I lingered, naturally, on the sentence: I leave to the various futures (not to all) my garden of forking paths. Almost instantly, I understoond: ‘the garden of forking paths’ was the chaotic novel; the phrase ‘the various future (not to all)’ suggested to me the forking in time, not in space. A broad rereading of the work confirmed the theory. In all fictional works, each time a man is confronted with several alternatives, he chooses one and eliminates the others; in the fiction of Ts’ui P’en, he chooses—simultaneously—all of them.
—Borges, “Garden of Forking Paths”
Like Kiley, when I read this short story, I immediately thought of “Choose your own adventure” novels. I also took a moment to relate this idea to interactive fiction. However this text made me think, I was stumped for quite a while. The question of time has always been a fascination in the literary world. We use it in a variety of ways to move a plot along or to keep readers in one period of time longer (if we’re using flashbacks).
The overall idea I took from this book, however, was that there appear to be alternate universes where some, if not all, of these other paths were taken and led to different results. While reading, I also reflected on the themes of time and free will that were prominent in The Time Traveler’s Wife. Unlike Garden of Forking Paths, where the decision appears to be that of the person committing the action, in Time Traveler’s Wife, it seems as though the main characters are trapped in a particular route. They do not experience any opportunity to choose from the forking path. But that is another debate for another time.
Moving back to the themes featured in this short story and how they relate to interactive fiction makes me again question the future of literature. I find myself thinking of interactive fiction and of modern role-playing games—the same list of games I always leave as an example—and am intrigued by Borges’ thought of these forking paths and their effect on time. The beauty of a video game, unlike real life or in books, is that the player has the opportunity to explore all of his options before making the final decision. He, or she, can save right before a big decision, play through their first decision, save again, and then reload to the save prior to the decision. And then the player can repeat the process multiple times until she comes across the plot scenario she likes the most. Lost yet? Don’t be. Basically, the player has the chance to travel down multiple paths to find the best outcome.
Now, if only we had those options in real life…
via Borges, “Garden of Forking Paths” online discussion.