Digitized Watneys

The story of the Martian has been told in quite a few ways. I only knew of the book and the movie before taking this course. In fact, I heard about the movie first through the Youtube video adverts. These adverts told new parts of the story in a separate medium. This makes the Martian at least partially a transmedia narrative because, according to Jeff Ritchie, transmedia narratives are those told “across” different mediums. The digital forms of the Martian do not fit this criterium as they are simply the same story told on different platforms. What these forms do is utilize the new medium’s affordances to tell the Martian in a unique way.

The first digital form is the blog form of the Martian. This was the original form that Andy Weir put the story into. The Martian Blog is made up of entries as if Mark was posting his logs there. This form utilizes the multimedia, portability, and preservation elements of digital media, it could have utilized the collaboration and hypertextuality elements, and  it is limited in its ability to use non-linearity. According to David Golumbia, it has “become straightforward to produce documents made up largely of exclusively of printed words”. This is true in the case of the novel version of the Martian, but not the blog form. The blog utilizes the ability of multimedia to incorporate images and animations into the narrative. These outline parts of the story with great effectiveness like how the animation provided an illustration for how the space flight paths changed. The blog format also uses the benefits of portability (“reproducibility”, Golumbia) and preservation in case of “future technological change”(Golumbia). It is portable in that anyone with a link can access it and it is preserved in the Wayback Machine. The blog could have utilized both collaboration and hypertextuality, but did not as far as I know of. The online nature of the blog could have facilitated collaboration and parts of the blog could insert hyperlinks to connect to further reading into the scientific elements of the story. Finally, the blog format does not lend itself well to non-linearity as each post is supposed to be released in chronological order as if the story was happening in some kind of real time. However, part of the blog’s being a digital form allows it to be edited in a non-linear fashion, something Golumbia sees as very significant. Jeff Ritchie separates these and similar traits into affordances and constraints. The affordances of the blog form are the abilities to use multimedia, portability, preservation, collaboration, and hypertextuality. According to Ritchie, constraints can be “physical, semantic, cultural, and logical”. The discussed constraint of linearity within the blog format can be considered a logical constraint as it is simply logical that a blog be expressed in chronological order. A cultural constraint of the blog format is that many people in our culture do not read blogs anymore and the format is not as wide-reaching as some others might be. The blog format uses more affordances than it has constraints and is a strong version of the Martian.

The second format that we looked into was the Martian mobile video game. The format of a mobile game has the potential to utilize Golumbia’s non-linearity, multimedia, hypertextuality, collaboration, portability, and preservation. However, the Martian mobile game only utilizes collaboration, portability, and preservation. The game was created by Little Labs, Inc. and so was probably worked on by a group of coders rather than a single maker.  This collaboration normally allows better quality of product due to multiple perspectives working together. The portability and preservation of the game comes from the ability to download what Golumbia calls “perfect copies” of the game to multiple devices. The fact that it is a mobile app also contributes to its portability with the easy to carry devices it is on. Unfortunately, much of the game’s potential was wasted in the cases of non-linearity, multimedia, and hypertextuality. The game is completely linear with the illusion of some choice. You either win the game or die. Some dialogue might be different for each play through, but overall, the game doesn’t give much freedom. The game also doesn’t have much more than text (some pictures in the emails hardly count) despite its being a game. This lack of multimedia when the potential is so high is probably a stylistic choice to give the user a sense of how it feels to have to help Watney without being on Mars. Finally, the game lacks any direct connection to other information. Some parts of the game force you to look elsewhere for answers to problems, but this doesn’t really qualify as hypertextuality. A major constraint of the game was that it removed some aspects from the story to condense it into a fairly short game. In sum, the game version of the Martian actually utilizes three of the six video games’ potential ‘Ritchien’ affordances making it seem like a weaker version of the story although it does give one access to the perspective of Earth throughout the story that is provided.

The third and final digital format we covered this week was that of the virtual reality Mars adventure. This format is similar to video games in its potential to utilize all of Golumbia’s characteristics of digital media. Like the mobile game, it stays away from hypertextuality and non-linearity. The virtual reality also effectively utilizes collaboration, portability, and preservation like the game (the virtual reality also requires google cardboard so it is a little bit less preservable than the game). It does do something different than the game in that it utilizes multimedia very well as it uses both animation, text, and an interactive world. To add something to the Ritchien constraints of the virtual reality, it definately strays away from much of the story (I’m not sure it even was based on the Martian) and focuses on the VR aspect of being on Mars. At the very least, it gives a unique take on a perspective similar to Watney’s.

In my opinion, the blog was the best digital version of the Martian. It was able to afford many of Golumbia’s characteristics without compromising the story in any way. In comparison to the book and the movie, the blog beats both for the same reason it beat the other two versions. The ability for a text to utilize effective elements without compromising the soul of the story is what definitely is important to me. I would be interested to see what other people think is the most effective existing medium to convey this story.

-Jack Blaes




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