New Readings

New Readings

2005-04-20

The reader steps to the fore in the final section of First Person, reconfigured and ready for interaction.

The Oulipopo - a younger relative of the Oulipo - explores the potential of the mystery story, describing and creating new configurations of the elements that compose the mystery genre. The group’s 1971 founding text, by Oulipo cofounder François Le Lionnais (1998), asks in its title, “Who is Guilty?” Of the many possible answers, Le Lionnais considers numerous examples from the literature - although one possibility has no example: “x = the reader.”

This configuration, in which the reader is guilty, would seem impossible in a mystery story. For a computer game, on the other hand, it might seem to be the easiest configuration - the design of id’s Doom (Green, Petersen, and Romero 1993) being much simpler to emulate than Infocom’s Deadline (Blank 1982). Yet there is clearly something incorrect about the comparison. In what sense, after all, is the player of Doom a reader? Establishing that the Doom player is a murderer is left as an exercise for the reader. It may be that the term “reader” should not be used here.

And yet, the Deadline player clearly is a reader - and something more, or at least something different. What’s taking place here? To begin to answer, the three essays in this section fashion new modes of thinking to grapple with new forms of reading. Or perhaps it would be better to say that they create new theoretical positions appropriate to emerging textual forms - for although there have certainly been critical discussions of responsive texts in the past, much of these discussions have focused on concepts not appropriate to the works discussed here.

The first text under consideration is Talan Memmott’s (2000) Lexia to Perplexia - which N. Katherine Hayles, in her essay, describes as her “tutor text,” for exploring ways that computation and network technologies are “fundamentally altering the ways in which humans conceive of themselves and their relations to others.” Lexia to Perplexia is a work built on and of the web, pushing web techniques to their limits, and requiring a reading that constantly adjusts to its unpredictable modes. In the next essay, Jill Walker offers a reading of Online Caroline (Bevan and Wright 2000-01), a technically wide-ranging Internet work that incorporates web pages, e-mail, streaming video, and response forms, as well as audience-tracking and customization techniques. Not only does Online Caroline require a new type of reading - it also produces a new permutation of “Who is Guilty?” in which the reader becomes an accomplice to murder. In this section’s final essay, Nick Montfort considers a class of works known as Interactive Fiction - a class to which Deadline belongs, as well as the landmark Zork (Anderson, Blank, Daniels, and Lebling 1977-79) - which still boasts a culture of active authors and readers, who use freely available tools to create new work and distribute it over the Internet. Montfort locates his essay within our continuing story/game discussion, and defines a number of possible categories of experience that may expand this discussion beyond the dualism.

As the last essay in this book, it is fitting that Montfort’s respondents are Brenda Laurel and Janet Murray - two of the founders of the cyberdramatic perspective with which our discussion began. In this volume the editors have attempted to group together thematically similar essays, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that any of the essays included here could be fruitfully compared with any other - and that we have convened this wide-ranging discussion specifically because it is not possible to understand this emerging field without such a diverse assemblage of viewpoints. We hope that this book may serve as a sort of core sample of the new media “story, performance, and game” field at this stage in its development, and that as this field continues to expand, it will prove useful to the next generation of new media practitioners.

Response

Matthew Kirschenbaum’s response to New Readings

Reference: Literature

Le Lionnais, François (1998). “Who is Guilty?” translated by Iain White. In Oulipo Compendium, edited by Harry Mathews and Alistair Brotchie. London: Atlas Press, 269-270.

References: Games

Zork. Timothy Anderson, Marc Blank, Bruce Daniels, and Dave Lebling; Infocom. 1977-79.

Deadline. Mark Blank; Infocom. 1982.

Doom. Shawn R. Green, Sandy Petersen, and John Romero; id Software. 1993.