Concerning Galatea

(reposted from http://kartud.wordpress.com/2011/01/16/concerning-galatea/)

I am what you think I am; I am what your treatment makes of me.

–Galatea

Galatea, by Emily Short, caught my attention on a number of points.

Part the first: A work of interactive fiction that is about interactive fiction

Galatea takes place in a futuristic art gallery showcasing moving, talking statues that can hold limited conversations with their audience. As we learn from the main character’s comments and inner monologue, one of the ways in which these “animates” may be judged is by the quality of their responses. Part of this is determined by how well animates respond to novel situations or simulate human-like traits (e.g., out of the ordinary questions, depth and breadth of knowledge, as well as emotional displays and spontaneous humor).

Interestingly enough, this is also how many players judge what they perceive as the quality of interactive fiction. Upon finding some deficiency in the system – either deliberately, using out-of-the-box commands, or unintentionally, just by not doing things as the author intended – they are often quick to dismiss it as shoddy and incomplete (despite the near impossibility of anticipating a player’s every possible whim). Galatea speaks directly to this, with

You feel a twinge of disappointment.  Other things about this piece are so promising: the meticulous attention to detail on the body, the delicacy of the facial expressions, the variability of mood.  There are those who would call that inconsistency, or lack of a coherent artistic vision; but you’ve seen too many pieces stereotypes made animate. The hint of instability–
But no piece is going to get a serious critical reception with such a pathetic database.  And that’s that.

Thus, despite conversing with what the audience may easily believe at this point to be a genuine individual rather than a programmed chat-bot, the protagonist dismisses it on the basis that it did not have total knowledge of all things (a very high standard for anyone). In a way, then, Galatea could be seen as speaking directly to players of interactive fiction, imploring them not to look for what is missing, but rather to treasure what is there.

Part the second: Many paths, many stories, many universes of discourse

According to the author, there are somewhere in the area of 70 different endings for Galatea. Unlike many interactive stories which branch outward at a certain point but then come back to one or two endings, this is a truly branching story where player actions have a genuine effect on the outcome.

However, I personally took issue with the fact that not all of these stories are logically consistent with each other. For example, in one ending, it is revealed that the statue that the protagonist has been speaking with is actually being controlled by the nearby artist and that the entire backstory of the statue was a fabrication. In another ending, the statue comes down and strangles (and, we are led to believe, murders) the protagonist over how lightly the statue’s feelings were treated. I highly doubt that the artist would have done such a thing, and thus the two generated stories are logically inconsistent with each other. While this is certainly a matter of opinion, I cannot help but feel as though the author is “cheating” when they do this. To borrow an illustration from the video game Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, there comes a point where the main character faces off with another character in a game of Russian Roulette, each having a pistol with (at most) one bullet in it. If the player chooses to shoot to the side of the other character, the bullet fires through a nearby wall. If the player chooses to shoot the other character, nothing happens and the other character reveals (with a laugh) that he used blanks.

I personally always felt cheated by this, as it destroys the illusion of acting within a real world, and instead shows that the author’s way of dealing with player choice was to circumvent it rather than really address it. While this does not seem to be the motivation in Galatea, I still can’t help but feel frustrated by this inconsistent universe.

Part the third: An aside concerning Pygmalion the Lover and Pygmalion the Tortured, Raving, Suicidal Misanthrope

I find it interesting that in the original Pygmalion myth, the artist fell in love with his statue and wished that it could become real. After his wish was granted, he and the former statue were eventually married. In Galatea, on the other hand, Pygmalion is very unhappy when his creation comes to life, asking it to return to a non-living, statue state. He rejects his creation and quickly sells it, committing suicide thereafter. While the latter certainly makes for richer dramatic fodder, I can’t help but feel as though I’m missing something in regards to there being some stronger or more meaningful reason for the change. Any thoughts?

-Dave Turka

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~ by kartud on January 18, 2011.

2 Responses to “Concerning Galatea”

  1. Your post delved very deeply into Galatea; it’s clear that you did more than just type a couple questions into it! While I did notice that Galatea reacts differently depending on the time-course of events, the inconsistent storyline that you mentioned is definitely something to talk about (I feel cheated too now that I know about it!). I also really like the point about Pygmalion. It would be good to have a refresher on that myth and discuss the differences between the two stories. Does Galatea’s author specifically say she Pygmalion was an inspiration or model for Galatea or did you simply notice the similarities?

    I’m really glad you brought these points out! My experience with Galatea was mostly trying to figure out what questions she responded to, deciphering an unknown language in a way. You studied the actual story that she told, which is a very different and interesting angle to the piece.

  2. Comment above by Diana Huang

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