An interactive story created by Michael Mateas, Andrew Stern and John Grieve, "Façade" uses the computer screen to invite the reader into an interactive narrative that shares some structural similarities with a theatrical play. To access the work, readers must load the narrative by downloading it onto their computer and then clicking the icon on their desktop. Unlike other electronic literature pieces, I found this one to be the only one that has to be downloaded from the internet and installed to the hard drive. Once the player clicks the desktop icon, the screen might flash for it changes the color scheme on the operating system. This isn't a bad thing, I believe the game was written during Windows XP was being used, for the scheme fits that OS, and anything newer than that will cause the game to change schemes. After this occurs, the narrative will run a windowed screen and the player will have to wait a minute or two, before being able to listen to Trip's phone call as he leaves a message for the player-listener on the answering machine. From here, the player see's a small screenshot of Grace and Trip standing together, their faces full of unwanted content. Then the player is able to choose their name, look at the instructions, and even turn hints on or off.
The narrative is about a couple, Grace and Trip, who are hosting a seemingly simple get together; this gathering, however turns into turmoil as the reader begins to speak and interact with the two characters. To interact, the user has to “speak” to the characters by typing in a sentence, asking questions, and sometimes answering to yes or no questions. Additionally, the reader can interact with Grace or Trip by clicking with the mouse to hug, comfort, and even kiss one of the two; and having the ability to move around the room by using the arrow keys on the keyboard. But before any interaction occurs, the human reader-player must choose a name, starting with the first letter of his or her real name to use in the narrative. Ranging from A to Z, readers can choose to adopt male or female personas, depending on how they wish to participate in the story. After going through multiple runs of the story, one learns that choosing a different name initially results in the player getting different reaction from Grace or Trip.
The narrative stands out from other e-lit pieces that are scattered around the internet. Instead of having to sit down, watch a cut scene, and than interact with the scene by clicking on an object, the reader is able to navigate and question the motives of the two characters they are introduced to. The player is free to type whatever he or she wishes into the chat box, but if the user becomes too ambiguous or disgusting, the computer intelligence will actually “kick” the player out of the room. Even though it differs from conventional works of electronic literature where the reader must click through to find an imaginative solution, the reader-player can steer the narrative towards different outcomes Sometimes these outcomes are secretly introduced if a certain name or key phrase is said when playing the narrative a second time. For example, if the user is concentrates on Grace, Trip will become jealous and even get to a point where he walks out the door, or frustrates and tries his best to butt into the conversation.
There are many different endings to the story, allowing users to figure out on their own way how to cleverly conceive the right information from the computer's intelligence. With the use of voice acting and artificial intelligence, the readers might feel like they are actually standing and speaking to either Grace and/or Trip. Using over-the-ear headphones is ideal to allow the player to immerse themselves into the conversation, even into the setting these characters are perceiving.
The story does change in outcomes, depending if the player says the right things at the right time. Instead of literature that is written in a book, where a story ends by having a singular outcome or even a mass amount of events, the reader will eventually be able to pick up the clues. As this occurs, sometimes the reader will understand the ending before the reader finishes the book. In Façade, the reader doesn't know what the outcome will be because if one were to say: “I love you, Grace” in the middle of conversing with Grace, she will pause for a second and become oblivious to what the user has said. Yet, if the same quote is used while Trip is speaking, both Trip and Grace will interact differently, sometimes having Grace flirt with the person that is speaking to her. It is amusing because it allows for the user to go back into the narrative and try many different ways he or she can think of to end the story.
Façade feels like a game, but it also “reads” like an interactive motion picture where the user has full control. In books, we, as readers imagine the scene in our head, yet here, Façade is able to show us the picture without ever telling us too much. The user must do the work to understand why Grace and Trip fight almost all the time. It is something that can change the way readers see stories because it as able to communicate directly with the reader-player. Especially, when the A.I. is catering to human emotions, the reader is able to hear and feel the on-screen characters emotions because of the way they speak.
It's difficult to locate "Façade" within any clearly defined artistic tradition. If anything, this piece would fit into a postmodern collection because the characters have a very provisional level of agency. Instead, work itself controls the characters and, to a certain extent, the readers. The computer is in control of the situation, only allowing the user to understand why it was that s/he was invited to the “party.” The narrative is metafictional in the sense that the both Grace and Trip undermine the authority of the reader-player. If the player asks a questions that seems to openly for one of them to answer, the other artificial intelligent actor will speak in a manner that is undesirable. The reader will be slammed up against an imaginary wall and forced to answer the question; even if the person does not know how to answer it, the character will keep repeating the question and halting narrative progression.
Another interesting feature of the work is the description of the decorations. The text depicts a picture of Italy that Trip took and hangs on the apartment wall, and there are small statues that Grace has “collected” throughout her designer career. These objects intensify the mood of the narrative, where the reader-player will have to type in sentences that ignore the objects, or to learn more information about the object. The painting is one object that is highlighted almost every time the player walks into the room, even contributing to the narrative by causing Grace to steer the reader into a different path. If the player says the right thing at the right time, either Trip or Grace will have different opinions with each other; either Grace will confess that she hates the painting or Trip will demonstrate affection for Grace's statues.
In summary, "Façade" is a great collaborative piece. Even though some readers find the drama to be weak, it is strong for others. Depending on how the narrative is played out, the drama can sometimes be surprisingly amazingly, especially if the reader-player doesn't use the internet to read up on the spoilers. DO NOT use the internet to find out how to end the narrative unless you really want to spoil it for yourself.
Lukas Garcia was a student of Dr. Lisa Swanstrom for a course in Literary Theory taught at Florida Atlantic University in the Spring term of 2014.