Interactive Fiction, a Sub-genre of E-Literature.

Over the ages literature has grown and spun off in countless directions. The advent of computers has allowed the creation new subgenres in literature. Interactive fiction is one of these young genres which would be impossible without computers (debatably in some cases.) Interactive fiction fuses traits from both literature and gaming, forming a piece of work which requires reader participation. Though interactive print novels are possible, digitalized pieces can be far more complex and offer infinitely more possibilities.

In ELC Vol. 1 Emily Short contributed two pieces which fall under the interactive fiction genre, Savoir-Faire and Galatea. Though both are dramatically different types of stories with different styles of interaction; both require the reader’s interaction in order to form a story. Looking over these two pieces helps demonstrate the broadness of this genre. The first can be likened to an adventure story and or game. The later would better fit the description of a dialogue story: a narrative between the reader and a non-player character creating the story.

Savoir-Faire creates a story using interaction in a form of game play; much like a video game would but purely in text. The reader collects items and solves problems while wandering around, putting together the pieces to create the story. Similar to a traditional adventure story in print, Savoir-Faire is linear with a set beginning and end. In this case however, the reader manipulates the path between these points to create the story. Traditionally this would have been solely the realm of the author. The major difference is that the path is no longer a straight line set by the author but rather a winding road chosen by the reader.

Apart from the need for participation from the reader to form the story, Galatea shares little in common with Savoir-Faire. In this piece from Short, the reader creates a story out a conversation between you and the other main character in the story, Galatea. In Galatea reader participation takes the form of asking questions, telling anecdotes and performing actions, like touching and thinking, to progress the story to one of its many endings. The structure of Galatea is multi-linear because it has a set start and many possible endings, a feature extremely difficult to replicate in print. “Choose your adventure” books offer readers a rudimentary form of a multi-linear story telling, but they are limited by logical constraints. The introduction of a computer allows an author this possibility without horribly inconveniencing their reader with a giant book accommodating all the possible routes.

Interactive fiction is an excellent example of how computers can be adapted by authors to develop sub-genres of literature, that would be to impractical in traditional print.  I’ve offered only two examples of interactive fiction, though vastly different in their manner of telling a story. Even as a sub-genre there is broad potential for design in interactive fiction. The sole requirement to fit into this group is that the reader must participate in order to create the story.

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