What if I went left?

Aaserth describes ergotic literature by comparing it to labyrinths in which “the reader can explore at will, get lost, discover secret paths, play around, follow the rules, and so on.” In Colossal Cave Adventure, a text-based interactive fiction game, the reader does exactly that. They explore at will, get lost, discover secret paths, play around, follow the rules, and so on. As a matter of fact, when I first played, I continuously wandered the forest because I did not know that I had to enter the building. If Porter did not show us to “enter building” during class, I never would have made it past the forest.

Even after getting into the cave, I never made it to the end of the game. I continued roaming in circles and getting lost. Sometimes, if there is a crossroad, I would move in one direction, check it out, and return to the crossroad to try the other direction. However, in many cases, going in the opposite direction would not take me to where I once started, and I would not get to see what would have happened if I had chosen the other direction. This connects to Aeserth’s other point that with cybertexts, “you are constantly reminded of inaccessible strategies and paths not taken.” Maybe if I went left instead of right, I would have made it to the end of the game.

In a way, this is both an affordance and a constraint of cybertext. The inability to see the outcome of the other option makes the text more similar to reality in which we cannot turn back time and see what would have happened if I, for example, decided to join University Honors instead of DCC. Would I have met the same friends? At the same time, it is a constraint of cybertext because the reader cannot experience everything the text has to offer. An example is “My Body – a Wunderkammer” by Shelly Jackson. I liked how everybody could start at a different part of the body and click different hyperlinks in each text to read in a different sequence, and knowing that there were probably parts that I missed, I kept clicking hyperlinks. The thought of missing out can engage the reader and persuade them to keep reading. However, April was upset because she never knew if she had checked every option and gotten the full experience.

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One thought on “What if I went left?

  1. Excellent observation regarding “My Body” and the multiple ways one can begin reading the text. That further complicates Aarseth’s discussion of the labyrinth as a narrative model as we normally assume that there is one entrance and one exit to a labyrinth.

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