Of all the Narrative and Technology reading assignments this semester, Shannon Gilligan’s Cup of Death is certainly one of the most compelling. Enthusiasm for this book, however, is garnered by the reader not because the work contains academically dense, prophetic passages, but because it delivers something the majority of books lack: choice. Choice that is, by the reader. As Cup of Death is a “choose your own adventure” story, the reader is forced to make choices throughout its entirety. Different choices lead to different endings to the story, and as one experiences multiple endings to the same story, it’s plot as a whole is slowly woven together like a web. This particular attribute of Shannon Gilligan’s Cup of Death, immediately and very apparently brings the concept of modern online gaming to mind. As players of online games such as, “Call of Duty” know, most game-play is spent interacting with characters controlled by other players like yourself. This style of entertainment, online-gaming, allows people from around the world to be able to “choose their own adventure” by giving them the ability to choose who they “interact” with each other. Cup of Death allows people from around the world to “choose their own adventure” by choosing who they “interact” with in its story.
This obvious comparison brings overarching connections to mind, such as the connection between what author Hubert Dreyfus calls the, “disembodied interactions”, between Internet users in general, and the readers of books (50 Dreyfus). Through reading a book, readers are able to make their, “bodies seem irrelevant” (49 Dreyfus). By taking readers’ minds to fictional places but not their physical bodies, books create a sense of disconnectedness between body and mind. The ability to experience sometimes intense, even harrowing situations via book removes the necessity for bodily commitment to any danger in the reader, in doing so also removing any bodily limitations. Books such as Shannon Gilligan’s Cup of Death add the aforementioned choice into the sense of disconnectedness already present in general reading, and by doing so create a highly unique experience for the reader. This experience is akin to the experiences of users of the Internet in that the Internet also gives users a sense of disconnectedness between mind and body. Social networking sites such as Facebook offer users the ability to “interact” without the pressure of doing so in person. However, it does not limit this interaction to one distinct kind. On the contrary, websites like Facebook allow users to “interact” with one another through emails, instant text messages, video chat, and others. This ability to “choose” how one interacts with a non-physical place is what separates “choose your own adventure” style books from any other, and also connects them to the Internet in such a unique way. By taking away the necessity for one’s physical body, both remove, “the possibility of my controlling my body’s movement so as to get a better grip on the world” (59 Dreyfus). This, of course, leads to a sense of disconnectedness. Shannon Gilligan’s Cup of Death demands that the reader choose who to interact with in its story. By asking who they would, “like to talk first to”, Gilligan’s book gives its readers an experience very similar to online-gaming (13 Gilligan). By adding this element of choice, she also adds a type of “interaction” unique to books. No longer is it a book that can be only intangibly interpreted, within the mind. It becomes instead, capable of immediate, tangible manipulation. In the same way that Internet users are given the ability to tangibly “interact” with other users by choosing who to contact, the readers of Cup of Death are given the ability to tangibly interact with the story by having the option of choosing which characters to “interact” with. Should this interaction feel fake to us?
In reading Cup of Death, the reader is interacting not only with its characters, but also indirectly with Shannon Gilligan, the author herself. In playing online games such as “Call of Duty”, one is interacting not only with its characters, but also, indirectly, the players themselves. By deciding to, “get onto the bus”, or, “make a dash for the train”, the reader is indirectly interacting with Shannon Gilligan in that they are listening to her through a communication medium other than conversation (86 Gilligan). By choosing who to interact with, the Internet user is indirectly interacting with that person. However indirect, the interaction between the reader and Shannon Gilligan through Cup of Death is much the same. While more real a connection than that between readers and authors of others books in that its inclusion of “choice” creates deeper interaction between reader and author, the connection is very similar to that formed when Internet users “interact”. This is because in both circumstances, the reader, or user, is indirectly “interacting”. In reading Cup of Death, one interacts with the author by “choosing” to read her story in the first place and then by “choosing” how to interact with it and its characters. On social networking sites like Facebook, users “choose” to create an account, and then “choose” how to interact with other users.
Such intangible interaction, however, may have negative consequences. Hubert Dreyfus claims in his book On the Internet that, “two surveys suggest that living through the Net leads to isolation, and one of these surveys finds, in addition, that use of the Net leads to loneliness and depression” (136 Dreyfus). If one takes for granted the validity of said surveys, then it would follow that since “choose your own adventure” style book readers share in a type of interaction similar to users of the Internet, they too would exhibit similar signs of, “isolation” (136 Dreyfus). Is Dreyfus merely a reactionary, no different than those who may have spoken out against alleged dangers of reading too much in years before computers? Is the Internet truly the cause of loneliness? Or is it merely patronized because it the newest form of entertainment? Much like times shortly after the invention of the printing press, the current zeitgeist is one of seemingly unlimited potential for “interaction”. With all new extraordinary developments in technology, there comes a period of almost paranoia of it, as it overshadows all before it. Were people as afraid of the consequences of the printing press as they are about those of the Internet?
• Dreyfus, Hubert L.. On the internet. London: Routledge, 2001. Print.
• Gilligan, Shannon. Cup of death. Waitsfield, Vt.: Chooseco, 20072005. Print.