Archive for the ‘the future of tineractive fiction’ Category

The Future (of Literature) is Interactive Fiction, Part Two

March 14, 2011

This post is inspired by a post of my friend Max that was originally inspired by our mutual friend Alana who wrote a post about featuring authors in fiction. This post is not actually about authors in fiction, but about interactive storytelling. The reason I mention Max and Alana’s posts is that the circuitous way their blog posts have gotten me thinking about mine is (what I see as) the very stuff of interactive storytelling.

Alana had some thoughts about “the fun and games of featuring authors in fiction” (to use Max’s words). Max reflected on Alana’s thoughts from a metafiction angle with some references to Borges. Alana and I both commented on Max’s post with examples of other situations where people from real life (or, in general, one universe) can show up in fiction (or another universe). My comment brought me back to thinking about interactive fiction by way of the TV show Fringe one of the episodes of which (no spoilers, I promise) is this little metafictional gem where one character re-tells part of the plot of the show to another character, disguised as a steampunk noir musical. It happens that the listener is a kid, and she occasionally interrupts the storytelling to give feedback or even editorial input (“that’s not how the story should go!”).

My claim is that these long chains of writing, responding, and thinking are how stories come into being. This is not a particularly controversial claim: art derives from life; novels, in particular, derive from research of background material, long conversations with fellow writers and readers, editorial feedback, and so on. And yet, when we crack open a novel or watch a TV show or play a computer game, we face not the chain but the product at one of its points. This limits us as information consumers in two ways. First, we miss out on the stuff that came before – much of it may be rough or convoluted, but it may also shed new light on the story we are getting from the product. Second, we are tricked into thinking that the product is “the end” – that’s it for the book, or for the movie, or for the episode. In the broader world, the chain continues – people read, are inspired, give feedback, write their own stories, the author sees their feedback and thinks of a sequel, and over time, the product enters subtly into the Noosphere.

I claim that if we were able to see these chains, we would be able to look at works of fiction a different way. Less like monolithic Products and more like fuzzy Stories. Stories aren’t just about plot and characters; they’re about having fun and making sense of our world. ((In a later post, I might talk about how books, movies, etc. are Products whereas stories are Practices)) I would argue that it’s important to see the Story behind every Product, and that a richer, more contextualized presentation of fictional works produced today would benefit readers, writers and publishers alike. Maybe that’s an overly strong claim, but I am interested in it enough to share it with the world and hear your thoughts – and, of course, to write back!

The Future (of Literature) Is Interactive Fiction, Part One

November 18, 2010

A few days ago, my friend helio girl wrote a post about living in the Future. Even more recently, my friend Max posted at the great Echo Bazaar Blog on interactive fiction, specifically, on games. These two posts got me thinking about what I see as living in the future: the future of literature, or interactive fiction.

At first glance, it is not immediately obvious why interactive fiction is the future of literature. I claim that is because interactive fiction is too often defined too narrowly: as “video games as literature,” as “hypertext as literature,” and so on. It’s easy to attack these narrow definitions. Roger Ebert, for example, wrote a now-famous post declaring video games can never be art (I also recommend his later post on the subject). But they miss the larger picture: interactive fiction is not about a particular medium, or a particular mode of interaction. It’s about freedom. And that freedom is what makes interactive fiction the future of literature.

Right now, literature is still very much not free. An author (let’s assume one author) writes a book. Edits the book. Sends the book to her agent. Her agent contacts publishers about publishing this book. The agent is very busy, and the publishers are very busy, so they will only really consider a book if it’s “sellable.” If people will buy it. How do they know what people will buy? They do market research. They find out what topics are popular. As Gabriel Rossman mentions in his excellent Sociology of Mass Communication class at UCLA, the popular is the familiar. The next set of bestsellers will be very similar, topic-, style- and genre-wise, to the current set of bestsellers. And so on, unto perpetuity.

Literature is not alone in this. Video games, movies, music all follow this pattern. For a more in-depth discussion of why this is the case, I refer the interested reader again to the Sociology of Mass Communication class. For my purposes I just want to draw attention to the fact that there is a definite, and pretty rigid pattern, at least in the mainstream. This pattern seems to be making a lot of people (though frequently not the content producers, and certainly not the content consumers) a lot of money. So why do I think it’s going to go away?

Well, it’s not making a whole lot of people really happy. It may make some people *think* they are happy, just as you are happy when you are hungry and given a meal. Even if it’s the same meal, over and over, you would rather eat it than starve. But if someone else comes along and gives you a different (equally or even slightly less delicious) meal, all of a sudden you might want to switch. For the sake of variety. Interactivity brings this variety to fiction, in a way that non-interactive fiction just can’t.

So what sorts of freedom does interactivity bring to fiction? First and foremost, the freedom for the reader to participate in the story. When you read a book, what do you do? You look at some words. Maybe these words are exciting. Maybe these words inspire you and touch your imagination! Now what? Well… you can daydream about something that no one else will see. Or you could write in your diary about it that very few other people will see. Or you could write a blog post about it, or tweet about it! Your blogs and tweets are much more accessible to many more people, including the writer of that original story. This is what I would call static interaction: a writer writes something, you read it, instantly react, the writer and other readers see your reactions, and can react all on their own. That’s already a huge step up from the original, non-interactive paradigm of fiction. But there is further to go: in a dynamic interaction paradigm, the story can instantly (or very quickly) adapt to the readers’ reactions. Here’s a scenario of what such a paradigm might look like.

Imagine you’re reading a book and a piece of dialogue, or a scene description, touches off a train of thought in your head. Next to the book is a collapsible wikispace where you can put your thoughts, like notes in the margin. The author (and the reader community) has set up a simple procedural language for such notes – with a few tags, you can put some structure on your thoughts, and add a new reader-generated scene to the narrative. A 3D rendering engine run on top of the book instantly transforms this scene into a new area in a persistent world built up around the book (with the procedural language from earlier governing character interactions). Instantly, fellow readers can read your chapter and participate in your part of the world. The author can focus on her story, and keep all this content marginal, or she can go in and browse, pick what she likes, and add it to the main story (with perhaps some edits), more fully integrating your content into the narrative.

This is a lot of content, and yet I’ve just scratched the surface of interactive fiction. Hopefully, this post provides an introduction to how I see interactive fiction and why it is the future. In later posts, I will resume this topic and go into more detail on the many freedoms interactivity brings to fiction. Stay tuned for more, same (bat)time, same (bat)channel!