“Dreamaphage” is written by Jason Nelson, a digital and hypermedia artist and poet from Gold Coast, Australia. His games and electronic writing combine a range of technological formats, including sound and flash animation. Readers are often required to interact with the works through clicking on icons, scrolling through sequences, and highlighting with the mouse. One of the crucial considerations in Nelson’s work is the relationship between biology and technology.
“Dreamaphage” is a multimodal document about a parasitic virus that reproduces itself inside its host’s dreams. The opening screen, which provides an entry point into the work, presents the following quotation from “Dr. Bomar Felt, Wellington Hospital”: “All of the methods are errors. The words of these books, their dreams, contain the cure. But where is the patter? In sleeping the same dream came again. How long before I become another lost?” Three layers of sound emerge that, together, evoke an institutionalized or hospital setting: the sounds of heavy boots in an echoing hallway, a sweeping “janitorial” sound, and a synthesizer chord that erratically changes pitch. The discontinuities of the sounds produce a surreal atmosphere of perceptual distortion that evokes the experience of feverish illness.
Nelson presents the medical charts of five unnamed patients who have contracted the fatal virus. The medical charts describe symptoms of infection, such as an “increasing and reoccurring catatonic dream state,” being “confused and awkwardly frightened,” and producing an “unintelligible gargle.” For Patient #094-8AID, “the virus, his dream infection has raised his IQ considerably,” while for Patient #05781-ci(seasons), “the dream seems to have taken over most of the memory.” The disparity—and, in some cases, absurdity—of dreamphage symptoms produces an uncertainty about the nature of the illness. The reader, in trying to “understand” dreamphage, is left as confused as the virus’ victims.
The reader may interact with “Dreamaphage” by changing the orientation of the geometric shapes on the background: moving the mouse vertically (the Y-axis) affects the number of people who are “sick,” and moving the mouse horizontally affects the number of people who are “insane.” Other aspects of the work’s usability, however, are impaired because some of the software used to build “Dreamphage” is no longer operational: in order to access more information about patients, the user is prompted to click on patient medical reports; however, the version of Flash required to perform this is now out-dated. This brings up a unique limitation of electronic literature: because programming and design software are continually evolving, electronic works are fated to lose some—or all—of their functionality if they are not regularly updated. This functional silencing is somewhat ironic in the case of “Dreamphage”—a work about viral proliferation, a process that relies on the faithful replication of genetic information that is essentially code.
Stephanie Killam was a student of Dr. Kiki Benzon for a course in Contemporary Fiction taught at the University of Lethbridge, Canada during the Winter term of 2011.