Heuristic Intrigue: Why is eLit so Exciting?

“Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3” Cover Art By ATLUS. The entire Persona series of video games operates on user-action specific plot lines, each decision effects not only the present action but also outcome of the game.

My experience with eLit is extremely limited, especially when the terms is referring to the sorts of interactive fiction games that we have been playing with as ENGL 376. Personally, I haven’t actually connected to any of the stories that we’ve interacted with as of yet, the worlds feel clunky and hard to manage or there’s really not that much interaction at all. My lack of excitement quite likely stems from the fact that I’ve been spoiled with clean-cut digital RPGs that have come quite close to fabricating a fully functional, self-contained reality, complete with various user-action-dictated storylines and outcomes.

My personal disconnect to what we’ve been studying has made exploring it rather tricky, as each attempt I’ve made to investigate a work as an Explorer, my personal opinions on how ‘good’ it is keep interrupting my analysis of what the work is actually doing. So instead of trying to make it through a entire eLit work without commentating from my own intense bias, I decided to study what exactly there is to study about eLit, and why a lot of people are so excited about it. I started out thinking that the Heuristic Appeal, the experience-based draw, of eLit was that it was new, that the coding-type statement-response ‘interactivity’ was simply finding a use for the newfangled computer.

In many ways, I still think that. However, an essay by Serge Bouchardon that presented various other explanations for the draw of rather unwieldy interactive fiction, taught me about the almost anthropological voyeurism of many eLit works and how in the process of reading, one is actually studying the culture that creates the media while also  studying the culture presented by it. Rather than being put off by the fact that the narrative is held at arm’s length from the reader, the reader might be able to relish in the almost out-of-body experience presented by the narrative. The Heuristic Value of eLit is not just in the process of how on experiences the work of fiction, but also in how that experience is perceived by the reader and communicated through the narrative.

“Dang-nabit these crazy kids and their creepy, uninviting narrative inventions…” as far as first impressions go, it doesn’t get much worse, in my opinion.

Bouchardon points out the difference between interactive ‘guidance’ through a narrative and active control over it. The idea of being controlled by the narrative as much, or more so, than controlling it offers and interesting introspective window on the effects of media. When reading a book that’s a real ‘page-turner’, for example, the reader is being manipulated quite explicitly, but the manipulation is never noticed by the reader; in fact the loss of notice of the line between the reader’s world and the story’s world is an integral part of the manipulation. In regards to interactive fiction, the limited choices present a continual reminder that the fiction is crafted as an entirely distinct entity.

That awareness of being the outsider can create ‘semantic depth’ and mandate a redoubling of meaning according to Bouchardon. In class we’ve spoken of the various ways to analyze eLit, whether by recording a given take of it or peering into the depths of the static source code, but the heuristic value can  be assessed in the actual process of moving through a narrative: is the reader supposed to input directives, and if so what are they? Is the reader meant to click links that show up as hypertext in paragraphs or as links attached to images or pathways embedded in videos? Analyzing the actual motions one makes to move through the narrative can give insights on to how and why the reader is willing to make the attempt to collect fragments in order to understand the narrative as something more wholistic.

  2 comments for “Heuristic Intrigue: Why is eLit so Exciting?

  1. eng1
    February 10, 2014 at 3:25 pm

    I feel the same way about the games we have played in eLit. The games we play in class seem almost…primitive to what we are used to playing (e.g. Persona 3 like your photo). Interactive fiction games does have its perks. I feel these games let us develop our own character by giving us more options than regular RPGs and therefore further immerses us into the game while contributing to the heuristics. You explained a lot of what the Bouchardon’s article stated but has his article changed your perspective on those games? Or, do you think at least now you might be able to appreciate future interactive fiction games a little bit more?

  2. February 16, 2014 at 10:04 am

    While I’m glad you have the self-awareness to recognize your own prejudice, I have to wonder, like eng1, whether by reading an article about elit you managed to change your opinion?

    And, look, I can’t convince you to like something you don’t like, but to call something “clunky” because it fails to meet an arbitrary and anachronistic expectation you’ve created for it says more about you as the player than it does about the work. I think you realize this, but it bears mentioning.

    While I should say it’s not relevant to track most elit within the history of gaming per se, responses like yours make me wonder we (as in, people who play games) have gotten to the point where our expectations of ease are so low that we bristle at anything requiring us to use our imaginations? Short of an explanation, perhaps the best we can do is understand that expectation of ease is itself an ideology, a sense entitlement that sandbags any analysis with the bad faith of pre-judgment. Moreover, your attitude seeks to alienate those of us who do find electronic literature compelling. Like, what must be wrong with us that we actually like this crap?

    And, by the way, it’s not going to get any less “clunky” from here, so I hope you can find ways to work more productively with the material of this class.

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