I Think I Am Understanding Aarseth

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“But there is a difference, and for a very simple reason: the bewildered reader of a narrative can safely assume that the events that are already encountered, however mystifying, will make sense in the end (if the plot is to make sense at all); whereas the player of an adventure game (Deadline is a good example) is not guaranteed that the events thus far are at all relevant to the solution of the game.  Hence it could be argued that the reader is (or at least produces) the story.”

--From page 112 of Espen J. Aarseth’s Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature


This reminded me of a discussion in Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler.  At one point, Calvino’s narrator suggests that it is safe to be involved in a book because when a person reads, there is no effect for that person based on the story, even if there is for the characters.  This was something that I thought applied to most text-based works.  Even though Calvino invoked emotion in me, the reader, making me feel uncomfortable at times, there was never any real danger to me because I was an outsider.  At the start of the book, I thought I was the “reader,” but I soon realized I was not, and this was actually a character in the story.  The story would be there or not if I read, and would approach the same end even if I stopped.  This is how I thought all stories were.

However, after reading this chapter in Aarseth’s book, and after experiencing interactive fiction on my own, I can see that adventure games do not follow this pattern.  As Aarseth suggests, the reader is the story, produces it, or allows it to happen by being involved in it.  Without the reader, there would be no story.  Also, if a different reader were to fill in, it is highly unlikely that the same stories would unfold because of all of the possibilities that adventure games allow for.  This means that it is not “safe” for the reader.  Of course, the reader will not be physically harmed if he or she stops playing; however, the character that the reader participates as in the text, often the protagonist, will be harmed, either by never reaching an end, or by failure.

For instance, I was frustrated at one point as I was playing Deadline.  I remembered that I had tried to leave the Robner estate at one point, and the game had told me I would lose my job if I did that.  I wanted to know the ending, and didn’t really care about having a fictional job or not, so I tried to leave again.  Of course, the game would not allow me to do this, but I realized from this just how important my character was to the story.  Without me, the story would not exist. 

See what my classmates have to say about Aarseth’s chapter five.

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