Hamlet on the Holodeck

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Mark Stevens

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Sep 10, 1998, 3:00:00 AM9/10/98
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Hello.

For those of you serious about the art of interactive fiction, may I
recommend the following book:

"Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace" by
Janet H. Murrary (Free Press, 1997. ISBN 0-684-92723-9) $25 (hb)

========
Stories define how we think, the way we play, and the way we
understand our lives. And just as Gutenberg made possible the stories
that usheres in the Modern era, so is the computer having a profound
effect on the stories of the late 20th century. Today we are
confronting the limits of books themselves -- anticipating the end of
storytelling as we know it -- even as we witness the advent of a brave
new world of cyberdramas. Computer technology of the late twentieth
century is astonishing, trilling, and strange, and no one is better
qualified than Janet Murray to offer a breathtaking tour of how it is
reshaping the stories we live by.

Can we imagine a world in which Homer's lyre and Gutenberg's press
have given way to virtual reality environment likes the Star Trek
holodeck? Murray sees the harbingers of such a world in the fiction of
Borges and Calvino, movies like Groundhog Day, and the videogames and
web sites of 1990s. Where is our map for this new frontier, and what
can we hope to find in it? What will it be like to step into our own
stories for the first time, to change our vantage point at will, to
construct our own worlds or change the outcoming of a compelling
adventure, be it a murder mystery or a torrid romance? Taking up where
Mashall McLuhan left off, Murray offers profound and provocative
answers to these and other questions.

She discusses the unique properties and pleasures of digital
environments and connects them with the traditional satisfactions of
narrative. She analyses the state of "immersion", or participating in
a text to such an extent that you literally get lost in a story and
obliterate the outside world from your awareness. She dissects the
titillating effect of cybernarratives in which stories never climax
and never end, because everything is morphable, and there are always
infinite possibilities for the next scene. And she introduces us to
enhanced landscapes populated by witty automated characters and
inventive, role-playing interactors, who together make up a new kind
of commedia dell'arte. Equal parts daydream and how-to, Hamlet on the
Holodeck is a brilliant blend of imagination and techno-wizardry that
will provoke readers and guide writers for years to come.

Janet H. Murray is Senior Research Scientist for the Centre for
Educational Computer Initiatives at MIT. She holds a Ph.D. in English
from Harvard and teaches interactive fiction writing in MIT's Film and
Media Studies program. A pioneering figure in humanities computing,
she has won several awards, including a Gold CINDY and an Educom
Special Recognition Award for interactive design. She has taught
humanities at MIT since 1971, and she served from 1992 to 1996 as the
founding director of the Laboratory for Advanced Technology in the
Humanities. She lives with her husband and two children in a suburb of
Boston.
========

Overall, an interesting read for anyone interested in the future of
the narrative form. She's perhaps a little too excited about the
long-term future of interactive fiction (ie, Star Trek style
holodecks), rather than focussing on short-term possibilities, but the
theories she puts forward are sound and should give most IF writers
food for thought. You'll be pleased to know that the likes of Infocom
do get a substantial mention -- if I spy any book that promises to
discuss interactive fiction and *doesn't* mention Infocom, I know it's
not going to be up to much.

As far as I know, the book's only been published in the States, so
fire up Amazon and get ordering if you live outside the US.


/\/)ark

http://www.sonance.demon.co.uk/


Mark Stevens

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Sep 10, 1998, 3:00:00 AM9/10/98
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On Thu, 10 Sep 1998 17:48:03 -0500, an...@efortress.com (Anson Turner)
wrote:

>:What will it be like to step into our own stories for the first time,

>:to change our vantage point at will, to construct our own worlds or

>:change the outcome of a compelling adventure, be it a murder mystery
>:or a torrid romance?

>Isn't this called "writing"?

Yes, but then not everyone's as good a writer as they are a reader. A
ten year-old kid would get a big kick out of reading "The Lion, The
Witch and The Wardrobe", sending their imagination soaring with loads
of possibilities and "what ifs?" after they finished each chapter. But
I doubt if that same kid would be able to write an alternative chapter
to the same high standard as C. S. Lewis.

The point is, with "old technology", only writers/story-tellers had
the ability to interact with their fiction. And in order to re-write
or re-tell a particular story, they'd need an understanding of
grammar, syntax, plot, characterisation, pacing, dramatic tension,
etc. With "new technology", the ability to interact with fiction is
granted to the reader/audience, without them needing to fully
understand grammar, syntax, plot, etc.

There's a big difference between writing fiction and interacting with
it.


/\/)ark

http://www.sonance.demon.co.uk/


Iain Merrick

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Sep 11, 1998, 3:00:00 AM9/11/98
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Mark Stevens wrote:

> On Thu, 10 Sep 1998 17:48:03 -0500, an...@efortress.com (Anson Turner)
> wrote:
>
> >:What will it be like to step into our own stories for the first time,
> >:to change our vantage point at will, to construct our own worlds or
> >:change the outcome of a compelling adventure, be it a murder mystery
> >:or a torrid romance?
>
> >Isn't this called "writing"?
>
> Yes, but then not everyone's as good a writer as they are a reader. A
> ten year-old kid would get a big kick out of reading "The Lion, The
> Witch and The Wardrobe", sending their imagination soaring with loads
> of possibilities and "what ifs?" after they finished each chapter. But
> I doubt if that same kid would be able to write an alternative chapter
> to the same high standard as C. S. Lewis.

Heh, quite...

...but then Aslan appeared again!! because it was just a Robot Aslan who
they had killd and it was just a special trick and they all started
fighting the Evil goblins and monsters and dinosaurs and Edmund fell
into a hole and broke his neck because he was boring and...

etc etc

Roger Carbol

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Sep 11, 1998, 3:00:00 AM9/11/98
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-----BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE-----

Mark Stevens wrote:

>>Isn't this called "writing"?

> Yes, but then not everyone's as good a writer as they are a reader.


The difference in quality is often less than commonly-reported, in
my experience.

For example, consider the excellent (non-collectible) card game
"Once Upon a Time" by Atlas Games. It essentially revolves around
the players telling stories (using story elements which they have
in their hands, in case you were wondering about the dynamic.)

It is a lot of fun. I don't think I've ever had a player not have
at least SOME fun with it, even if they didn't have a writerly
bone in their body.

That being said, I'm not in a big rush to transcribe these stories
and publish them in order to become rich. Similarly, I don't think
many people would pick up an explicit walkthrough of some well-known
IF and read it from cover to cover and nominate it for a Pulitzer
Prize.

To briefly sum up:

1) The experience of writing a particular story is not closely
related to the experience of reading that same story; the two
processes cannot really be judged by the same criteria.

2) People who like playing and/or writing IF should rush out and
buy "Once Upon a Time" from Atlas Games (email me for the ISBN if
so desired.)


.. Roger Carbol .. r...@shaw.wave.ca .. there was a forest

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David Brain

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Sep 15, 1998, 3:00:00 AM9/15/98
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In article <35F8D6...@shaw.wave.ca>, r...@shaw.wave.ca (Roger Carbol) wrote:

> 2) People who like playing and/or writing IF should rush out and
> buy "Once Upon a Time" from Atlas Games (email me for the ISBN if
> so desired.)

...and James Wallis (one of the designers of OUAT) then went on to write the Baron Munchausen game...
(OK, I promise not to plug it again :-)

--
David Brain

Apotheosis can be somewhat unnerving.
-- Expecting Someone Taller, Tom Holt


Iain Merrick

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Sep 15, 1998, 3:00:00 AM9/15/98
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David Brain wrote:

[...]


> ...and James Wallis (one of the designers of OUAT) then
> went on to write the Baron Munchausen game...

Okay, so what's the deal with this Baron Munchausen game, then?

It sounds to me as if it might similar to Pictionary or Charades or
something, in the sense that you don't actually need the Official(tm)
Game Board and Pieces to play the thing - unlike, say, Trivial Pursuit,
where you _need_ a box of questions.

Is there anything about the official, commercial Baron Munchausen game
(if there is such a thing) which raises it above the level of an
informal parlour/pub/whatever game?

> (OK, I promise not to plug it again :-)

Ah, go on, you know you want to...

--
Iain Merrick

JamesG

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Sep 18, 1998, 3:00:00 AM9/18/98
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Iain Merrick wrote:
>
> David Brain wrote:
>
> [...]
> > ...and James Wallis (one of the designers of OUAT) then
> > went on to write the Baron Munchausen game...
>
> Okay, so what's the deal with this Baron Munchausen game, then?

It's new, it's fun, and it's taking the world by storm...



> It sounds to me as if it might similar to Pictionary or Charades or
> something, in the sense that you don't actually need the Official(tm)
> Game Board and Pieces to play the thing - unlike, say, Trivial Pursuit,
> where you _need_ a box of questions.
>
> Is there anything about the official, commercial Baron Munchausen game
> (if there is such a thing) which raises it above the level of an
> informal parlour/pub/whatever game?

Not *really*, I could explain the rules to you in under five minutes,
*but* the rules are massively entertaining in themselves and not very
expensive so I recommend buying them anyway...



> > (OK, I promise not to plug it again :-)
>
> Ah, go on, you know you want to...

I'll do so instead...

JamesG,
(...instead of writing my i-f game :( )
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