Thursday, March 1, 2012

Cup of Death

The Cup of Deathdramatic much? is meant to represent the variability of video games.  I have nothing to base this on as my own experiences of video games consist of Sonic, DK, and Mario Brothers, none of which have plot least as far as I remember; I also would skip all of the talk bubbles because they were boring, they might have a little bit of story line running through the game.  Choose your own adventure books are not the only way to have an interactive experience with a book; these books are actually an inferior type of interaction. 

Interaction with choose your own adventure books is superficial.  In The Cup of Death the reader gets to pick between two options: involve the police or not; run or make a phone call; go out the window or the door.  However, because the actual story is so short, about 10-15 pages long, one does not have the ability to immerse one’s self in the story.  Chose your own adventure stories are usually designed for children, and are actually very well suited to this age group.  When read by this audience, these books become didactic.  Most obviously, they teach how every action has its consequences, and sometimes different sets of actions lead to the same consequence.  By turning these books into a pedagogical tool, they enable the reader to interact with the text.  The choices made are not the interactive part. 

For an example of good interaction with a text, I will use the book that I am currently reading and which I find myself interacting with iteven if it does not always interact back with me.  This book is Breaking the Rules by Suzanne Brockmann.  First off, this is part of a series and the story arcs span multiple books.  So already before you read the book, you know the characters, their personalities, what their buttons are, etc.  This is important for interactivity because it helps build a rapport between the reader and the book.  For Breaking the Rules, out of the six point of view characters, four of them are recurring characters.  Additionally with point of view, Suzanne Brockmann uses what she calls “deep point of view,” which means, in her own words, ‘I get deep inside of the characters' heads and tell the story through their eyes, using their voices -- their words and thoughts -- as well as their interpretations of various events.  I stay in one single character's POV for each scene in this book.’  This enables the reader to quickly become emotionally involved in the story and to interact with it.  Even though, as a reader, I have no control over the story, it makes me think and feel and it is in these ways in which I interact with the story. 

Perhaps, though, that Breaking the Rules is not the best example because it has so much story being as it is number 16 in the series and it is also geared towards an adult audience.  The next example is Alanna: The First Adventure, a ‘children’s’ book written by Tamora Pierce.  This book is short, around 220 pages in the mass market edition, but it tells a story.  The reader follows Alanna as she disguises herself as a boy to train to be a Knight.  The book covers a long timefour yearsbut it goes into detail; describing not only the setting, but feelings.  Again, it comes back to emotion.  The Cup of Death has no feelings; it is flat, and I have heard more interesting stories of the same length told by kindergartners.

What it comes down to is that, while you have the ability to make decisions for the character in a choose your own adventure, really all you are doing is the literary version of paint by numbers.  The Cup of Death is missing the dialogue between the reader and the characters, and because of this, there is no interaction.  Pushing a button does not count as meaningful interaction, and this, really, is the extent of the choose your own adventure interactiveness.  However, this interactiveness cannot be extrapolated to video games because you can direct the character, you are not just following a pre-written game-plan.  If video games were really like this, I would not fall off every single cliff. 


Brian Moeller said...

Hey Robin,

Your essay actually challenged my view on the assignment as I took interactivity to mean the relationship between the alternate outcomes, where as yours refers more about what quality in a book makes it interactive. It makes me want to add something to mine about the decisions seeming inconsequential or futile due to the lack of engagement with the reader.

I was confused a bit with your video game tie in early in your essay. I would debate that this book and others like it do not "represent the variability of video games" but rather try to stand on their own as a medium. Although this is poorly accomplished, it's presuming to say they're a parallel for video games.

The best way to fix this is eliminate everything having to do with video games, I think. Your essay is based around the relationship between the reader with this book and another book. Your thoughts about video games are extraneous to the rest of your essay. I'd say embrace what you know and run with your ideas on Breaking the Rules instead.

I think your essay's main idea is "What it comes down to is that, while you have the ability to make decisions for the character in a choose your own adventure, really all you are doing is the literary version of paint by numbers. " It's a great conclusion, but I would like to see a similar way to state this earlier in the essay, as it would keep the reader on track of where this essay is going and may also keep your thoughts revolving around the central idea throughout.

Good read overall, thanks for helping me see the assignment in another light.

Adam said...

I agree with Brian that the video game material is irrelevant for what you're doing - even as an aside, it isn't interesting.

What is interesting is what amount to an extended definition of what interactivity is. While I'm not crazy about your examples (not because you shouldn't be dealing with these texts, but because you generalize too much when writing about them - focusing in more detail upon a passage, or perhaps on your emotional response to some scene would have helped with this problem), I do like your approach.

The strongest moment for me is this: "The choices made are not the interactive part. "

A positive definition at this point would be good, but it's implicitly clear - the reader's involvement makes interactivity. If that's your interest, though, you ought to do (much) more with the texts themselves - to explain specifically how Gilligan fails, and how the others succeed, in creating true interactivity.

You might also do more, if you revise (although I doubt you will, given your existing project), to articulate why how we define interactivity matters - does it cause problems to define it in terms of choice?