Narrative and the Split Condition of Digital Textuality

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

As a form of art and entertainment, digital textuality has conquered both ends of the cultural spectrum. Through computer games, it reaches millions of aficionados who devote a large part of their life to this form of entertainment, while through highly experimental forms of textuality—code poetry, hypertext fiction, and computer-generated literature—it is consumed by a small audience of academics and prospective authors. But digital texts have yet to conquer the middle of the spectrum, namely an educated public capable of artistic discrimination who consumes texts for pleasure, without ambition of writing about them nor of becoming digital authors themselves. This presentation examines the role that narrative can play in creating the type of audience that digital texts currently lack. Two narrative schools within digital textuality will be distinguished: 1. The expansionists, who believe that narrative is a mutable form that differs from culture to culture and evolves in history, crucially affected by new technologies; and 2. The traditionalists, who regard narrative as an invariant cognitive template possessing a transcultural, transhistorical, and transmedial identity. Whereas the expansionist school tends to loosen the meaning of the term “narrative” beyond recognition, the traditionalist school tends to regard digital textuality as an “improvement” on the great classics of literature. But a story that succeeds in the print medium does not necessarily gain from the properties of digital environments, and if achievements in the area of digital narrative have so far been rather modest, it is because of the difficulty of designing narrative patterns that benefit from interactivity, while retaining the basic immersive qualities of traditional narrative. This presentation will examine several possible solutions to the “split condition” of digital textuality: 1. The hidden, pre-scripted story to be discovered by the user (prototype: Myst); 2. The emergent story, created by the user by activating the “affordances,” or behaviors, attached to the objects of a fictional world (prototype: The Sims); and 3. The loosely scripted story capable of variations, in which the user plays the role of an active observer (prototype: Façade, by Michael Mateas and Andrew Stern).

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Record posted by: 
Jörgen Schäfer