Flying's Narratives

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Week 5, beyond hypertext

1. Montfort argues that interactive fiction is distinctively different from hypertext fiction, stating:

"There is… nothing in the nature of the lexia or the link, those fundamental elements of hypertext, that allows the reader to type and contribute text or provides the computer with the means to parse or understand natural language. […] Hypertext fiction also does not maintain an intermediate, programmatic representation of the narrative world, as interactive fiction does."

In terms of understanding how these two forms relate to/differ from narrative, is this distinction significant? Or are they more closely related that Montfort would like to admit? Discuss.

while i was reading Montfort's paper, i was actually very confused, as he makes the distinction between 'interactive fiction' and 'hypertext fiction'. only after i have read his eloration through the example of For a Change, I managed to get what he means by an interactive fiction: one that requires the input from the users, most likely in the format of commands, to unfold an narrative. Essentially i don't feel Montfort's claim is established and it is highly argurable that he's a bit 'dogmatic' over the issue of IF and HF(hehe maybe it's just my personal prejudice). but anyway let me relate IF and HF to narrative first, and to me the distinction is very insignificant.


When describing interactive fiction, Montfort introduced the term 'potential narrative'. to him, a narrative is something linear, a 'told' story. That's why he put the word 'potential' before narrative, because in the case of interactive fiction, the story is 'untold', or at least, told but not complete. It would include a prologue, sort of the beginning of a story, with a setting, or environment for the user to explore. So, in an IF, all exsistents are pre-set, and something else pre-set is the rules of exploration, or the commands. meanwhile the computer would also commit some of its memory (RAM while playing and hard-disk after the user saves the session). this pseudo input-memory-out process completes the requirement for 'interactivity'. however in terms of narrative, most of the 'characters' are minimised to 'non-playing characters' while the only 'playing character' becomes the user. the user creates the narrative from the potential, within the boundary of the programme. That's probably also why interactive fiction itself can never be considered at a form of literature.

There is… nothing in the nature of the lexia or the link, those fundamental elements of hypertext, that allows the reader to type and contribute text or provides the computer with the means to parse or understand natural language. I would not agree on this point, and it is here that i found the dogmatism. Montfort is essentially arguing that the distinction between IF and HF lies in the difference that IF requires user to type in understandable 'natural language' to construct the narrative, while hyperlinks would probably need severy clicks from the mouse. but essentially they are the same function: making a choice. the difference is in the form. nontheless, the user constructs his own narrative through typing in commands in the same way as he clicks his mouse. it maybe argued that IF looks more 'free' and 'liberal' and the command line is pre-set to be empty and the user may type in anything as a choice, as compared to hypertext that everything is on the screen and thus the number of choices is limited. however, if we go deep into the 'diegetic, extradiegetic and hypodiegetic commands as introduced by Montfort, we may just realised that IF is offering the same false sense of choice as the hypertext: the choices are limited by the number of commands or key words, in the same way hypertext builders decide on how may links they are going to build. IF is more linguistic, when for HF, the language part is built-in through the thinking and exploration process of the user.

Hypertext fiction also does not maintain an intermediate, programmatic representation of the narrative world, as interactive fiction does. I would agree upon this point to a certain extent, that IF has a more 'contrived' programme, or plot, while the 'programmatic representation' of hypertexts seem more casual. As in, in an IF, which is similar to an RPG game, the flow of events is fixed, through some riddles or puzzle, e.g., the PC could not proceed unless he obtains certain tools or spoken to certain NPC. Hypertexts, on the other hand, could be more random. IF would require a goal for the user to achieve, which may not be necessary for hypertext. nonetheless, through the empoyment of 'locks', hypertexts may also exhibit the more systematic form of 'programmatic representation. thus, to summarise, although there seems to be some minor distinctions between hypertexts and interactive fiction, they are apparently cousins, if not brothers belonging to a much bigger family, and in most cases, they are much closer than Montfort has imagined.

2. Espen Aarseth defines cybertext as a perspective on textuality, which considers a work as a textual machine, and sees the reader as having to make a non-trivial effort to traverse the text. Discuss whether Scott McCloud's "Carl" comic strip can be considered a cybertext.

Aarseth's definition fo cybertext involves a triangular stability involing the  operator, the mediu and teh verbal. It has jumped out the etymological conflicts with the prefix-cyber, and thus extends the notion of cybertext to many other forms of media which carries the spirit, characteristic and mechaism of cybertext.
the 'Caul' comic strip looks like a multicursal labyrinth upon my first glance. whether it could be considered as a cybertext is rather subjective, as the notion of 'non-trivial' may have different standards to different people. To some extent, the comic strip may be considered as a primitive form of cybertext, as the readers need to think and make decisions along the way as they explore the web of frames. however, the decision make are rather trivial. in the first place there aren't much choices to make, and to add on to that, not much logic or thinking is required to make the decisions: it's just a matter of feeling.

3. Does a potential narrative such as Paul Fournel's "The Tree Theatre: A Combinatory Play" satisfy Crawford's definition of interactivity? Could it be considered an example of interactive media? Why/why not?

If i am crawford and i'm asked to give a scoreon interactivity on Fournel's work, i would give 50/100. the reasoning is actually a bit dogmatic.

Crawford's definition of interactivity has two fundamental components: it is the listen-think(memory)-talk process, and the other being that the process must be two-way and forms a 'cyclic' process. Fournel's "the tree theatre: a combinatory play' would satisfy part of crawford's definition. The audience would look and listen to the scence, think about it, and respond to it through some voting process, and the piece of play would be 'respond', as in oriented in the way the audience would prefer.

However, on difficult part to fulfil is the 'memory' component. in this case, the 'memory' is pre-determined through carefully planned script writing, and it could not be change, as least during the play. the relationship between crawford's model in interactivity is two-way: thinking would relate something to the memory, and the memory would be a reference to the thinking process. nevertheless after the thinking part the memory itself would be changed. Fournel's model has only a 'static' memory. the problem of a 'static' memory, together with the problem of choice and voting, would give a pseudo-sense of interactivity, which would be discussed later.

if we look at crawford's interactivity from another perspective, we would observe that the outcome of the response would be very different by different people, because they have different thinking habits and past experience( i.e. memory). however, in the case of 'the three theatre', the introduction of 'choice' reduces the number of possible scenarios from happening. the audience, in this case, are 'guided', and the voting would also imply that some minority responses would be ingnored. Thus, the interactivity as designed here is sheared so as to acommondate the reality of theatre performance. nontheless, the involvement of the audience would definitetly put it under the realm of interactive media, and the question would instead be the degree of interactivity, as put by crawford.


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