,” this character is made explicit through the way it manipulates the interface, comments on the ongoing action, etc. In these instances, the programme is “perceiving” us at the same time as we as characters/readers perceive “it.” Can these examples point toward an alternative way of thinking about character representations and their mediation in digital environments?

Susana Tosca´s paper discusses different sorts of computer games to see what kind of characters they propose the user to identify herself with. It considers the range of actions that users are asked/allowed to perform as well as the prior narrative construction of the "user-character." These two factors will give an idea of the nature and degree of the users activity, raising questions of narrative and psychological identification, representation, involvement, catharsis and ultimately the cultural importance of games. Who are we when we play digital games?

Jill Walker´s paper explores the concept of “character” in a MOO, examining the relationship between traditional notions of character, as we are familiar with them from literature, drama and cinema, and players' presentation of themselves as make-believe or realistic characters in a MOO. In analysing specific examples of characters and “bots” in MOOs, this paper examines how we can use existing and emerging theory to understand digital characters.

Elin Sjursen´s paper investigates how the creation of identity/character is flavored by the user’s implementation of textual and visual codes in "interactive" environments like MOOs and cybertexts. Without help from facial expressions, body language and tone of voice, how does the reader interpret the writer while they chat together, how does the writer reveal herself to the reader? Can any of these codes help create better and more believable bots?

About the Presenters:

Susana Pajares Tosca is writing a PhD thesis on Literature and Hypertext in the Complutense University of Madrid. She has published articles and given talks on humanities computing and cyberculture in general both in Spain and abroad.

Lisbeth Klastrup is writing a PhD thesis on MOOs and other on-line Communities as Fictional Worlds. As the first PhD at the recently established IT-University in Copenhagen (Denmark), she is much engaged in the founding of the interdisciplinary ITU Research School. She has written articles on on-line fictions, film and cyberspace.

Jill Walker is currently researching a PhD at the University of Bergen (Norway), where she will compare hypertext fiction and MUDs. She has published several articles on hypertext fiction, both in print and as hypertexts, and has extensive experience with building and living in MOOs.

Elin Johanne Sjursen is writing her graduate thesis on the merging of text/image/sound in cybertext poetry at the University of Bergen (Norway). As a multimedia artist she has presented her work at several conferences.