Immersion and Interactivity in Digital Fiction

Critical Writing
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2014
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Digital fiction began by defining itself against the printed book. In so doing, transgression of linearity and the attempt to reduce the authorial presence in the text, were soon turned into defining characteristics of this literary form. Works of digital fiction were first described as fragmented objects comprised of “text chunks” interconnected by hyperlinks, which offered the reader freedom of choice and a participatory role in the construction of the text. These texts were read by selecting several links and by assembling lexias. However, the expansion of the World Wide Web and the emergence of new software and new devices, suggested new reading and writing experiences. Technology offered new ways to tell a story, and with it, additional paradigms. Hyperlinks were replaced with new navigation tools and lexias gave way to new types of textual organization. The computer became a multimedia environment where several media could thrive and prosper. As digital fiction became multimodal, words began to share the screen with image, video, music or icons.
In electronic literature, the emergence of new software and new devices is often followed by the creation of new texts. Head-mounted displays and tracking devices are being used to produce new textual responses. Bodily movement is often treated as the catalyser of these textual responses and the reader is often considered as the creator of a narrative written in real-time. This means that the attempt to offer the reader a participatory role continues to be fostered by electronic literature. In this thesis, digital fiction is described as part of an introspection and self-generating process catalysed by literature. Consequently, these new kind of texts will be defined as part of the ever-evolving field of literature.
While interactivity was often described as a set of physical activities that can interfere with attention, immersion was frequently seen as an uncritical and passive response to the text. Interactivity was used to offer freedom of choice to the reader and to give the reader the opportunity of co-authoring the text. Immersion was, by contrast, considered as the result of a reading experience constrained by authorial intention. In so doing, interactivity was mostly regarded as an antidote of reader’s immersion in the text. However, in this thesis, I will focus on a cooperation rather than a conflict between both. By describing interactivity as a set of cognitive and physical actions on the part of the reader and by defining immersion as a result and origin of these actions, I will demonstrate that immersion and interactivity cannot survive separately. This thesis aims at addressing the relation between immersion and interactivity by taking into account the text’s multimodality and transiency, as well as the ergodic and cognitive work done by the reader.

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Daniela Côrtes ...