Thursday, March 1, 2012

Blog 6, Prompt 1

The Adventure of Me: How Choose Your Own Adventure Books Foster Interactivity

Choose your own adventures are a lot more frustrating than fans tout them to be. No matter how hard I tried to have an uplifting outcome, I die or someone else dies. This type of display of entertainment requires an active person to experience the game or book. A book can take a passive approach: A reader simply picks up Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and reads right through to the end. Some other books require a more cognizant reader, including David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, which includes dozens of pages of footnotes. But books like Cup of Death asks the readers to be fully aware of themselves, such as their viewpoints on morals and life, to make their way through the novel. Choose-your-own-adventure forms of entertainment want people to be aware of themselves in an attempt to create reality; however, that reality oftentimes does not have outcomes that likely come from starting at point A and going to point B.

I wouldn’t call The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy computer game my favorite game by any means, but it might have been the most challenging and frustrating game, which is why it still sticks in my mind. A young student introduced the class to the game as part of a supplement to his speech about the 1978 novel. No matter how many times I played the game, I ended up dying due to a bulldozer plowing throw my home and crushing me before I could even advance about 10 of the 400 steps. The game uses keyboard commands such as “turn on lights” or “drop everything apart from towel and babel fish.” The person typing in the commands can only make about 30 mistakes or so before the game ends – which usually means you die. So making small mistakes such as “walk through door” can catch up to the person later in the game.

This is something that differentiates itself from Gilligan’s Cup of Death. Several times, I admit, I would keep my thumb on a page that sent me in several directions, and if Noriko Oda died, I would pick up at the fork in the road instead of starting over. I was aware of my own personal biases in the novel. For instance, when I had to decide which of the four people to the tea ceremony I wanted to follow, I immediately suspected Oda. That’s because I she deals with rare items such as gems, and she had a son with a gambling problem, so I concluded that she must be trying to pay off a likely debt he’s in trouble for.

The interactivity between the computer game and the player is more real than that of the paper book and the reader. In reality, people don’t have the chance to go back and decide to not jump into the trunk of the car, which will eventually lead to witnessing the death of a gem dealer (Gilligan 45). Apparently in a choose-your-own-adventure novel called Inside UFO 54-40, there is only one positive outcome in which the reader is in a heroic position, but you have to actively find the page which stands alone, to which the book congratulates the reader for breaking the rules of the book (Hendrix). However, what’s not realistic is that reality can be presented in a compact form, whether that is a computer game on a screen or a 120-page book.

Furthermore, Cup of Death doesn’t really present a realistic version of life. I didn’t really pay attention to the title of the novel until after death occurred in the novel after my first three times through the novel with the repeated death of gem dealer Noriko Oda. Even in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy game, I would be crushed by a bulldozer or mauled by a ravenous Bugblatter Beast. In an interview with Slate, the publishers of choose-your-own-adventure novels said that death, more or less, makes the books feel “real” because just because someone chooses what is perceived to be the moral route doesn’t mean the outcome will make the character heroic (Hendrix). In the Hitchhiker’s game, I was strategizing. When I wake up, I command the game to “get up” and “turn on the lights.” I’m making lifelike decisions that lead to realistic outcomes. I “walk through the door,” and I’m told “You’re on the porch.” And that is the difference between the different mediums of interactivity.

Additional source:

Hendrix, Grady. "Choose Your Own Adventure: How the Cave of Time Taught Us to Love Interactive Entertainment." Slate. 18 Feb. 2011. Online.


Patrick Kilduff said...

I enjoyed your approach in the first/opening paragraph of your post with using a comparison with a normal story and a more cognitive book. It really gives the reader of your post a good sense of what a choose your adventure book is all about (with the understanding that one may not know what they are all about). I also liked your comparison with Hitchhikers Guide to the galaxy, a great example. It reminded me a lot of Zork. I also used a similar strategy at times to read Cup of Death, exploring as many avenues as possible. Something maybe to add to your revision to this (if you so choose) is to maybe include some points on Marcuse, like we discussed in class, it would add some substance to your paper. But overall, I liked your analysis and agree with a good portion of your argument.

Adam said...

Your beginning is interesting and mostly well written, but lacks clarity at a critical moment. "Choose-your-own-adventure forms of entertainment want people to be aware of themselves in an attempt to create reality; however, that reality oftentimes does not have outcomes that likely come from starting at point A and going to point B." Is the problem here that CYOA adventures lack realism, or that they lack an appropriate range of options? I could read it either way, but they seem like very different areas of inquiry.

What you're working around to is the difficulty of containing all of the complex options of reality inside the confines of - well, any kind of representation, it seems, although a CYOA book aimed at kids might be especially limited.

This is an interesting approach, and it gets more interesting when you start to discuss "strategizing." But you are obviously a long way away from any sort of fixed argument.

Here's one way I could see questioning you. Are you arguing that traditional linear (or not so linear, e.g., Wallace) narrative are less interactive? More interactive? Or are you arguing that interactivity itself is a problem, or uninteresting, or false, because interactivity means surrending realism (mimesis) for strategizing?

I suspect, somewhat vaguely, that you're working yourself around to something like that final argument. What is absent though, before that or any other real argument can begin is a sense of your own values. It would seem (maybe wrongly) that you value realism highly. What do you mean by realism, and why do you value it? Once that becomes clear, the proper direction (in terms of reading particular texts, etc.) might fall more clearly into place.

Very interesting and thoughtful - but also a very early draft.