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Reagan Library might be best described as exploratory hypertext fiction. In this work, Stuart Montfort has created an eerie world, reminiscent of the game Myst and its sequels, which seems to require a particular state of mind, a suspension of disbelief, and a total immersion into a new and unexplored universe.
Each page presents a few paragraphs of text and an image. The images, composed of strange retro-futuristic buildings in foreign marine landscapes, have clickable elements that permit the exploration of the world either by zooming into a particular aspect of the panorama or by presenting alternative views of a building or some other part of the landscape. The text, albeit in a less evident manner, also includes hyperlinks as well as text in italics, which we are told “…represent[s] important messages from the Library.” This gives the Library itself the status of a character, and one that is attempting to deliver a message to the explorer.
As an alternative reading mode, one could simply follow a sort of prescribed order from page to page. With all these possibilities, the reader might find himself confronted with similar issues to those presented by the Argentine writer Julio Cortázar’s novel Hopscotch (Rayuela), in which the possible orders of reading (following the numerical order, stopping at chapter 56 or following the prescribed table) generate only two of the many possible readings of the book. So, in the same manner and by a combination of elements, Reagan Library could also be read in many different ways. The instructions can be found by exploring the text:
- You’ll know when you’re done.
- To move is to choose.
- The world is round; you may repeat yourself.
- The man in the library can’t remember.
- The die is cast… repeatedly.
- Things will become clearer as you go.
- Every word was chosen.
The “You’ll know when you’re done” alludes to the fact that, after a while, the text starts to repeat itself and, eventually, the reader will reach a point in which she is satisfied with how much she has read.
When Reagan Library was released in 1999, the work had been created using HTML and QuickTime, but ten years later, in 2009, the images were reconfigured and now they use Flash for their delivery. Moulthrop also states that he used Pano2VR, an application developed by GardenGnome Software. The HTML of the current version has also been updated.
The intriguing landscapes and story made critics question whether Reagan Library was a game, prompting Moulthrop’s famous remark (which I have quoted when reviewing “Deviant: The Possession of Christian Shaw”): “This is not a game, this is not not a game.” There is much to be discovered within this work and with patience and imagination, the persistent reader will find his way through it: repetition is the key.
Featured in The Electric Literature Collection, Volume 1.