As a student of literature, I usually prepare for lectures and seminars by reading novels. Printed novels. Last week was different. We talked about Hypertexts and Interactive Fiction (IF), which arose between the 1960s and the 1980s. The majority of Hypertexts start with a short introduction and then leave you to choose what happens next. As soon as you click on a link- the story changes and there is no going back.
A similar trend can be seen with IF. We read (or should I say played?) Emily Short’s Galatea, an interactive text in which you find yourself, or the character you become, talking to a statue. The course of the game/text is different depending on Galatea’s mood and how you talk to her. It was hard to adapt to the language which the computer ‘parser’ was able to understand and translate.
When Hypertexts and IF first emerged, creators claimed that these forms of fiction free the reader from the author’s domination. Readers can control the course of the story and become creative. In my experience, the contrary happened: I felt trapped inside the many possible ways that were still dominated by its creator. Using the program ‘Twine” to create our own Hypertext, I realized how much the author is still in control. In my story, I gave the reader the option to turn around and leave the secret room in the library they just discovered, but that just led to them finding out that the door through which they came was already locked.
I did not agree with the liberating reading experience promised by Hypertexts and Interactive Fiction. After all, do we want to be liberated? Isn’t the point of fiction to plunge into different worlds, following the paths the author created for us, to lean back, discover, and let ourselves be freed from everyday life. That’s what the freedom of literature is about, isn’t it?
Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.Frederick Douglass