Wardrip-Fruin, Noah., Carroll, Josh., Coover, Robert., Greenlee, Shawn., McClain, Andrew., Shine, Benjamin "Sascha". “Screen.” The Electronic Literature Collection, Vol. 2, 2003.
“Screen” is a unique work that invites the reader to have an extraordinary experience with the text. It involves bodily interaction with the text as well as, literally, forming new meanings out of it. In a traditional interaction between a reader and a text, there have always been a wall. This wall is represented in the fixed words that are in the text, which the reader can only interpret to make a meaning, but cannot physically change to form a meaning. In “Screen,” the reader is able to touch words and change them in what the authors call “the next-generation literary experience.”
Textual Features
- Words on walls resembles words on pages.
- Incoherent narrative.
- Uncanny experience.
- Bodily interaction with words.
- Words are read out loud.
- The narrators are both male and female, with accordance to the characters.
- The ability to manipulate words and form different meanings.
- Memory game with words.
Media Features
- CAVE experience. (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment)
- Text-like words as well as interactive words.
- VR video. (Virtual Reality)
- No interaction from the actual reader.
- The virtual reader can interact and manipulate the text.
Reading Experience
“Screen” offers three reading experiences. It starts with a traditional reading and listening experience. The text is presented on the walls, where the reader can only read and listen to the words. Then words start to peel off, one at a time, marking the second reading experience. The reader finds out that she can push them back to their original places. With more words are peeling off, the second reading experience becomes like a game of memory. However, when too many words are peeled off, the third reading experience starts. The reader does not push words back to their original places, instead, she pushes them to different places, forming new semantics. Words then starts peeling off more rapidly for the reader to handle, then they all come out. They surround the reader and collapse. Finally, half of them come back randomly scattered over the wall, and the reader is confronted with constructing them again to form a meaning.
“Screen” is an interesting work that challenges the idea of what the authors call “the next-generation literary experience.” The authors define our traditional reading experiences of texts as memory-based experiences. When we read, we construct bits and pieces of the texts in our memory, and we try to hold onto them as long as we can, but eventually, they start to “peel away.” In this context, “Screen” is interesting. It presents a virtual reality of our experiences of reading texts, where memory mostly fails us and we start losing the texts, and with it ourselves, bits by bits. However, like in reality, the virtual reader starts to push the peeled off pieces back to the text, relying only on memory. When more pieces com out, the reading experience turns to a game of memory.

At the beginning, the game seems amusing, trying to figure out which pieces belong where. However, when more pieces keep rapidly coming out, the game of memory shifts to a tremendously interesting new game, a game of creativity. This new game makes the CAVE experience in “Screen” like no other CAVE experiences. With more coming out, the virtual reader pushes the pieces randomly to new random spaces, creating new semantic patterns. Eventually, however, like in reality, all the pieces come out and collapse, and we have to start all over again, from scratch.

The virtual reality in “Screen” represents our actual reality in dealing with texts and memory. It starts the same, but then moves to a different level where the virtual reader can bodily interact with the text, and later forming her new text. With this new text, the reader is not only making a meaning of the original text, but forming new personal meaning out of it. Therefore, in this regard, “Screen” can be viewed as “the next-generation literary experience.”

Further Reading