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This Shifting Terrain

Ted Nelson recalls a party in 1961 given by John W. Campbell, the legendary science fiction editor, at which Nelson told Isaac Asimov that “soon we’ll be reading and writing on computer screens.”

“Yeah, sure…” said the great futurist. Sarcastically.

Here’s something Rita Raley wrote in an email to me:

‘Who can say if or how the mode of interactive television might evolve, but if I were responsible for commissioning new work, I might notice that much of the discussion of this show is concerned with mapping all of the plot lines, as opposed to analyzing the content. Since the supposed golden age of television has in part depended on dedicated communities of fans willing to invest countless hours in deciphering textual and visual clues, I might worry about audiences moving from collective interpretation to crowd-sourced decision trees. It may very well be that in retrospect Bandersnatch will be understood to have taught people how to consume interactive television. Certainly its premise, the adaptation of the choose-your-own-adventure book to a video game, as well as the thread about Netflix, signals a reflexivity that will in the future be unnecessary, and it is interesting to speculate about what interactive television might become once it no longer has to explain itself to viewers. If both text and subtext no longer have to announce, ‘I am a work of interactive television,’ what kind of work might result? On this point, another Netflix series, Russian Doll, is highly suggestive. Natasha Lyonne’s character is a video game designer so there is a similar gesture in the show to the medium that informs it, but the narrative, as an enactment of the formal principle of forking paths, is to my mind far more subtle and sophisticated—and thus more satisfying.

Hamlet on the Holodeck new edition:

Page 262:

Page 263

Current narrative applications overexploit the digressive possibilities of hypertext and the gamelike features of simulation, but that is not surprising in an incunabular medium. As digital narrative develops into maturity, the associational wildernesses will acquire more coherence and the combat games will give way to the portrayal of more complex processes. Participating viewers will assume clearer roles; they will learn how to become orienteers in the complex labyrinths and to see the interpretive shaping in simulated worlds. At the same time as these formal qualities improve, writers will be developing a better feel for which patterns of human experience can best be captured in digital media. In this way a new narrative art will come into its own expressive form ….

Esteemed film critic Roger Erbert’s Dim Future for Interactive Film:

“Interactive” is the kind of word I like to interact with by hitting the “delete” key on my computer. I’m asked at least twice a week about the future of “interactive movies,” and I am sorry to disappoint, but the answer is: Interactive movies have no future. They’re already over with, except as a buzzword often found in the same sentence with terms like “infobahn” and “information revolution.”

Interactive games are quite another matter. There is a new generation of computer-based CD-ROM programs, including “Myst” and “Cosmology of Kyoto,” which abandon the tired old pinball machine approach of the Nintendo-style games, and create evocative, mysterious worlds through which the user can wander, discovering the rules as he goes along.

The key difference between interactive movies and interactive games is that the games operate on a one-on-one basis, while the movies theoretically would have to involve an audience, and the rule of the majority. Also, the new kinds of games are intuitive; you click here or there on the screen, discovering what will happen, while with an interactive movie would have to be some sort of menu of choices or plot lines.

Is e-literature just one big anti-climax?

As Grigar points out, “one of the most difficult aspects of e-lit is the ability to talk about it fast enough, so fast is the landscape changing”. For others, like Sue Thomas, professor of new media at Leicester’s De Monfort University, the way forward (or sideways) is precisely to abandon our print fixation. This is why she rejects the term “e-lit” (with its reference to an old-fashioned notion of ‘literature’) in favour of “new media writing” or, better still, “transliteracy” – which covers all forms of literacy ranging from orality to social networking sites. Amerika, pope of avant-pop-cum-new-media guru has referred to himself as a designwriter, a remixologist, a visual jockey (VJ) and, of course, a net artist, over the years, whereas he used to be a plain old writer in his younger days. This isn’t just a question of semantics. As Grigar points out, “one of the most difficult aspects of e-lit is the ability to talk about it fast enough, so fast is the landscape changing”. As Grigar points out, “one of the most difficult aspects of e-lit is the ability to talk about it fast enough, so fast is the landscape changing”.

The slow switch to broadband limits its potential audience, e-readers are only adapted to conventional texts – and when was the last time you curled up in bed with a hypertext? In spite of all this, Amerika may well be on to something when he claims that we are witnessing the emergence of a “digitally-processed intermedia art” in which literature and all the other arts are being “remixed into yet other forms still not fully developed”.

Damiani, Jesse. 2019. “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch Could Become Netflix’s Secret Marketing Weapon.” The Verge, January 2.

On the surface, Netflix’s venture into interactive storytelling content is an example of a streaming service trying to cultivate a new market. However, interactive content could also provide another way for Netflix to better understand its users beyond television and movies: “Where the company previously focused its data gathering on the ways users engaged with its content—what they watched, when, and for how long—this new data is indicative of real-world decisions like product preference, musical taste, and engagement with human behavior.” (Damiani 2019, para. 3) Interactive content could also allow for programmatic product placement in the future (Damiani 2019).

Paul LaFarge’s Salon Essay – Why the book’s future never happened

It’s tempting to leave the story there, and to let the hypernovel, or whatever you want to call it, become part of the technological imagination of the past, like the flying car. But I believe that the promise of hypertext fiction is worth pursuing, even now, or maybe especially now. On the one hand, e-books are beginning to offer writers technical possibilities that, being human, we’re going to be unable to resist. On the other, the form fits with life now. So much of what we do is hyperlinked and mediated by screens that it feels important to find a way to reflect on that condition, and fiction, literature, has long afforded us the possibility of reflection. Just as the novel taught us how to be individuals, 300 years ago, by giving us a space in which to be alone, but not too alone — a space in which to be alone with a book — so hypertext fiction may let us try on new, non-linear identities, without dissolving us entirely into the web. It may give us room to concentrate on dispersion, to focus on distraction, and in that way, possibly, to get a sense of what we are becoming before the current sweeps us away. In the end, this isn’t a question of what hypertext can do for fiction, or for the novel; it’s a question of what fiction, and in particular the novel, can do for hypertext. Hypertext is here to stay, but the novel’s future may depend on the answer.

Interview with Astrid Ensslin

I think it (Bandersnatch) worked together well with the historical context of the piece, the topic of game programming, and with Black Mirror’s general topos of blurring the lines between fiction and reality, multiple realities, and metalepsis. Given the fact that it is an extremely smooth experience, it may well herald an era where interactivity becomes a more standard feature of streaming television, not least because TV audiences are increasingly diverging into binge-watching communal experiences (as with one-to-many, old-media TV networks) on the one hand, and highly personalized, individual viewing-playing experiences on the other – enabled by handheld devices. Part of what didn’t work out with the first generation of interactive cinema was the fact that you couldn’t make the choice feature work for large audiences; now media consumption and interaction behaviors are becoming a lot more varied on the scale between modular-individualized and collective-mass experiences. Surely, the gamification of everyday life also has a role to play in the revival of interactive movie/TV.

Going by the popularity of audio-visual narrative gaming (most AAA titles) compared to the more nichey existence of text-only, interactive fiction, one might be inclined to think that film has more promise than text. that being said, in the age of Twine and mobile (literary) gaming and phone-/Wattpad-based novelistic reading/writing, the importance of text has regained some momentum. Furthermore, there’s been a lot of experimentation with different combinations of text and audiovisuality in recent years – especially on the mobile market. Take Blast Theory’s Karen app, for example, which combines text adventure communication with soap-style television realism.

Is Black Mirror: Bandersnatch the Dawn of Interactive TV? by Kathryn VanArendonk

The innovation I’m describing in Bandersnatch seems mostly technological, a kind that has more to do with the underlying streaming engine than it does with a new genre of storytelling. (According to Variety, Netflix’s app had to be reworked so it could pre-cache two potential choices, rather than one, to better ensure a smooth streaming process.) But the most impressive thing about Bandersnatch is how well it proves that technology and narrative are tied together. Most new storytelling forms have been hybrids, combinations of previous genres and forms that coincided with technological advancement in a way that made them newly viable forms of art. In the Western tradition, the first examples of the novel (Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko, Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe) were combinations of travelogue, memoir, and invented fiction, but they were only possible because printing technology had improved to the point where lengthy printed texts could be widely distributed among the reading public (who also had to be educated enough to read). Radio plays weren’t a thing until technology made radios cheap enough for some people to own at home, and broadcasting infrastructure widespread enough to broadcast radio signals. Movies exist as a form because camera and projection technology eventually caught up with filmmakers’ ability to conceive of animated photographic narratives. It’s hard to watch Bandersnatch and not see glimmers of a similar leap in how you can tell a story — a hybridization of “choose your own adventure” novels, video-game logic, and TV, with the technological benefits of a streaming platform to make instantaneous, completely seamless switching from one decision point to another. It is undeniably impressive.

James Pope – New Media Writing Prize: the First Eight Years

The future for digital/interactive/hyper-writing has been debated since the late 1980’s when Michael Joyce released afternoon, a story. The early form was called ‘hypertext’ because it just that, hyper-active text. But of course we have seen huge leaps towards a multi-media form of storytelling in which all the elements on screen can be hyper-active. We’ve seen text blend more and more with visuals and sound. We have had several ‘locative’ stories entered in the past, stories which you access by physically visiting real-world paces. James Atlee’s sophisticated ambient literature creation, The Cartographer’s Confession, won the 2017 if:book New Media Writing Prize. We’ve seen the rise of the app.

After our fifth year, I interviewed some of the authors I’d come into contact with, and asked them for their thoughts on the prospects for new-media writing. Here is the future summed up by Samantha Gorman:

‘The future doesn’t necessarily change the impulses or inspirations at the core of storytelling, rather it adds an additional tool set for expression. It is easy to overemphasize the technological revolution, but the future lies in approaches to storytelling rather than core judgments about how stories will irrevocably alter. Pry was written with new tool sets, but it is still a very human story.’

… … … … …

Emily Short’s Blog


AdventureX 2016 – Emily Short: The Past, Present and Future of Interactive Fiction


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