“Pry open a troubled mind and hold its thoughts in your hands” – Danny Cannizzaro and Samantha Gorman
Video games are commonly associated with the stereotypical image of an acne prone face, greasy haired, Doritos eating nerd-boy who stays up till late hours of the night staring at a bright screen playing his favorite game. Those games have habitually been tied with princesses in distress, castles, and men who have to travel through lands to save them. But when phones got smart, enough to hold apps, games were then transferred from a narrow demographic to the public. From phones, to ipads, to laptops, games could be taken anywhere by anyone. With the popularity of games rising, there was a demand for a wider variety of game plots. Interactive literature was not often associated with the gaming industry, being that it’s stories were often linear with drastic different changes from player to player. To answer that demand the Tender Claws studio, comprised of Samantha Gorman and Danny Cannizzaro, created Pry, a self proclaimed “ hybrid of cinema, gaming, and text.” Pry is categorized as an interactive novella exploring the life and memories of James, and expert demolitioner and returning soldier from the Gulf War. Where Pry classifies as a novella, narrative habits found in traditional games within the app proves it to be much more of a game than anything else. What makes a game run is its code. Often in games those codes produce IF/THEN statements: saying that, for example, [If] the player goes thru the red door, [Then] the player will fall down a hole. These kind of statements demonstrate a form of persuasion controlled by rule based interactions that introduces the concept of procedural rhetoric to its players. These statements and commands force the player to physically act out the process of text, creating a harmonious atmosphere between them and their game. Through the use of procedural rhetoric, Pry encodes playable representations of situations and ideas into its narrative, showing that the format and platform of this novella allows a more interactive experience over other literary genres.
Now what exactly makes up a video game? If you pair Pry against any “classic” video game, such as Super Mario Bros. or The Legend of Zelda, you will see that there are the same elements running through all three games. The relationships you make with particular characters in Pry is a component of gaming that is beneficial to the overall experience. Relationships made in a game are more engaging than those found in books because they appeal to more than just one sense: they appeal to sight, sound, and touch. All of these elements are stimulated by the visuals and auditory cues that are set off as the player prys into the game. The player builds relationships with the characters in the game, feeling directly involved in the story, adding the appeal of instant acceptance. Lastly, the most childlike element that Pry includes into its narrative is the element of discovery. Exploration in any land, virtual or physical, and the discovery of it’s secrets solicit the players most childlike memories. Learning new things, discovering the unknowns is part of the allure to most gamers. Discovery at its purest brings you back to a child-like mindset where one can feel comfortable checking behind every rock, opening every chest, because they know that in that virtual world, there will be no repercussions for having a wondering mind.
These relationships made between the players and characters is yet another aspect that games have over books. The player becomes directly involved with the characters through primarily the use of touch, one of the most powerful senses. In chapter three, titled Jacob and Esau, the player gets to learn about the story of brothers through the use of braille. Being on a tablet format though, the braille is flattened and does not protrude off of
the page. The player can run their finger over the braille line, or each individual word, and receive an image or video pertaining to said word(s). Jacob and Esau, biblically, are always in a state of struggle with one another. Within the images of that chapter, the player gets to learn of how James and his brother (as a child) as well as James and Luke (his brother in arms) mimic the story of Jacob and Esau. Pry demonstrates that a character, though written in braille, does not need to be touched to know their story.
The element of discovery and exploration is key in any video game, whether that is in the game or within the mind of the player. Discovery brings a childlike feature to the game, letting the player know that only when they do so will they get rewarded. Diamonds and extra content in the appendix are both rewarded to the player when exploring as far as they can into the game. Learning new things and discovering the unknown plays hand in hand with the curiosity that comes with being human. Pulling the text apart, turning your phone from landscape to portrait mode, and looking into every sentence by way of prying inward all help. Even in the prologue video, the player through exploration, will find that through the turning of the phone, different objects in the video can be seen, depending on what perspective the player is viewing it at.
From building sensory and emotional relationships with the characters to unlocking concealed content to discovering a new world where books and games can be one in the same, Pry allows the reader to become a character within the novella. Without the touch, the sensitivity of the reader, Jame’s world would not see the light. Just like a physical book of leaves, Pry requires and depends on the reader to manipulate the text, whether in the flipping of a page or the pinching of a screen, so that a deep reading can be achieved. The story in Pry benefits when played as a game because it allows the sensory and plot details to fully emerge from the depths of James’ mind through the physical forcefulness of the reader prying into narrative.
Tender Claws is a comprised of two media artists, Samantha Gorman and Danny Cannizzaro, who have been collaborating for 10 years. Their most recognizable novella Pry has been a forerunner in both the hybrid literature and eLiterature world – creating interactive experiences you can carry in your pocket. Pry was selected by Apple as one of the top 25 Apps of 2015. Click their picture above to see what their doing now.