June 7, 2011
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Narrative Workshop

As expected, the Hypertext Conference kicked off with an exhilarating workshop on narrative in hypertext. Organized by Charlie Hargood and David Millard from Southampton, the workshop spent the morning exploring hypertext writing and criticism, wandering in the afternoon in the direction of analysis, structure, and visual design.

My own talk was called Wandering Monsters: on the problem of coherence in digital narrative. Lots of people are deeply worried about the apparent incoherence of hypertext stories; in the main conference, for example, Vinay Chilikuri gave a very interesting paper in the main conference, in which each transition’s shift of character, place, or time was considered a source of cognitive “processing load” and a potential source of distraction or incoherence. I think, however, that the apparent incoherence of hypertext narrative is an illusion. It’s not that hypertext is hard to read: High Late Modernism and Postmodernism is hard to read, and a lot of the best and best-known hypertext fiction is consciously modern or pomo.

Most hypertext works by varying the plot – the sequence in which the story appears – rather than the story itself. If we do want to vary the story, though, narrativist games give us plenty of exemplars for doing this without collapsing the story or, indeed, ending up very far from where we intended to go. I showed how narrativist games like Morningstar’s Gray Ranks and Gijsbers’ Stalin’s Story add incident without losing the thread.

I was, of course, very sad to miss the spatial hypertext workshop, especially the chance to see VUE and Compendium, not to mention each year’s tantalizing hints about Jessica Rubart’s system. (Congratulations on new post!) Landow gave nifty overview of the Victorian Web and wiki experience, though somewhat swallowing his lines over the failure of wiki to improve student writing as much as his older moderated approach.

Good late-night talk with Nack, Hargood, Mason, et. al over hazardous Belgian beer – not quite as hazardous, fortunately, as the Tactical Nuclear Penguin of which we have been told – about computer science talks that exploit the Math Bomb.

There aren’t nearly enough studies of hypertext in Hypertext anymore.