Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Graded Blog Option 2

In order to decide whether the Choose Your Own Adventure books like Cup of Death are interactive narratives, it is essential to define interactivity. Going by purely the dictionary, the definition of interactivity is “the extent to which something is interactive; the extent to which a computer program and human being may have a dialog.” ( I like the second half of the definition, but I would not limit the dialog to that of computers and humans. Anything that a human actively engages in a dialog would be interactive, in my opinion. In order to be some form of dialog, however, both the human and interactive device would have to both act and respond to one another’s responses to create progress in the narrative. Using this definition, I would argue that Cup of Death is not an interactive narrative.

Most people would disagree with my assertion. They would argue that since the reader’s decisions affect the outcome of the story then the book is interactive. But how much is really changed by the decisions of the story? In my opinion, very little is affected. Everything is predefined. The reader only makes decisions that the story provides. For example, you are given the option at one point to either run away from a car that has been trailing you, or to go to a phone booth and wait. There are two options to the situation and the only thing the reader is choosing is what story to read next. If the book was written as 23 short stories that are all similar but have different middle and endings would anybody proclaim that to be interactive? I highly doubt it. In essence, however, that’s what a Choose Your Own Adventure book ends up being. The only difference is that the pages aren’t in order. True interactivity would have the outcome determined by the user based on their input. In Cup of Death, the outcome through every step is already determined, not allowing it to be truly interactive.

Using my definitions and criteria, it becomes difficult to imagine what an interactive book would look like. Or, is such a book even possible? An interactive book would have to allow the reader to have a bigger part in determining the narrative. The reader must be part of the process in the direction the narrative goes. I don’t see how any book in its current form can accomplish this. Everything happens in a linear, preconceived fashion. I guess the closest books can come to being interactive would be the books that provide prompts that allow the reader to fill in. The only problem here is that the book could not respond to the action by the reader/contributor. It can only respond to what’s already written in the book (Cup of Death) unless the author plans on writing a different story for every individual reader. That is not only impractical, but it could be argued that the book would no longer be a book and would be mere correspondence. Therefore, I really cannot imagine any way in which a book can be truly interactive. Something prewritten simply cannot have a dialog with the reader.

Just because I cannot consider books to have the ability to be truly interactive does not mean their efforts to be so are to go unnoticed. To me, their efforts are akin to artificial intelligence in computers. Any interactivity in books is artificial, attempting to replicate a dialog between the book and the reader just as computers will try to replicate intelligence to the extent that it is programmed to do so. It is in this sense that books like Cup of Death are to be commended. Interactivity is engaging so artificial interactivity still engages the reader. It creates, while false, a sense that the reader’s decisions impact the outcome. In actuality, the only outcome that the reader affects is which page they will read last.

1 comment:

Adam Johns said...

I found this to be a compelling post, which raises some questions. Is there any such thing as true interactivity, then, when the interaction isn't between two actual live humans? My sense is that you'd say "no" - that in most/all computer programs (focusing on games) the "interactivity" is artificial, restricted, fake. I'd argue that your critique of interactivity extends to, e.g., Mass Effect and Bioshock as much as to Cup of Death.

I'm not pushing, but there is a potential project in here somewhere.