Conditions of Presence: Topological Complementarities in The Silent History

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

As everyday network communication practices and habits of media consumption adapt to digital media technologies, creators of narrative fictions must meet the emerging expectations of readers and design digital fictions to invite and integrate opportunities for participation. Yet as additive and emergent participation processes are incorporated into digital fictions, it becomes increasingly important to strike a balance between authorial agency and user-generated content, between the core creative vision of cultural creators and the contributions of casual participants. 


In this article I develop a multi-layered analysis of The Silent History, a digital fiction for iOS that successfully incorporates user-generated content within the fictional narrative without compromising the intelligibility, coherence, or stylistic unity of the core narrative. I employ narrative theory, network analysis, and close reading to investigate the media-specific reciprocity between the expression of story as discourse, the interactive architecture, the user interface of the mobile application, the character network of the story, and the participatory cultural production model. Throughout this analysis I draw attention to how the network topologies of the interactive navigation, the character network, and the participatory production model exhibit, in their interrelationships, a distinct complementarity that supports networked participation. 


The Silent Historypresents the reader with a lengthy narrative, and an expansive network of characters. These characters are at times geographically concentrated and then dispersed, during the course of a series of plot developments. As the narrative develops, the network of nodes connecting the first-person testimonials in the interactive architecture grows into a very dense, decentralized network. This network topology is homologous, in some respects, with the character network. Yet the temporal structure of the narrative is highly sequential and makes it easier to track the multitude of characters. The dense, decentralized network of characters and the chronological sequence of the narrative together establish a framework that permits readers to develop their own minor characters in user contributed “field reports” without introducing complicating events or characters into the core narrative. 


I argue that The Silent Historysuccessfully achieves a balance between a compelling, engaging, and deliberate core narrative on the one hand, with meaningful participation by a readership anchored to mobile devices on the other. The variety of network topologies that I describe in this article demonstrate how distinct aspects of the digital fiction mutually support one another to simultaneously realize objectives of immersion and interactivity and to provide readers with both the narrative coherence of a “linear novel” and the additive, participatory experience of emergent texts. Within this strategic interplay of topologies lie broader insights into models of participatory cultural production appropriate for an increasingly networked audience. As such, The Silent History is representative of a still emerging genre of digital fiction that is calibrated to the socially mediated interactions characteristic of contemporary participatory culture. 

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