1 & 2 fiction
by drew davidson
The hypertextual form of the Myst CD-ROM makes manifest a post structural theory of reading in which the reader is just as active a creator in the meaning of the text as the author. As a reader of hypertext, you get to choose which way you want to go in the narrative, but those choices are constrained and determined by the author. So, it is not limitless interactivity with no structure whatsoever. But it does reposition the voice of the narrative to the reader/player. If not the narrator, the reader/player is the driving force behind the story's progression.
"What is Hypertext?" history of hypertext by Charles Deemer
One of the weaknesses of Myst is that it borrows heavily on the mediums of literature and graphic design. The creators have yet to better discover how to use the medium to its best advantage. As David Miles notes, Myst is in accordance with Marshall McLuhan's fourth law of media; the initial development of a new medium will retrieve forms from prior mediums (4). So, the creators of Myst are retrieving conventions and forms from literature, film and graphic design, and combining them together within this new hypertextual multimedia CD-ROM. Eventually, the mediums unique nature will be developed, but for now we are going to see retrievals resonating through these hypertextual CD-ROMs.
When you surf the web you can go every which way but loose and then some. This experience has been coined as "non-linear" in that there is not necessary a set beginning and/or a set end. You are literally free to start and finish wherever your heart desires. Although it should be acknowledged that your phenomenological experience of web pages has a linearity, a beginning and an end; it's just that it does not ever have to have the same linearity twice. This variability of web pages is what many term "interactivity" in that one can have a varied, interactive experience with a document on a computer. This is a limited interactivity indeed, one in which there is a finite amount of choices that have been chosen for you to pursue at your desire. In other words, you may not truly interact with a computer, but you do act on it (Holmqvist 223).
The "reader" of Myst is constantly aware of the hypertext medium. The story does not progress unless you can puzzle through it. And parts of the story do not make sense, and the only way to make sense of them is to read the books. As Richard Shiff has written, "the meanings of the mediums evolve as a result of their interactions" (8). Myst may not be a good example of the "realism of low resolution," but the meaning of the story does come out of the association and interaction of the two mediums. The juxtaposition of the mediums (hypertext and novel) through the narrative has shown the strengths and weaknesses of a hypertext, multimedia CD-ROM. To experience the full story of Myst, the audience needs to engage both mediums.
Chat rooms and MU*s are where you see the development of pseudonymity, or the construction of a character that represents you online. At first it was just a new name and a description of your character that people could read if they "looked" at you. But now, you can design avatars and synthesize your voice so that you have a look and sound that is unique to your online pseudonymous character. So, persona gets all skewed and reconstructed. This sort of wild, pseudonymous interactivity opens up the medium of computers to an almost endless array of potential readings.
Look at the computer as an object; you have the big plastic box with a multitude of wires. But turn that baby on (once you got it all hooked up correctly that is) and you've opened the door to various worlds. MYST is such a world, it a haunting, atmospheric game in which you slowly work you way through these lovingly detailed islands and a story unfolds as you explore. You are the subject of the story, allowing it to progress as you do through it. It definitely can give you an experience such as Poulet describes, but I see it as slightly different. Poulet is discussing getting subsumed by a book and losing a sense of self in the subjectivity of the story. In a game like MYST, there is a more active creation of self, you are the one who determines how the story progresses. This is true of a novel as well, it does not advance unless you read on, but in MYST there are multitudes of readings to be had, and you get to choose and can get stuck and can zip through it. You are in the story, but you are in control of the story as well.
The creation of subjectivity is even more apparent on the internet with chat rooms galore, MU*s and web pages ad infinitum. One can literally explore forever, and in chat rooms and MU*s, you create a pseudonym to represent yourself. You create your subjectivity and then can get lost in it. So you are losing yourself in your created sense of self that then gets wrapped up in the story of the MU* as you explore it. This goes beyond Poulet's ideas of a loss of self and into a realm where the self is constructed as desired.
"Interactivity implies two conscious aganecies in conversation, playfully and spontaneously developing mutual discurse, taking cues and suggestions from each other as they proceed"(Stone, 11). Computers are "arenas for social experience" (15). "inside that little box are other people" (16).
"In hyperfiction, you don't just read, you make choices. It's the classic existentialist dilemma manifested in the reading process. You're at least partially responsible for creating (by choice or by actual writing) what you read" (Goldstein, 131). Hyperfiction plays with traditional expectiations, "especially with the need to perceive an established order" (131). Stuart Moulthrop has distinguished two kinds of hyperfiction, exploratoty and constructive" (131). In exploratory, you follow alternative paths or links while the hypertext, "retians its fundamental identity under all transformations" (132). In constructive, you add your own words to the hypertext so readers are writers (132).
This brings us to the level of the majority of computer users, those of us who use all this software to make documents, texts, graphics, movies, etc. Now, the majority of us are still using the computer as a fancy, and rather expensive, typewriter. We write papers, essays, letters; all composed with a word processing application and printed out in ink jet or even better, laser printed, for that extra sharp print. Now, also on this level of users are those who don't just type words per se, and whose output is not necessarily paper based, but instead, is often meant to remain digital. Desk top publishers use programs, like Adobe Pagemaker and Quark, to integrate text and graphics and lay them out in a method similar to a magazine spread. Multimedia authors use a variety of applications to create graphics, music, movies and interactive animation. HTML (hypertext markup language) writers use "tags" to mark up a document so that a computer will then display the information on its screen in the specified manner. So, when you are on the web, what you see is the displayed document that has been marked up in HTML.
From here, we move up to the level of the majority of authors who write papers, create multimedia novels and manipulate graphical images. The modes of discourse change here and the author-function falls into such an ambiguous category that it seems to exist within Foucault's discussion of textual authors. These discourses are creating author-functions that can be positioned as almost non-existent. In this digital world connected via the internet, data can speed across modems and exist all over the world in multiple, equivalent copies. For, in digitalia, a copy is exactly the same as the original, in fact, the idea becomes somewhat moot and muddy. An email I send to a friend is forwarded on to another and another as it zips around the globe, and each new forward adds a new author to the script. Who actually wrote the original message can be impossible to track down as the message becomes an anonymous and pseudonymous. It is rather odd and absurd to try and make a distinction between two digital versions of a document or program (outside of a registration number which can be hacked, or borrowed), the 1's and 0's are the same to the computer, and the "true" author then can get lost, intentionally or not, in the multiple forwards and downloads. Within the digital discourse of writing on the computer, the author-function is more diffuse than ever before.
"WAXweb"--WAXweb is the hypermedia version of David Blair's feature-length independent film, "WAX or the discovery of television among the bees" (1991). It combines one of the largest hypermedia narrative databases on the Internet with an authoring interface which allows users to collaboratively add to the story.
"Poetics and other Prose" Jim Rosenberg poetry
"Afternoon, A story", by Michael Joyce
"Victory Garden," a Story by Stuart Moulthrop
"The Electronic Labyrinth", multi author hyperfiction, started by Chris Keep
The issues of reading and subjectivity only get more complicated by the potential to port the texts off the computer and read them in other media. You are now reading a different text, so you will get lost in it in different ways. And on a computer your reading is all mediated by the interface, if you are comfortable with the text of a MU* and know what you're doing, you can get lost in the story of that world. But if you've never been in a MU* before it can be more foreign than any land you've ever set foot in, thus denying you a chance to submerge yourself in the world. Even so, interactive, multiple medic experiences await you if you so choose to read them as such. What a way to get lost.
Jameson notes that hypertexts can have a "pure and random play of signifiers . . . which no longer produces monumental works of the modernist type but ceaselessly reshuffles the fragments of pre-existent texts, the building blocks of older cultural and social production, in some new and heightened bricolage; metabooks which cannibalize other books, metatexts which collate bits of other texts" (Crawford, 669).
A good example of this multilinear narrative is Myst and Riven (two hypertextual, multimedia games/stories on CD-ROM). In Myst there is a library, the reader does not have to find out every scrap of information from this library in order to move forward in the story. You can come and go as often as you please and discover what the library has for you, you can even complete the story without having found every clue. The progress is multilinear, there are several options for the reader, but regardless of which one is chosen, the story proceeds with the reader's experience.
"The pleasure of the text is that moment when my body pursues its own ideas - for my body does not have the same ideas I do" (Barthes, Pleasure, 17). "It's the texts very uselessness that is useful, as a potlatch" (24). "The text needs its shadow: this shadow is a bit of ideology, a bit of representation, a bit of subject: ghosts, pockets, traces, necessary clouds: subversion must produce its own chiaroscuro" (32). "If it were possible to imagine an aesthetic of textual pleasure, it would have to include: writing aloud" (66).
Hayden White notes that a general characteristic of narrative is to fill in the gaps and discontinuities of events (9). This is a weakness of hypertext, gaps abound, disrupting the story. Even the creators of Myst admit that it does not make sense at times (Carroll, "(D)Riven," 2). Another characteristic of narrative is the desire for a conclusion. Myst and Riven have several endings, but as Landow points out, hypertext can be "perpetually unfinished" (3). Even so, for the reader to follow the story, s/he is expecting an end point of some sort (110). There are several ways to deal with this. One, hypertext, as on the web, can be left infinitely, rhysomatically open. Two, there can be several endings. Three, the narrative can be multilinear in that your actions from the beginning of interaction with the story to the end all have consequences on how the story will end.
The second option is the easy way out, add a losing and winning ending to the game. The first is the most pure realization of the post structural theory of reading, but grows (and regresses) infinitely. The third is the most interesting, and is the one used partially in Myst, and more fully in Riven. With this option, the creator constructs a variety of narrative paths that are braided together, crossing, diverging and influencing all the other paths. Thus, the "reader's" choices are prescribed, but each choice helps to build the narrative towards a conclusion(s). In this way, the "player" is not hurt by missing a clue, the story still progresses, just in a different path. Through your choices, you can travel on a variety of the paths and puzzle out the story. So, in reality, one reading can be different than another, and you can get to an end without having "read" all of the story.
"Poles in Your Face: The Promises and Pitfalls of Hyperfiction"
problems of hyperfiction by Jurgen Fauth
The narrative phenomenon of Myst is a hypertextual one. This phenomenon consists of the immersive environments of the CD-ROMs, and the linear story in the novels. By reading the novels and engaging with the CD-ROMs you get the full story of Myst. What hypertext lacks is made up for in the novels. The narrative is associated between the mediums. A fair critique of this phenomenon is that a quality story should be able to exist on its own in whatever medium. Presently, those working in hypertext and multimedia have not developed a masterpiece comparable to those in literature and art. But, the medium is still in its infancy and is still retrieving from older mediums. Given time, a masterpiece may be developed that fully utilizes the unique capabilities of hypertext and multimedia and does not have to rely on supplementary novels. The question is whether or not people will keep trying in this new medium that realizes the audience's role in creating a story, or will they find that to realize a theory of reading is too self-recursive to be of much use or interest. Time and experience will tell that story.
A "Hypermedia Timeline--1945-1994" by the American Studies Department at Georgetown University
"Hypertext Fiction" Eastgate, company that publishes hyperfiction
"Leonardo" - an interactive reading/writing/theory online journal
"As one moves through a hypertext, making one's choices, one has the sensation that just below the surface of the text there is an almost inexhaustible resevoir of half-hidden story material waiting to be explored" (Coover, 10). "All these yields, links, buttons, nets, maps, not only are vexing novelties, soemtimes they seem more compelling than the text itself" (10).
"Written on the Web" article about fiction on the wed by Carolyn Guyer
The intertext is "a music of figures, metaphors thought-words; it is the signifier as siren" (Barthes, Barthes, 145).