I’m the type of gamer that obsessive compulsively has to pick up all the coins and the special items, go through all the different passages, and complete all the quests. So you can imagine how much anxiety interactive fiction and cybertext gives me.
I’m only joking, but there is a shred of truth in that. Cybertext, as Espen J. Aarseth defines in his book Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature, is different from traditional narrative text in that when “you read from a cybertext, you are constantly reminded of inaccessible strategies and paths not taken, voices not heard… you may never know the exact results of your choices.” Cybertext and interactive fiction is so fascinating in that it mirrors life; unlike traditional, linear bodies of texts in which the reader is more like a “passenger on a train,” IF requires a nontrivial effort from the reader in order to explore and invest him or herself in the narrative, as well as make (somewhat) irreversible decisions with consequences. I think that that is one of the main advantages of cybertext — the allure of the possibility of failure and the option to take control can really immerse the reader.
Interactive fiction as a potential narrative also offers the chance for the reader/user to become the author. Nick Montfort, in his article “Riddle Machines: The History and Nature of Interactive Fiction,” writes that the “literary spaces and possibilities” are different for each interactor according to the what choices he/she makes and in what order. I definitely saw this with Colossal Cave Adventure as there were so many different combinations of choices you could make.
It’s interesting to note the variety that exists within the category of cybertext. For instance, Colossal Cave Adventure was not the strongest in terms of “literary merit” — aka the narrative and storyline itself. The objective was really just to make it through the cave, not form a cohesive plot with all the elements of “the perfect scene” (as we learned last week) or develop a character. However, many other text adventures and MUD’s, as well as hypertext literature such as Shelley Jackson’s “My Body – a Wunderkammer,” create a literary experience similar to traditional novels, just with more control in the hands of the user.
Although text adventures and ergodic literature are not quite as popular today and most definitely have not replaced traditional linear texts, they definitely have made their mark and altered the way people think about narratives.