Understanding Interactive Fictions as a Continuum: Reciprocity in Experimental Writing, Hypertext Fiction, and Video Games

Critical Writing
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2015
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This thesis examines key examples of materially experimental writing (B.S. Johnson's The Unfortunates, Marc Saporta's Composition No. 1, and Julio Cort├ízar's Hopscotch), hypertext fiction (Geoff Ryman's 253, in both the online and print versions), and video games (Catherine, L.A. Noire, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and Phantasmagoria), and asks what new critical understanding of these 'interactive' texts, and their broader significance, can be developed by considering the examples as part of a textual continuum. Chapter one focuses on materially experimental writing as part of the textual continuum that is discussed throughout this thesis. It examines the form, function, and reception of key texts, and unpicks emerging issues surrounding truth and realism, the idea of the ostensibly 'infinite' text in relation to multicursality and potentiality, and the significance of the presence of authorial instructions that explain to readers how to interact with the texts. The discussions of chapter two centre on hypertext fiction, and examine the significance of new technologies to the acts of reading and writing. This chapter addresses hypertext fiction as part of the continuum on which materially experimental writing and video games are placed, and explores reciprocal concerns of reader agency, multicursality, and the idea of the 'naturalness' of hypertext as a method of reading and writing. Chapter three examines video games as part of the continuum, exploring the relationship between print textuality and digital textuality. This chapter draws together the discussions of reciprocity that are ongoing throughout the thesis, examines the significance of open world gaming environments to player agency, and unpicks the idea of empowerment in players and readers. This chapter concludes with a discussion of possible cultural reasons behind what I argue is the reader's/player's desire for a high level of perceived agency.The significance of this thesis, then, lies in how it establishes the existence of several reciprocal concerns in these texts including multicursality/potentiality, realism and the accurate representation of truth and, in particular, player and reader agency, which allow the texts to be placed on a textual continuum. This enables cross-media discussions of the reciprocal concerns raised in the texts, which ultimately reveals the ways in which our experiences with these interactive texts are deeply connected to our anxieties about agency in a cultural context in which individualism is encouraged, but our actual individual agency is highly limited.

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Martin Sunde El...