Narrative as Puzzle !?
an Interview with Marie-Laure Ryan

Marie-Laure Ryan is an independent scholar working in the areas of narrative theory and electronic textuality. She has written various articles on Hypertext and Narrative, she has published "Possible Worlds, Artificial Intelligence and Narrative Theory" (Bloomington: Indiana University Press 1991) and edited "Cyberspace Textuality: Computer Technology and Literary Theory" (Bloomington: Indiana University Press 1999). Roberto Simanowski talked with her about her forthcoming book "Narrative as Virtual Reality: Immersion and Interactivity in Literature and Electronic Media" (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, late 2000), about the hypertext condition, and the problem of interactive narrativity.

Quotes from the Introduction of Narrative as Virtual Reality

Preview of Chapter 8 of Narrative as Virtual Reality

from the interview:

-> The users of interactive drama would enter a computer-generated world, meet computer-generated agents, impersonate a fictional character ... They would be spectator, character, actor, and author.

-> From the point of view of a participant a plot that would not be very interesting for a pure spectator may become fascinating-just as playing a tennis game not worthy of televising may be a richly rewarding experience for the player.

-> Fiction presupposes a suspension of disbelief... The creation of suspense is highly dependent on the order of presentation of narrative information... Randomizing the sequence is not necessarily deprived of aesthetic interest; but the effect that results from the chance encounter of two lexia is more of a metaphorical / lyrical than of a causal / narrative type.

-> Reading becomes a game similar to solving a jig-saw puzzle: the picture to be reconstituted is the story itself.

-> But does the interactivity of digital texts change narrative on the deep structural level, the level of story, or on the contrary, do they threaten its coherence?

-> There may be hypertexts that allow the reconstruction of a grand narrative, some that present only little stories (stories contained in one lexia), and still others that frustrate narrative desire both on the level of grand narrative and of little stories.

-> The next generation of hypertexts will have to be visually pleasurable, and hypertext will be a work of design and orchestration as much as a work of writing.

-> To remain readable, these conceptual hypertexts will have to be shorter than the hypertext novels of the first generation. And it will be necessary to give a strong allegorical meaning to the action of moving through the textual network—not an invariant generic message inherent to the medium, but a meaning unique to each particular text, and ideally recreated with every use of the device.

-> The anti-narrative and self-reflexive stance of postmodern texts is an interesting moment in the development of literature, but in the long run, immersive narrativity is much more viable, pleasurable, and diversified than anti-narrativity.

-> Let me therefore focus on what I see as the main problem with interactive texts: their deficiency, compared to traditional narrative in the area of immersivity...Every time the reader is asked to make a choice, the flow of narration is interrupted...

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