Electronic Literature Organization

The Electronic Literature Organization‘s mission is threefold:  to promote, preserve, and study works of electronic literature. Founded in 1999, they seek to “foster and promote the reading, writing, teaching, and understanding of literature as it develops and persists in a changing digital environment.”  Although currently “housed” by Washington State University Vancouver, the organization’s Board of Directors consists not only of scholars and teachers, but also artists, developers, and writers.  Along with maintaining digital collections and archives, the organization also hosts conferences around the world and offers prizes/awards for submissions of scholarly criticism and creative works.  It also hosts a directory which acts as both a way to discover individual works as well as an encyclopedia/glossary-style critical companion.  Although the ELO’s digital collections are freely available to view by the public, “membership” in the organization requires payment, whether individually or through one’s institution.

The ELO’s “collections” are distinct from their archives in the sense that they are curated, journal-like online publications of works of electronic literature.  The term “literature” in this context is taken loosely to include many forms of interactive and audio-visual focused media:  from interactive fiction and hypertext, to flash poetry, visual novels, and computer games.  At the moment, there are three volumes of the publication, with work currently under way on the fourth.  The format of these publications is quite interesting–an example of the third volume can be found here:  Electronic Literature Collection #3.  The home page consists of thumbnails of the works included; if an entry catches your eye, you can click through to check the entry out.  You can also sort the collection by the keyword, title, author, country, and language tabs on the page’s header.  Although some of the works can be accessed directly within one’s browser, many of them require additional software to run:  for example, the entries of interactive fiction often require the user to download a Z-machine interpreter such as Frotz.

It is clear that the editors of the collections seek to push the boundaries of traditional literary history–and indeed, one’s experience of many of the literary works included could be described as “playing” rather than “reading” in the traditional sense.  In addition, many of the works in the collections are already “endangered” in the sense that the platforms they utilize, such as Adobe Flash or the Unity web player, are quickly becoming obsolete or outmoded. By including textual descriptions and video documentation along with the source materials, the ELO hopes to preserve the insights and history of these works and to overcome their erasure in an environment of relentless technological change.