· · · about the work

Generally speaking, scandal is a many-storied monster; sc4nda1 is stranger still, but also begins with a telling.

What you have before you started as an essay (or perhaps, intent to rant) in response to an observation I kept reading in learned writing: namely, that electronic literature, and perhaps all textual practice in so-called new media, has so far failed to be understood, appreciated, or properly dressed for the educated table. Where, the questions ran, are the publishers, the editors, the serious critics? In a period of intense experiment and innovation, who will say which deviations from the norm yield true difference, and which are simply bizarre? More ominously: where are the naive and casual readers, those seekers of pleasurable text who ought to be the focus of design's desire? To bend an old friend's epigraph: for whom can all this funhousing be said to be fun?

While there have been admirable attempts to address these questions, they are yet unresolved. Electronic writing poses a stubborn and fundamental problem. There was, it initially seemed to me, something scandalous about the sort of work I and others have done: an inherent slipperiness or resistance to specification; a tendency to pursue technologies into unknown channels of expression; a refusal, shared with many kinds of digital production, to conform to commercial or market-informed models of reception. Indeed, the issue can be framed generally as one of exchange: new media practices do not simply, or perhaps adequately, substitute for old. They give us what we never asked for, take us where we didn't know we wished to be.

Some of the questions that occur in this situation are rudely categorical. For example: does hypertext fiction belong to the genre of the novel? Not in my view, though I respect differing opinions. Is born-digital writing still a kind of literature? Interesting question. Since I don't want to answer that one, let's try another. The affordances of digital games for learning and persuasion have recently been recognized from the highest American bench. Should we continue to consign these products to the cultural kiddie pool, or other reservoirs of shallow amusement? As Janet Murray memorably said, we need a finer language, some term more appropriate than "mere games." Perhaps, by extension, we also need new names for certain things we still call literature and culture.

Not long after framing these thoughts, I began to dream about a moment when people could engage more or less deliberately with something called post-seriousness. Dreaming is free, as the song advises; at least at the moment.

An interesting writer once noted how much there is to learn from regular access to one's dream life. However, the lessons can be disturbing. Listen in to your brain some slow-waking morning as it beats out skeins of strictly meaningless association, hovering in benthic columns of endlessly tumbling language, stringing out names that might belong to unsummoned devils, forgotten college bands, or tomorrow's dotcom. The evil that is hominy. Bitumen in space. Return chairs to the briefest dog before the critique of solids. And by similar token: An institute for the study of the post-serious.

Fortunately, I can still recognize a symptom when I say one.

Symptom of error at least, if not something worse: I had the language wrong. In drifting toward the post-serious, and specifically, in thinking about scandal in new media, I was re-playing overspliced and time-worn tapes, returning with ludicrously late retort to arguments ruled moot in the last century. In other words, scandal is the wrong word, largely because it implies someone able to respond with that mix of shock and prurient investment that fits the term scandalized. If any at the humanistic feast still match that description, they are probably from my generation; but my business is with those come more lately.

This realization brought to mind something a wise colleague once said to me, many years ago, speaking patiently to the young man I then was. When I first described this strange new thing I had just found called hypertext, and what it might imply for writing, she said: "Ah, but now you will have to create a new language."

She was right, of course. These days you should always change your language every six months or three thousand revolutions, whichever comes first. So I have replaced scandal in my working vocabulary with the more appropriate sc4nda1, produced not so much through troplogy or erasure, but by a kind of bitwise transformation. Like other key terms in our common language -- e.g., the Tetragrammaton, or the equally numinous http:// -- sc4nda1 is properly unutterable, or at least unpronounceable; though following the precedent of someone who proposed to voice http:// as hoopla, you can always say thingy if need arises.

What does it mean, this new term of art? My best response to that question is the present work, with which you will need to play along; but I do say in preface that sc4nda1 is less a matter to be propositionally defined, than an occasion for differentiating practice.

That is, when I made the pivot from scandal to sc4nda1, it became clear that the work in question would need something other than the standard form of writing. This is partly because I am addressing people (of any age) whose literacy practices have expanded to involve manual operations other than flipping pages or clicking hypertext links. Also, I am trying to frame an argument that is as much in new media -- or the domain of the Universal Turing Machine -- as it may be applied to such inventions from elsewhere.

So you have before you something less investigative than exploratory: not so much work of detection as ongoing violation of lately dubious principles. This is (perhaps inevitably) a post-serious entertainment for hand, eye, ear, and brain, other organs optional. If it deserves a generic name, try arcade essay, a cross between philosophical investigation (well okay, rant) and primal video game. True to its object-oriented essence, the work no doubt inherits some of the worst attributes of both, but hopefully some good as well. There is one sure way to find out.

· · · into the game

There are two modes, gameplay and reading; reach the latter through the former, and vice versa.


Though I have taken liberties in my design, the game will be familiar to anyone of a certain age, and should be easily grasped by beginners. The left-side paddle is yours, operated by the mouse or other pointing device. Unlike in the original, you score simply by returning what's sent at you, with no need to defeat the digital opponent, who always makes a clean return in any case. Should you fail a level, it will automatically repeat itself.

If you've had enough, close window or browser altogether. Navigate elsewhere; or read a book! However, do not expect to reach more of this writing (assuming it's wanted) without playing the game.

As you play, especially on more advanced levels, certain distracting or annoying things may happen on the screen. They are most likely intentional.


The writing is animated and evanescent. That's a technical description, not a stylistic claim. Text streams in, one character at a time, hangs around for a period of seconds, then gradually melts to nonsense under the heat of your gaze.

Clicking at any point left of the midline of your screen will cause the program to re-stream either the current passage, if it has not yet completed its appearance, or the previous passage, if the stream is complete. You may use this option to recover a text that has changed beyond recognition; however, the recovery option is not available when your screen says "LEVEL UP."

Clicking to the right of the midline advances to the next passage, or eventually the next game level.

Various noises and voices may hector you as the text rolls in. Best not to respond.

· · · technicalities

This project was first developed using Asynchronous Javascript And XML (AJAX), with a bit of HTML 5 for audio. AJAX requires no media accessories or plug-ins, and all source files are open to inspection, if you know where to look. However, the AJAX version is fully supported at this point by only two Web browsers, Mozilla Firefox and Apple's Safari. (I have tested these browsers in both Windows and MacOS, though not Linux.)

For improved accessibility, I re-engineered the entire system using Adobe Flash and Actionscript. There are thus two working versions, identical in text and game design.

The link below will direct you automatically to an appropriate version. If you are running Firefox or Safari, you will see the AJAX version. Users of other programs will be directed to the Flash version, which requires a reasonably current Flash plug-in.

If you want to bypass this selection, you may access the AJAX or Flash version by clicking one of the links in this sentence.

Because the project uses only words, simple graphics, and brief sounds, it does not require extensive bandwidth; however, it may run slowly on older or less powerful systems. At this point it is not accessible in Apple's iOS, and is untested in Android.

With apologies to the audibly challenged (a class I seem to be joining), the project includes sound components, so speakers or headphones are suggested; though the work is no less (or more) intelligible in silence.


(On return visits to this page, click the title image to start the first level.)