Time and Temporality in Digital Fictions

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

The exceptional quality of digital fictions lies in their inherently dynamic nature, how they may be flexibly programmed to generate new content and alter the already existing contents. This adds a new temporal level, compared to traditional fictions. Already the history of digital fictions (both digital literature and games) presents us with a variety of temporal practices which challenge the conventional ways of understanding fictional time.
We have at least the following four temporal levels for digital fictions with narrative content:

1. user time (the time the user spends using the work)
2. discourse time (the time of the narrative discourse)
-pseudo time
-true time
3. story time (the time of the fictional events)
4. system time (the time of the digital system states)

A specific point I want to make is, that, referring to Fernand Braudel’s conceptualisation of time with its three temporal layers, a fourth level is needed, that is, the micro-time of physical events, taking place below or behind the human perception. Much of what happens within the microprosessor takes place on this level. Hansen (2006), for example, has attempted at theorizing this digital time.
Digital fictions offer us tools to render both micro and macro levels of time to the human event-scale through simulation technologies. It is this practical aspect of flexible and precise adjusting of the temporal variable which makes simulations so efficient tools for all sorts of practices.
Games incorporate, in various degrees, aspects of simulation and narration in their structure. As interactive and dynamic media form, games are specifically temporal in nature. One aspect which I will look in detail is the constant balancing and tension between chaos and order, movement towards order or entropy, which forms the backbone of many games. The game Max Payne introduced the notion of bullet-time to provide multiple time frames within a game. In the Civilization games there are the levels two and three from Braudel’s categories present, and the dynamics of the engagement with the game is grounded on this tension between the temporal levels.
Spore is a simulation of long-term processes of evolution within the game world. It is worth examining more in detail, how the evolutionary processes develop within this simulated world as artificial, designed factors need to be introduced in the game world, to facilitate faster evolution.
All this means that games offer us the flexibility and preciseness of digital simulations, with the potential of psychologically engaging narrative qualities, which together open up a whole new field of experimenting with temporally dynamic media. It is not only a question of fictional time, but our understanding of time and temporality altogether, opened up from a new perspective through digital media.

(Source: Author's Abstract)

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Alvaro Seica