The goal is clear: I’d like to write stories and make them available for people to read. The stories themselves would be concrete experiences — just words on a page or screen, it’s true, but words stimulate the brain to imagine that real events are transpiring.
Same deal with Buffy: The reality (cameras, scripts, lighting, makeup, paychecks to the actors, carefully designed special effects) is an abstract apparatus, but the viewer has, in the end, a concrete experience. Mentally constructed, to be sure, but it’s an experience of “real” events, not an experience of the syntax of computer code, nor of camera angles and all the rest. If we notice camera angles and lighting while watching a movie or TV show, it’s because we have become less involved in the story as a concrete experience.
I trust I don’t need to belabor the difference any further.
What I learned yesterday was that I like concrete better than I like abstract. I’m familiar with several computer programming languages, and have written books about two of them, so I don’t think I need to defend my ability to deal with abstractions. Nonetheless, at this point in my life concrete does something for me that abstract doesn’t.
I recently wrote an interactive fiction piece called “The White Bull,” using the TADS 3 programming system. I was musing about porting this story to Undum — and why? So that more people would be able to experience the story more easily, in their browsers, without the need to download software components or learn the stilted command syntax of traditional text adventures. In other words, I had a marketing impulse.
Today I’m musing about reworking “The White Bull” as conventional text fiction. This is not, God knows, a marketing impulse, because the market for imaginative stories is dismal. It’s an impulse that arises out of a desire to experience the events of the story in a more concrete way.
I would have a more concrete experience both because no programming would be required and because the story could be opened up. The characters could have greater depth, and new events could be added.
Frankly, readers would have a more concrete experience too. Theorists in interactive fiction make much of the immersion factor — the notion that when a player feels he or she can control events in the story by issuing commands to the computer, the player feels more thoroughly immersed in the fictional world. I’m starting to think that theory is a load of hooey.
Pick almost any piece of fiction you care to name, from David Copperfield to the latest best seller. It’s hard for me to conceive that a novel — any novel — would be more immersive for the reader if the text were broken up into bite-size chunks, in between which the reader was required to stop and think about what command to issue and being interrupted from time to time by messages like “You can’t go that way” and “You can’t see any such thing.”
No, I think immersion requires seamlessness. Immersion requires the sense that the fictional world is all around (and within) us. That’s what makes it feel concrete and sensory rather than abstract and intellectual.