Ergodic Literature

Normally when you read a book, the author is your guide. You watch as the narrative unfolds around you, unable to warn the protagonist of impending danger or otherwise change the narrative. You are entirely captive to the story, on a roller coaster without controls. But what if you weren’t? What if you could steer the narrative; could choose to go left instead of right?

You are no longer just a passive audience member. You are now the player, the protagonist, and a gambler. The story is in your hands now. Are you ready?


Ergodic literature, from the Greek roots ergon and hodos, is a variant of storytelling in which you, the reader, can control the story. Espen Aarseth describes this as cybertext, from the Greek word kyber, or helmsman. Cybertext, although far older than the digital systems that share the same root, has been re-popularized with the advent of computers. The affordances of computers easily allow for an interactive reader experience. One of the earliest examples of digital interactive fiction is Colossal Cave Adventure, which popularized the labyrinthine game style common in early forms of this genre. In this style, you play though a complex web of opportunities as you explore the environment. This new world of interactive narratives birthed the genre that we now readily recognize as video games. Egrodic literature also encompasses nonlinear literary works, in which both the fabula and sujzet are subject to the reader’s whimsical discretion. The variable nature of these stories offers each reader a unique story experience unmatched in any other literature form.


Ergodic literature has direct parallels to real life. As the steersmen of your story, you’ll face many choices, dangers, and paths. You’ll never know the exact outcomes of the paths you didn’t take. You’re not safe anymore – you can’t hide behind the author. Are you ready?


One thought on “Ergodic Literature

  1. Remember that the fabula (events of the story) remains the same no matter how the sujzet (order in which events are narrated) is presented, so while the reader may be afforded some control of the sujzet, the fabula remains in control of the writer/creator.

    You raise some critical questions in this post about the capacity to steer a text and the anxieties that might produce. However, you don’t quite get to any answers. You summarize the readings well but leave me wondering how those ideas can then be used to address the questions you raise in the first paragraph.


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