In an era where advances in technology seem to require perpetual adaptation, the task of communication can seem like an Olympian challenge. A moved file or network disruption can turn a simple data transfer into an ordeal, as what ought to be a seamless, real-time communication is transformed into an all-day affair, fraught with anxiety and impatience. In The 12 Labors of the Internet User, Serge Bourchardon and Aymeric Brisse craft an elaborate series of entertaining, satirical games which liken real-life frustrations to the mythical labors of Hercules. Against this epic backdrop, users must complete technical feats such as eliminating spam (“Augean Stables”), blocking pop-ups (“Lernaean Hydra”), and wiping out cookies (“Horses of Diomedes”). The satirical flavor of the piece is enhanced by a driving electronic soundtrack and Matrix-inspired loading screens, suggesting that we, the internet users, are action heroes as we engage in Bouchardon and Brisse’s witty simulations of everyday life in the digital age.
The piece is technically noteworthy for the level of development devoted to what is really a simple idea. Rather than simply making the comparison, which is funny in itself, Bouchardon and Brisse go to great lengths to create distinctive levels of play, each of which is sufficiently novel to merit continued play (and to use the piece’s log in feature, so that readers can save their progress as they play). Each labor comes to the reader via an “email message” which comes with instructions and gives the reader the opportunity to accept the mission before proceeding as well as a brief text and classical image of the Herculean feat from which it draws its inspiration. For instance, the “Erymanthean Boar,” which requires users to move through a maze of words, each of which links to a relevant site (many of which, will be of interest to readers), growing tired (or “bored”) as Hercules did when pursuing his elusive quarry. The result is a which reaches beyond the initial novelty factor. Beyond the mouse, keyboard, monitor, speakers, and network access required for many works of electronic literature, the The 12 Labors of the Internet User also requires a webcam. This adds an additional ergodic element to the piece and adds an aspect of interactivity uncommon among contemporary works of electronic literature.
While the writing itself is fairly utilitarian (rather than poetic), 12 Labors is literary at a conceptual level. At once, it relies upon familiarity with classical literature (myth and allegory) and the conventions of contemporary narrative (cinematic and ludic) to provide critical and humorous insights into the authority of technology and the absurd, unsolicited demands it often places on its users.