November 28, 2001
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The Loneliness of the Reader

Anja Rau, writing about the social life of games, captures an interesting point about the loneliness of the reader. (Dateline November 27,2001: permalinks aren't working) Social interaction is also a key, I think, to very large narratives like online-caroline and Buffy; part of their attraction (like the fascination with Little Nell) lies in thinking and talking about the fictive situation as it unfolds. (Can Willow stay on the wagon? How do they get her scenes past the censors? Now that Angel's a daddy, can he buy life insurance even though he's dead?)

I think it's important to distinguish critics who find artistic shortcomings in games from those who just don't like games in the first place. Both may say, "there's no character here", but they mean different things. The nay-sayer is merely claiming that games can't do what the amusements of her youth once did, and we're all familiar with that kind of nostalgia for an imaginary past. It's useful, on the other hand, to identify apparent shortcomings in a body of work. This usefulness is even clearer when software enters the mix, for conceivably the apparent propensities of the medium might be changed by changing the software.

We're seeing this effect right now with Ceres. People are very interested in the way Ceres leads people to write, and how writing with Ceres compares, say, to working in Blogger. But as soon as we identify a tendency -- Jill's suggestion, for example, that we link less often in Ceres -- small changes and new features (like Web links) may transform everything.