(Commentary assumes Ana Somnia player had webacam enabled.)
In approaching Ana Somnia by Kim Köster, I had to pick up haul myself through the “is this e-lit?” dance.
Said dance involves furtively going through your class notes, then the class’ class notes, then some articles on the web before honing in on the most convenient definition that enables you to do whatever the hell you want. In this case we’re rolling with the “digital born” set of parameters of clarification for what qualifies as e-lit.
Still, that did not cover everything.
Ana Somnia is not a hypertext, it is not quite a game, and it could maybe barely be considered interactive fiction. Where I would prefer to dub it digital poetry and move on, there are almost no words at all: A title card to tell you what you are looking at and a tired Ana informing you, “no sleepy, it’s too bright.”
With that unsettled, we are quickly thrown into a minor crisis of personal agency.
When you swing your cursor by and a butterfly takes off, or the teddy turns its head, you are secure. You have a place in the world of Ana Somnia. Of course, a moment or two later you realize you only have superficial agency, bearing no real direction overall. Maybe.
There’s more randomly generated output than the dovetailing effects of your seemingly inconsequential interactions.
In what passes for narrative, there are no real choices. Knocking over that jar won’t change a thing, though you can do it if you like. You have only one real move, the extent of your agency in Ana Somnia is in making that move or not.
The dreams hurtle along without consideration for your actions or influence, no stopping for anything unless you want to start at the beginning.
On another level it’s even more interactive than any of those texts. It could care less what you do to your keypad, and is ambivalent about your cursor, but it really really cares about light bulbs.
When the lights go off the dreams creep in and they will be there, in the dark, as long as you are. With you until you turn on the lights.
Despite its seeming indifference to user interaction, Ana Somnia manages to break (or appears to break) the fourth wall more thoroughly than any work limited to point and click, the interaction bound to the interface.* It’s not you that affects little Ana’s dream, but the environment. She can’t sleep with the lights on, all you can do is turn them off for her and watch the dreams climb out.
*Yes okay webcam is as much interface as a mouse or track pad but what I’m getting at is it’s different, it’s causing the user to mentally link the artificial digital environment of Ana’s room and dream with the physical environment of wherever they actually are in meatspace when interacting with the world of Ana Somnia.**
**Your light effectively becomes the light in Ana’s room thereby making her room an extension of your space, how neat is that?***
***It’s pretty neat.