Regarding the Author / Reader Dichotomy (A Reply to Victor Gijsbers)

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internisus

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May 9, 2007, 8:39:39 PM5/9/07
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Victor, your essay, "Co-authorship and Community", is both interesting
and challenging. I'm very sympathetic to its lesser claim regarding
the implications of puzzle-centric IF and the pragmatic rather than
emotional, moral, or other story-oriented mindset that it imbues in
the reader. My view of interactive media such as videogames and IF is
that what sets them apart fundamentally is their performative nature,
and IF that only gives its reader the opportunity to perform in
mechanical, logistical, and practical ways is incomplete as
literature. I do not dismiss works involving or even focusing upon
puzzles, nor would I make a blanket evaluation of games as opposed to
interactive literature. I felt it was obvious, though, that you were
speaking of works aspiring to the latter, and I agree with your
assessment that the medium is yet far from reaching its fullest
potential.

However, although I agree with your reasons for proposing the essay's
greater idea, I have some problems with it. First, rather than
looking at communal co-authorship as addressing a separate problem
from the lack of true story interaction, I see it as a roundabout way
of attempting to deepen that same interaction. As I mentioned, my
view of interactive media sees the player -- or, as I like to call him/
her with regard to IF, the reader -- as performing within the
parameters allowed by the title's designer or author. In other words,
interactive media such as IF is by its very nature co-authored. The
closest stepping-off point that interactive media theory has from the
traditional forms preceding it, I think, is theater. The player or
reader performs within the "script" provided by the designer or
author.

It is well and good to suggest ways in which the reader can shape such
a "script" rather than just performing along it in what amounts to a
linear work in the abstract, but I find the sort of transparent
execution you've suggested in the form of a communal editor in which
the "script" can be directly altered by the reader distasteful. I
believe that it is very important to maintain a clear separation
between the roles of author and reader, and this idea would destroy
that.

A different sort of implementation that preserves the author/reader
relationship while addressing the same issues as your idea might be
abstracted parsing. For example, a reader could write messages or
letters or sign documents, and the content of these interactions could
be recorded and parsed in a more permanent fashion than the typical
turn-by-turn basis we are used to. In this way, the reader could
affect the world in a permanent way. A more concrete way to change
the author's world might involve the use of physical simulations
analogous to what is done in Half-Life 2. All this requires is deeper
implementation of objects and of rules allowing their complex
manipulation by the PC.

But the example transcript at the end of your essay, in which the
reader is asked directly by the program which NPC s/he ought to see,
is a form of role breaking that I never want to experience. It's
usually a very interesting thing to break the fourth wall, but to
refrain from building it at all would undermine the intergrity of the
entire structure.

----------------------------

Having finished writing all that, I feel as though my argument hinges
upon a mostly intuited value for the relationship between an author
and reader. Is this sentiment justified? It seems to me that there
is something to be said for keeping any work to a single definitive
version, but the issue runs much deeper than that. I'd like to open
the question to the group.

In my view, an author of interactive fiction defines the space and the
rules within which its reader performs. Assuming that it is possible
to blur the separation of these roles, is there any reason why a
distinction should be maintained?

Skye Nathaniel Schiefer

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