Thinking In Fragments – Assignment 2 (Development 4)

Responding to Interactive Fiction and Class Discussion

Last week the difference between nonfiction and fiction work was discussed, whereby the former was deemed more ‘elastic’ – meaning, a viewer won’t be sure of what happens next as there are endless possibilities and almost no restrictions placed upon a creator – and the latter – more rigid, for a carefully crafted, defined world must exist in order for fictional work to retain its sense of familiarity and appear realistic to a viewer. Also mentioned – that the online environment is more open to interacting with screen projects.

I looked at two fictional works in an online environment – ‘Eat Me’ (2017) by Chandler Groover and ‘A Beauty Cold and Austere’ (2017) by Mike Spivey.

“The typical work of fiction isn’t very interactive, in the sense that the reader has no choice over what happens in it. The author has completely determined the setting, the plot, the characters, and what those characters choose to do. The reader’s choices are limited to reading or not reading (or perhaps skipping ahead).” (Eat Me, 2017)

One of the first things I noticed about these online works was their limited understanding. Through their inability to comprehend full sentences (as opposed to succinct commands) and other complexities, we are reminded that these story-telling devices are not human, that they do not possess the ability to communicate with us, and that they are programs telling us a story. Emphasis on the telling, you see. There is as much of a limit on options as there is in a ‘typical work of fiction’. As told in Eat Me, of the nature of online interactive fiction, “of course, the reader does not have complete control over the story or the main character; the author has created the setting, much of the plot, and the characters, while circumscribing the set of actions available to the main character.” This doesn’t sound very different to the likes of traditional fiction works. From my own experience, I felt as if there was a right and wrong choice – and the story would not proceed to the next chapter until I discovered and chose the correct one that was already preplanned. Therefore, is there any significant difference between tangible fiction and fiction that we see on our screens? I believe that in both, there is the opportunity for interaction, where the reader can choose when/how the story advances. When I was in primary school, I would read books from the ‘Give Yourself Goosebumps’ series by R. L. Stine, which was a fictional horror gamebook series that would allow the reader to make choices in the story. A negative outcome would occur if you were to make bad choices, and a positive one for questionably good choices. Decisions were made by turning to a specified page number. In the same way as projects like Eat Me, this model was interactive and the story would progress by “the reader telling the main character what to do”, despite there being limited choices and outcomes. As Manovich states, “in short, computer characters can display intelligence and skills only because programs place severe limits on our possible interactions with them”, (page 34).

In both typical fiction work and online interactive fiction, there seems to be the same amount of reading. I was bored of reading when I engaged with the online work, and wanted some visuals put in front of me. But why don’t I need visuals when I’m reading, say, a novel? I chalk it up to being accustomed to seeing images on my computer screen. I noted thinking – why is this project so drawn out? There’s so much reading to be done on the screen that it hurt my eyes. Why doesn’t this project that is exclusively online, cater to a shorter attention span, which is often attributed to the instant-gratification aspect that technology (and the speed of the Web more specifically) has granted us with?

This has only been my first encounter with interactive fiction, and while I value its general ability to engross a reader and make them feel like an influential presence in the outcome of a story, I will have to continue engaging with these kinds of projects until I find one that has this same effect for me.

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