July 30, 2005

The Daughters of Freya

by Noah Wardrip-Fruin · , 7:12 pm

Starting Monday (August 1) the Alternate Reality Gaming Network will host a group read of The Daughters of Freya. You can sign up on the site for The Daughters of Freya, at a price of $4 USD.

I read a “review copy” of The Daughters of Freya and found it an interesting experience. DoF isn’t usually performed for its readers simultaneously, as are email narratives such as Blue Company. Instead, usually any individual who signs up starts getting messages shortly after registering, which might make it seem more like Online Caroline in its approach. But — unlike Online Caroline in which you seem to be getting normal email messages from Caroline, with normal headers, today’s date, etc. — DoF doesn’t actually create a correspondence between the messages you receive and the messages characters send. A single message you receive might contain several messages from different characters, and the dates of the messages are driven by the story (which, in my reading, took place during a different time of year than my reading).

The result made me realize that there were more types of email narratives than I’d considered. DoF wasn’t trying to create the feeling of corresponding via email with a fictional character, nor of voyeuristically listening in on the email correspondence of others. Instead, it was using email to (a) change the context of reading and (b) build suspense. The writing in DoF is generally very email-like. This is a lot of what we read and write each day, but to me it just doesn’t make sense in the same way on the page. DoF tells a story using email language, and it delivers that story to your email reader — which is the right place for that language. And while the timing of the messages doesn’t exactly match the timing of email writing by the characters, it does work successfully to build suspense. One can’t flip forward, or keep reading, to find out what happens next. One has to wait, that experience I’ve become increasingly unaccustomed to (especially now that I only seem to watch TV shows on DVD). And, as it turns out, I wasn’t able to wait. I’d wanted to not use the special powers granted to me as a reviewer, but at a certain point I went into the DoF website and read straight through the rest of the story. I didn’t want to wait — I wanted to get to the end of the story. And to me that indicates that something in the design of DoF was working, and overcame my surprise that this wasn’t the sort of “email narrative” I’d come to expect.

A few more thoughts on DoF can be found over at Jill’s.

One Response to “The Daughters of Freya”

  1. Michael Betcherman Says:

    Hi Noah,

    Thanks for the posting, and for the invitation to comment on your comment. (Just so your readers know, I’m one of the authors.)

    I’m glad you enjoyed the story – and flattered you couldn’t resist the temptation to read ahead although as you point out, that does defeat one of the purposes of the project, increasing the suspense by delivering the emails at random times.

    The random delivery has another effect on readers that you also touch on – it transforms the reading experience. Readers are used to being in control – if they want to find out what happens next all they have to do is turn the page. In our project, that control has been taken away, making the experience, for want of a better word, more “virtual.” Although readers don’t interact with the characters, the fact that they have to wait along with them to find out what happens next involves them more directly in the story than in a traditional print book. (After all, we’re not really in control of our own lives, as much as we might like to think otherwise.)

    This effect is enhanced by the fact that the emails arrive directly in the reader’s inbox. The very act of picking up a print book has a distancing effect. As much as a reader may be drawn in by the story, they can never lose the awareness that they are observers. In The Daughters of Freya, this separation between the reader and the characters is blurred. As one reader put it, “I found myself wondering throughout the day how the characters were getting along and had to remind myself that they were fictional.” Another said that “when the story ended, I felt as if my friends had stopped writing to me.”

    In order to sustain this effect, it is crucial that the project mirror way people actually use the Internet. Previous attempts to publish on the Internet have not been too successful, largely, I would argue, because they have generally invited readers to read a chapter book on a computer screen. In our project the form is integrated with the medium. Readers open an email … and read an email (written in informal, chatty email style, with each writer having their own email idiosyncracies.) And just like regular email, our emails link to external websites which we’ve created specifically for the project, with newspaper and magazine articles, photographs and other content that is part of the mystery. Again, to repeat myself, the prime directive is to mirror the way people actually use the Internet. (In future projects we hope to incorporate video and audio files.)

    I’d be interested to hear any thoughts you or your readers may have about this.

    If anyone wants to find out more about the project, I invite them to visit the website – http://www.emailmystery.com, or contact me at michael@emailmystery.com

    Best regards,

    Michael Betcherman

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