My sister showed me muffinfilms.com when I was very little. It’s mostly a bunch of short, cute videos featuring muffins. There are a couple of games where you can interact with the video and create different outcomes. The videos are also created in flash, so they have that sort of game quality to them.
Muffinfilms was created by Amy Winfrey for her MFA thesis project at the UCLA Animation Workshop in 2000. She also has a couple other websites of flash animation to explore, including Makingfiends.com, which sparked the short TV show, Making Fiends.
That’s one of the creepy things about the Muffinale. At the end, she picks up one of the singing muffins (yes, they sing, too), and takes a bite out of its head. And then there’s cheering. I was in Elementary School when I first saw this and it creeped me out. I didn’t run away screaming, but it still creeped me out. Imagine a hunter shooting Jasmine’s pet tiger in Aladdin and then turning his pelt into a floor rug. On-screen. That’s what it felt like.
When I thought of this, my first feeling was that a) it could be Elit because it’s flash-based, and b) it’s not Elit because it’s a bunch of films.
But then I thought back to The Graveyard and I thought about the differences between that game and muffinfilms. The Graveyard is mostly a piece that is designed to make readers/players think about what’s going in the story and what an audience could get out of such a story. Themes like loneliness, sadness, growing old, living in a busy/loud world, enjoying simple pleasures, simple beauty, and so on, appear. All from watching an old woman walk into a graveyard and (possibly) sit down. If you purchase the game, you get to watch the woman die, which brings up other concepts like how our society views death as entertainment and also how we view it as a story. The disconnect between viewers and news stories comes up as a concept: people just don’t care unless it directly affects their lives. And, even then, the idea has to be thrown in their faces.
All of these ideas and more come out of The Graveyard, which one of the simplest “games” I’ve ever heard of.
Then there’s Lexia to Perplexia, which is also a concept-heavy work with a relatively simple user interface. You click on or scroll over things to make stuff happen. There’s no real “puzzle solving” or discovery. There is exploration (to get all of the readings). But the work, for the most part, is just reading and analyzing what you got from that reading. What do you see in the word/symbol mixes? What does that say about Internet culture, social networks, relationships between people with the digital age, and so on? What does it say about our abilities of comprehension and intelligence, and our ability to see more in simple things?
All of THAT is from a (relatively) simple work.
Yet neither of these are “simple” works. It is extremely difficult to create the rather highly detailed graveyard scene the old woman is in. To add the sounds in the background, the song, make the woman look life-like, and so on. Creating a work as complexly written as Lexia to Perplexia is also extremely difficult. That is a lot of time in design and writing down story concepts.
So I thought about these and looked back at muffinfilms. Designing a flash video that is GOOD and ENJOYABLE is not easy. There’s scripting, story concepts, dubbing (since the majority of the videos have voice parts), music, sound effects, coloring, effects, and so on. I don’t mean that “time taken” makes something a piece of Elit. I just mean that all of these works share levels of creation difficulty.
All of these works are also meant, primarily, to be watched. Lexia to Perplexia creates a reflection on the frustration of randomly clicking things for results on computers, but it’s principally meant to be read, which requires watching the screen and not following some sort of game story. The only thing to DO in The Graveyard is to watch, and the majority of the muffinfilms are, well, films. To be watched and enjoyed. It is our final analysis of these stories that matters most, and what thoughts the works bring to mind. What they make us think about. What they tell us about our culture and society. What they tell us about ourselves as people. What they tell us about technology.
While Amy Winfrey’s primary goal was most likely to make something that looked good and was enjoyable (as well as experimenting with different ways to use flash), I find it hard to believe that she didn’t want her viewers to THINK about things when they were watching the films. The films are too creepy or pointed or strange at times to NOT make a viewer think about it. Analysis also makes them more enjoyable. What do you get out of Muffinale? That it’s interesting. That kid shows are rather terrifying when viewed through the lens of experience and what they’re actually saying (didn’t someone do a Dora the Explorer article on here that was rather terrifying?). That singing is a great way to end a story as well as creep people out A LOT. That the little things in life can still be important. And so on. So much of Eliterature and literature as a whole matters because of what the reader brings into it, and not necessarily what the author originally intended. That’s why discussion over work is on-going. I think that a discussion of muffinfilms could last for some time, like any of the works we’ve discussed in class.
I am overall uncertain whether or not this counts as electronic literature, although it is online, there is story, it is original, it’s made in flash (like a number of the games we’ve used throughout the semester) and there is some play-along capability. There are also a number of snubs towards movie tropes and some of the limitations of flash creation. These are films (even if they are extremely short) and, at the end of the day, they’re just interesting things to look at online.
I hope you enjoy them if you take a look!