Melody Mou‘s interactive digital narrative “At Nightfall, the Goldfish” was published by The New River Journal in 2021. This work of hypertext fiction examines themes of coping with grief and addressing one’s past mistakes. Mou presents her story through five individual first-person narratives, with each recount connecting to the next to form what she calls a “maze narrative structure.” Users can access this source through the link below or by visiting The New River Journal website. No installations or downloads are necessary to view this digital narrative, it is open-access and may easily be opened in a new browser tab. “At Nightfall” is compatible with computers and smartphones, as well as similar devices. However, the digital narrative achieves its maximum potential only on computers, as the larger screen allows for an ideal reading experience and some of the interactive features translate poorly or disappear altogether on alternative devices. For instance, the narrative’s coding is set up so that in each character’s story, a user is first shown a scrambled column of key words. Then, as the user hovers their cursor over the collection of terms, the full paragraph is revealed. In contrast, on a tablet or smartphone, this smooth function becomes awkward, as the user must tap on each small word for the character’s story to appear.
This multimodal work allows users to read on-screen text while water splashes and ripples follow their cursor’s movements; thus, “At Nightfall” provides a largely visual user experience. In her description of her narrative, Mou explains her desire to “break the limitation[s] of the online reading experience by creating a bridge between vision and tactile sense” (Mou). In this way, “At Nightfall” engages the tactile senses too, as the jQuery Ripples-based plugin water closely mirrors the true responses of a disturbed puddle. Furthermore, the user has agency in choosing the size and location of splashes or ripples (based upon their cursor movements), just as in real life. Thus, the digital narrative creates aspects of tactile interaction using only ordinary computer hardware. Under the “about” hyperlink on the digital narrative’s main screen, Mou provides users with the option to read the story without interactive features as well (click Here to read in this format). Since “At Nightfall” surpasses the computational boundaries of a merely digitized article, it allows for greater user engagement. Mou also incorporates an open scope (the quantity of a work which is viewable to users), so that users may access the entire narrative should they choose. Here, the tractability, or “a user’s ability to manipulate resources” (Liu 506) remains low. While the user can freely navigate between sections of text, there are no real ways to alter the storyline nor opportunities for multiple outcomes.
Mou’s media format is central to her work of electronic literature as it provides the narrative’s interactive components while creating its aquatic ambiance. With four of the five character testimonials mentioning water, and the goldfish embodying a significant textual symbol, the water plugins and their realism play an essential role in bringing Mou’s digital narrative to life. The idea that “electronic literature tests the boundaries of the literary and challenges us to re-think our assumptions of what literature can do and be” (Hayles par. 5), seems to describe “At Nightfall” perfectly. By incorporating multiple levels of user engagement and a freeing digital structure, this electronic narrative distances users from their expectations of literature and may inspire new literary interpretations to emerge.
Although no official reviews or criticisms have yet been published on “At Nightfall,” I enjoyed reading and engaging with this piece. The operability is simple, and very little hypertext or digital literature experience is necessary to navigate this work. I found the overall source to be thoughtful and creative, particularly the attention to detail in the narrative’s unifying aquatic theme. The ability to read each character’s version of the story provides several perspectives and multiple ways to consider the relationships between them. Furthermore, this ergodic work of e-literature offers a plethora of subtextual messages to explore. For instance, the reoccurring reference to a yellow rose (a flower symbolic of jealousy, ended relationships, and friendship) provides several lenses from which to view the narrative and characters (Blooms by Heinau). And, as George Landow articulates, “hypertext systems permit the individual reader to choose his or her own center of investigation and experience” (Landow 13), that is, Mou’s users can read this narrative in whichever order they like. With no set beginning or conclusion, some may find “At Nightfall, the Goldfish” ambiguous, yet this cyclical narrative is certainly waterlogged with meaning!
This entry was written for Dani Spinosa’s class ENGL 4309H: Digital Adventures in English at Trent University in February 2022.
Hayles, Katherine N. “Electronic Literature: What is it?” Electronic Literature Organization, 2 Jan. 2007, www.eliterature.org. Accessed 10 Feb. 2022.
Blooms by Heinau. “Yellow Roses: History, Meaning, and Symbolism.” 2022, www.bloomsbyheninau.com. Accessed 10 Feb. 2022.
Landow, George P. Hypertext: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology. John Hopkins University Press, 1992.
Liu, Alan. “The End of the End of the Book: Dead Books, Lively Margins, and Social Computing.” Michigan Quarterly Review, Sept. 2009, pp. 499-520.