August 21, 2007

More on tragedy and hypertext

Emily Short replies to my notes on IF and Tragedy in "What Would James Bond Do?"

She's right: she caught me shuffling genre and dealing from the bottom of the deck. Ulysses and Bond aren't tragic heroes, and I was subtly shifting your focus to the hero protagonist of romance and fable. A fair cop!

But it's not quite that simple: a character placed in a hopeless situation is neither tragic or dramatic. A crucial point is that the hero must have options. We can see the options, and we can see how the hero cannot see them. But if you are the hero, it's hard to see and to be blind at once. (Not impossible, I grant you, and I agree that there's good work in IF on this. See also early criticism from Joyce and, especially, Terry Harpold on contours and "turning away" in hypertext narrative, respectively.)

A counter-argument might be Long Day's Journey Into Night. Not a tragedy, but an interesting case. Could you approach Long Day's Journey as an interactive fiction? Who would serve as the point of view character? Surely not the maid, Cathleen. But anyone else could easily put things off the rails in all sorts of ways: Search the house; Call a doctor; Murder the vile old man in the library with the poker; Check into a hotel. How could you allow them agency and still prevent them from undertaking an action that leads somewhere we can't go. I'm confident you can do Long Day's Journey as a hypertext: the play itself is very nearly a hypertext, especially the final act with its buckets of intertextuality.