Lynda Clark is an award-winning writer and PhD researcher. Her current research involves exploring reader/creator relationships through interactive fiction. She is particularly interested in how the techniques used in interactive works might be applied to both creative and critical texts, and how far any text might be considered interactive. The creative element of her doctoral thesis is an interactive online novel which allows readers/players to shape the life of an aspiring writer, encouraging them to explore the impact of engaging with texts and their authors. The critical element examines the relationship between literature and games, particularly in terms of episodic writing, which allows reader/player responses to shape unfolding narratives. Both creative and critical component make use of dialogic, fragmentary and hypertext writing to further emphasise the shifting, unusual nature of reader/creator/text relationships and question the fixity of the boundaries between those terms.
From That’s not how it should end [extract]
That coin under your hand? Its orientation is not completely indeterminate. Unless you are using a trick coin, or have fluffed this up already and dropped it, sending it skittering under the edge of the sofa with the dust and the spiders, it can only be heads or tails. But, like Schroedinger’s famous cat, it exists in a state of flux until you look at it. Look at it now.
Toss it again.
On and on until you have your ten heads in a row.
How was it done?
Interactive fiction and magic tricks are alike in that their ambiguity is often tied to their structure and therefore may decrease with successive viewings. In other words, to understand their workings is to see through the illusion of multifarious choice. For a highly literary and overdetermined text, Iser gives the example of James Joyce’s Ulysses (50), the multiplicity of possible readings is a permanent feature. Successive readings are more likely to uncover further nuances that invite further possible interpretations, rather than allowing the reader to comfortably come to a conclusion. For the magic trick or the interactive fiction, meaning-making is tied up in structure and if that structure is laid bare, the audience becomes aware that their level of involvement was misplaced – there were far fewer possibilities than they might have imagined (in the case of the magic trick, usually only a single possibility.)
The magic trick has the distinct advantage that its structure may only be laid bare if either the magician (or someone else) chooses to offer an explanation of how the trick was performed, or if the observer becomes sufficiently adept at magical techniques themselves to correctly deduce how the effect was achieved. In interactive fiction, merely replaying the text has the potential to reveal the truth of the choices offered, illuminating them as a set number of navigable routes, or superficial edits rather than the endless branching or multitude of textual effects the reader may have previously imagined.