Friday, January 30, 2009

Learning from the digital Library of Babel

Note: this started a warming up to my Round Table post. Although my game of choice is not the one discussed below, I think this is still a valid contribution to the panel. Since the panel is open for two contributions per blog, I thought I should publish it on a separate post.

Some literary works beg for a digital translation.

In my last academic paper (yet unpublished in this website - shame on me, since I've finished it more than a year ago), I suggested that some literary work (in that case, specificaly Borges' short story "The Library of Babel") could be as natural to digital media as to the printed form it was first imagined for.

Here's some of its initial paragraph (translated by James Irby, available here):

"The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries, with vast air shafts between, surrounded by very low railings. From any of the hexagons one can see, interminably, the upper and lower floors. The distribution of the galleries is invariable. Twenty shelves, five long shelves per side, cover all the sides except two; their height, which is the distance from floor to ceiling, scarcely exceeds that of a normal bookcase."

This infinite library holds every book that could be possibly written (every character combination). Although this fantastic, imaginary building cannot be physically re-created, a digital representation - including its rooms, books and book's content - it's not only possible, but also done, and released in CD-ROM (back in 1996). It's called Biblioteca Total, made by Nicolás Helft and published by Argentinian group La Nacion.

The universe imagined by Borges was, in essence, a mathematical wonder. One that can be expressed in computational terms and virtual representation.

But what about the game? I am not sure Helft's CD-ROM was not limited to the exploration of the library's infinite space (although I have seen it in action, many years ago, I can't remember if there was more to it than navigating from gallery to gallery). However, the short story goes on describing searches for sacred, meaningful books among the infinite amount of available books. A game among that lines could be designed (maybe an adventure style-game, or even RPG).

So you get the idea: some literary works are more naturally translated into digital works.

Anyway, that's not the book-to-game translation I want to present for this panel. That will be on my next post.

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Copyright, Chico Queiroz