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Avatars of Story

2006
Author:

Marie-Laure Ryan

Avatars of Story

Traces the transformation of storytelling in the digital age

Marie-Laure Ryan moves beyond literary works to examine other media, especially electronic narrative forms, revealing how story, a form of meaning that transcends cultures and media, achieves diversity by presenting itself under multiple avatars. Ryan considers texts such as the reality television show Survivor, the film The Truman Show, and software-driven hypertext fiction, and anticipates the time when media will provide new ways to experience stories.

In its scope, Avatars of Story provides an informative overview of narrative theory insofar as it informs both traditional and digital media. I find the final two chapters extremely engaging, especially the concluding chapter on metalepsis and its incursion into the realms of mathematics, logic, and experimental science—most notably, Gödel’s theorem, Schrödinger’s cat, and Turing’s machine.

Comparative Literature Studies

Since its inception, narratology has developed primarily as an investigation of literary narrative fiction. Linguists, folklorists, psychologists, and sociologists have expanded the inquiry toward oral storytelling, but narratology remains primarily concerned with language-supported stories. In Avatars of Story, Marie-Laure Ryan moves beyond literary works to examine other media, especially electronic narrative forms. By grappling with semiotic media other than language and technology other than print, she reveals how story, a form of meaning that transcends cultures and media, achieves diversity by presenting itself under multiple avatars.

Ryan begins by considering, among other texts, a 1989 Cubs-Giants baseball broadcast, the reality television show Survivor, and the film The Truman Show. In all these texts, she sees a narrative that organizes meaning without benefit of hindsight, foreseeing the real-time dimension of computer games. She then turns to new media. In a discussion covering text-based interactive fiction such as Spider and Web and Galatea, hypertexts such as Califia and Patchwork Girl, multimedia works such as Juvenate, Web-based short narratives, and Façade, a multimedia, AI-supported project in interactive drama, she focuses on how narrative meaning is affected by the authoring software, such as the Infocom parser, the Storyspace hypertext-producing system, and the programs Flash and Director. She also examines arguments against considering computer games such as The Sims and EverQuest as a form of narrative, and responds by outlining an approach to computer games that merges their imaginative and strategic dimensions. In doing so, Ryan distinguishes a wide spectrum of narrative modes, such as utilitarian, illustrative, indeterminate, metaphorical, participatory, emergent, and simulative.

Ultimately, Ryan stresses the difficulty of reconciling narrativity with interactivity and anticipates the time when media will provide new ways to experience stories.

Avatars of Story

Marie-Laure Ryan is an independent scholar and author of Possible Worlds, Artificial Intelligence, and Narrative Theory and Narrative as Virtual Reality: Immersion and Interactivity in Literature and Electronic Media.

Avatars of Story

In its scope, Avatars of Story provides an informative overview of narrative theory insofar as it informs both traditional and digital media. I find the final two chapters extremely engaging, especially the concluding chapter on metalepsis and its incursion into the realms of mathematics, logic, and experimental science—most notably, Gödel’s theorem, Schrödinger’s cat, and Turing’s machine.

Comparative Literature Studies

Avatars of Story

Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction

I. Narrative in Old Media

1. Narrative, Media, and Modes
2. Drawing and Transgressing Fictional Boundaries
3. Narrative in Fake and Real Reality TV
4. Narrative in Real Time

II. Narrative in New Media

5. Toward an Interactive Narratology
6. Interactive Fiction and Storyspace Hypertext
7. Web -Based Narrative, Multimedia, and Interactive Drama
8. Computer Games as Narrative
9. Metaleptic Machines

Notes
Bibliography

Index