Dissecting Characters: A Typology of Chinese Characters in Text-based Playable Media

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Abstract (in English): 

This paper proposes a typology for studying Chinese text-based playable media (e.g. interactive installations, screen-based works, computer games) in terms of the freedom of user interaction with the Chinese characters. In the last two decades, various typologies/models/categories have been proposed to systematize the research of electronic literature and text-based digital art (Sei├ža, 2012). These classifications focus on different aspects of digital works, including but not limited to: visual experience of users, aesthetic principles, interactive features, technologies applied and structure of codes (Campas, 2004; Hayles, 2008; Strehovec, 2015). Although dissecting electronic literature with such diverse angles, these classifications are all based on examples of alphabetical languages and pay little attention to the abilities (freedom) of the user deconstructing and manipulating the basic linguistic units in the works. 

The Chinese language differentiates itself from any alphabetical-based languages by containing a huge number of graphemes instead of a dozens of letters. This creates a problem of how to input Chinese characters into western originated machines (from typewriter to computer) (Mullaney, 2017). In most of the modern commercial digital systems, all useable characters must be listed on the Unicode table as an alphanumeric code. However, these codes are arbitrarily assigned and make no sense for human users. People always need to input another set of codes or data, often based on the phonetic or written structure of a character, to the inputting software which will call the corresponding Unicode from the operating system. 

This handling of characters through “reinterpreting and rendering” (Cayley, 2003, p.281) is the norm of all Chinese computer systems. However, many Chinese text-based playable works intentionally or unintentionally sabotage such process flow and challenge the limitation imposed by the computer systems. 
Since this is a unique condition in Chinese-based works, this proposed typology will be based on the difference of how users manipulate the characters in the examined works and what extra freedom has been provided in comparison to consumer applications. This typology is not only needed for categorizing the characteristics of Chinese text-based playable media for future research, but can also provide a ground for systematically analyzing the difference between character-based and alphabetical-based languages in digital interacting environment. 

Pull Quotes: 

The Chinese language differentiates itself from any alphabetical-based languages by containing a huge number of graphemes instead of a dozens of letters. This creates a problem of how to input Chinese characters into western originated machines (from typewriter to computer) (Mullaney, 2017).

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June Hovdenakk