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What happened to hypertext fiction?
October 5, 2011 7:06 AM   Subscribe

What happened to hypertext fiction?
posted by Trurl (51 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
If you think that the flowering of the movement occurred too soon for the technology to carry it off successfully, turn to page 34.

If you think readers prefer to put themselves in the hands of an author who drives the narrative rather than selecting it themselves,
turn to page 42.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:11 AM on October 5, 2011 [22 favorites]


*Tries to turn to pages 34 and 42 at the same time, fails miserably. *
posted by kingbenny at 7:15 AM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


You gotta put your finger on the first page and then turn to 34. If you don't like what happens, then you can go back and choose again.
posted by demiurge at 7:16 AM on October 5, 2011 [11 favorites]


Written by someone who's never played a modern video game.
posted by pts at 7:16 AM on October 5, 2011 [10 favorites]


tl;dr version: It didn't solve a problem anyone had with regular fiction.
posted by tommasz at 7:16 AM on October 5, 2011 [11 favorites]


It's out there.

A lot of 'text adventures' these days are basically just hypertext stories, and there are a lot of them available on IOS.

But IMO, the true 'hypertext novel' is the video game. Deus Ex: Human Revolution is as hypertextual as can possibly get.
posted by empath at 7:18 AM on October 5, 2011 [5 favorites]


Authors have a hard enough time writing one narrative thread.
posted by smackfu at 7:18 AM on October 5, 2011


Bah. Apparently someone has never heard of footnotes.
posted by erniepan at 7:24 AM on October 5, 2011


I played the Salon article, but I got stuck at the Wikipedia entry for Philosophy.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:25 AM on October 5, 2011 [18 favorites]


I think R. U. Sirius stole all your hyperlinks back in the late 80s.
posted by clvrmnky at 7:28 AM on October 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Written by someone who's never played a modern video game.

There'd be more bitter remarks about railroading, invisible walls and cutscenes if they had.
posted by Artw at 7:28 AM on October 5, 2011


Am I the only one who is sad that hypertext isn't much more than plain old webpages that are fairly static (DHTML notwithstanding)?

I guess I bought into that whole utopian vision of the web, thinking it woudl evolve our consciousness to a higher level of thinking, instead we get youtube comments.

Oh well.
posted by symbioid at 7:34 AM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Am I the only one who is sad that hypertext isn't much more than plain old webpages that are fairly static (DHTML notwithstanding)?

Again, look at any reasonably sophisticated videogame like Deus Ex or Fallout or GTA IV. The people who imagined hypertext novels were thinking too small. Artists can create entire worlds now to explore along a nearly infinite number of degrees of freedom. Why limit yourself to one dimensional text with a few branches?
posted by empath at 7:38 AM on October 5, 2011 [5 favorites]


I got tired of Choose Your Own Adventure books quite a while ago. I assume everyone else did, too.
posted by Aquaman at 7:40 AM on October 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


@empath, actually why not?

Artists use contraints all the time in order to explore deeper parts of things that appear, on the surface, to be simple but turn out to be rather complex.

The art in something like a broad canvas like "computer games" is just too wide for some people. Authors are continually finding new things to do with the form of the plain old novel, and it is the fact that the media is constrained is what makes it interesting.
posted by clvrmnky at 7:41 AM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


But IMO, the true 'hypertext novel' is the video game. Deus Ex: Human Revolution is as hypertextual as can possibly get.

I agree with you, but I submit that King of Dragon Pass is the true "hypertext novel".
posted by adamdschneider at 7:50 AM on October 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


One could argue, Myst and other point-and-click, verbless interfaces have a lot in common with hypertext. Even more so for visual novels, Japan's equivalent of one long stretch of video game dialogue - still being written and selling in the hundreds of thousands in Japan (with occasional forays by one Canadian).

That being said, perhaps you prefer your stories without pictures. There's a bit of that going on as well. Though I think ink-and-paper gamebooks, in the CYOA era, might have had more popular appeal?

One of the main issues with trying to create branching narrative is the lack of tools that make it possible to write and keep track of an elaborate system of stories. If you try and use most of the existing, somewhat fickle and programming-heavy tools, it's easy to get caught up in trying to make them work, and find yourself being more of a hammer operator than a carpenter.

(Full disclosure: I make tools for people to write CYOAs.)
posted by Make Way for Ducklings! at 7:51 AM on October 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Has anyone actually tried to read any of the early hypertext stories? Good lord, what a frustrating experience. It truly was an experiment in just how far down the rabbit hole you can go before you become utterly confused and have lost any grasp on the thread you thought you were following. My mother has Alzheimer's and a hypertext story must surely be what her day is like, as you jump from one focus to another and forget where you were two pages back.

The whole point of a hypertext story, in the end, always seemed to be about the use of hypertext and not about any actual story-telling.

I appreciate the form as an experiment and all but, ultimately, hypertext fiction struck me as a geeky solution in search of a problem.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:54 AM on October 5, 2011 [6 favorites]


(Full disclosure: I make tools for people to write CYOAs.)

Please tell me your work in a factory that makes papercut-prevention gloves with, like, ten fingers.
posted by griphus at 7:54 AM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


"I guess I bought into that whole utopian vision of the web, thinking it woudl evolve our consciousness to a higher level of thinking, instead we get youtube comments."

The problem with the web (and, by extension, YouTube comments) isn't the medium, it's the audience.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 8:02 AM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


People used to think hypertext fiction was what the future was going to look like. It's endearing. I'm putting down my money on (appealing arguments in favor of open-world video games aside) the new future of unnecessary experiment in narrative form being: emergent, semi-algorithmically-reader-generated fiction. I'm going to be wrong, of course; I hope only to be wrong in an interesting way.
posted by penduluum at 8:02 AM on October 5, 2011


Over ten years ago, I downloaded Eastgate's Storyspace which I used to create a hypertext journal. But I eventually left for simpler and faster hypertext tools (and then a simple folders / text doc / aliases option). Nice to see they're still around as "...the primary source for serious hypertext." I imagine "serious" hypertext writers get poached by video game companies as playwrights are by TV shows?
posted by jimmymcvee at 8:05 AM on October 5, 2011


What happened to hypertext fiction?

It is now called "blogging".
posted by Skeptic at 8:07 AM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also: ARG's
posted by empath at 8:10 AM on October 5, 2011


Glad to see you've already linked Gimcrack'd, Make Way for Ducklings!. I've long enjoyed Chris Klimas's work, and seeing anna anthropy enthusiastically using and promoting Twine has been gratifying. I've long felt that hypertext and more traditional interactive fiction could happily coexist and even borrow from one another—I'm actually trying to create a StackExchange site to assist in authorship of either type of work—but there's really no denying that, while IF support is quietly thriving, hypertext is way more niche.

And yeah, being considerably overshadowed by more classical media and especially videogames (which happily appropriate elements from IF authorship and HTML without actually increasing visibility of IF or hypertext fiction) doesn't help legitimize the accomplishments of either form. That doesn't invalidate the accomplishments, but it's still frustrating to see people writing hypertext off as unworth anybody's time when I feel my life has been enriched by works I've experienced.
posted by jsnlxndrlv at 8:22 AM on October 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


"What happened to hypertext fiction?"

In a surprising metatextual twist, it turned out to be fictitious.
posted by Eideteker at 8:30 AM on October 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


What happened to hypertext fiction?

It was likely eaten by a grue.
posted by jscalzi at 8:39 AM on October 5, 2011 [8 favorites]


The article points out the great difficulties in creating, presenting, and reading (experiencing?) hypertext fiction, any one of which could be enough to doom the form on its own. It oddly doesn't bring up the additional question of where and how do you sell hypertext fiction? E-readers that could plausibly serve as a platform for it have just started to exist. Maybe a better question would be "Who ever could have believed hypertext fiction was a viable form in the first place?"
posted by rusty at 8:39 AM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hypertext fiction as conceived in the 90s is just not going to go mainstream. The fact is that other than graphic novels, reading a novel or story on paper or in any other medium, is wedded to text displayed in a standard format that creates a pretty linear experience. You sit down to read for some period of time, and during that period you get from point A to point B in the fiction. The narrative itself can be nonlinear as hell, but the reading experience is linear, and adding dimensions to it via hyperlinks might be interesting for some works, but they'll be the exception, not just because most people won't like reading that way but because authors won't like writing that way. Nonlinear creators, as noted above, have moved into building games and virtual worlds.

Now, what I would like to see much more of is annotated ebooks, where you can click on words or phrases and get explanations of topical references or commentary on literary allusions. This is starting to happen, for example with this annotated version of James Joyce's story The Dead. (Click the "Look Inside" and look inside. Note to Amazon: hyperlinked words would work better than those interpolated footnote numbers.) I'd love to be able to read Pynchon that way, instead of having to go back and forth between the book and the very useful Pynchon wikis.
posted by beagle at 8:43 AM on October 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


Good to see the article mentions 253.

I think the fundamental problem is that a story requires the manipulation of tension. You need suspense and crescendos. You need to raise, raise, raise the tension, then provide some catharsis, then start raising it again. A reader can't do that himself because he doesn't know what's coming.

I suppose you could have a "Turn to page 273 for comic relief with an amusing gravedigger, to page 182 for an expression of melancholic grief, or 288 for a swordfight", but then you lose the element of being surprised by the unexpected.

Games do it by putting the subject through a series of increasingly tough challenges. But I think the suspense here is partly "Do I have the intelligence, practice, coordination or speed to complete this challenge." While there is a storyline too, I don't think that alone would provide enough interest to justify the time invested. I think without the element of challenge, people wouldn't be sufficiently interested in the veracity of cake to put in all those hours.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 8:43 AM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Even given that, like many MeFites, I'm a little David Foster Wallace-obsessed, I'm still amazed that the writer of the Salon article didn't mention DFW or Infinite Jest once.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:45 AM on October 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


The 17th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition isn't really hypertext, but there's a community here that's been doing a lot of experimenting with using computers to tell stories and come up with a wide range of amazing stuff.
posted by straight at 8:55 AM on October 5, 2011


Games do it by putting the subject through a series of increasingly tough challenges.

Not all games. Most narrative games tend to present the illusion of challenge so as not to be overly frustrating. Fable 2, for example, could literally be gone through by mashing one button the entire game without spending a moment of thought on how best to defeat the challenges presented, and had a glowing path telling you which way to go at every point in the game. There's no game over and you can't be killed.

You do, however, have a variety of choices for how you fight battles and resolve problems that are reflected in how your character appears on the screen and how other characters react to you. Your choices matter narratively, but they don't particularly matter in terms of whether or not you 'beat the game'. If you start they game and keep playing it, you will finish it, no matter how good or bad you are at fighting or puzzle solving. The only difference is basically just in style and the narrative repercussions.
posted by empath at 8:56 AM on October 5, 2011


Interactive Fiction (of the Inform/Tads variety) is undergoing a serious renaissance and more and more people are starting to realize that narratively interesting things can be done with it. Modern IF authoring tools are just so robust that even a completely novice author can turn something out in an hour that makes the most sophisticated hypertext fiction look like the flailings of an infant.

That said, on perusing the links in the post, Penetration is actually not a bad effort.
posted by 256 at 9:00 AM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Whoa. I take that back. A couple of the entries totally fall under the hypertext banner and they are amazing. Check out The Play and The Binary.
posted by straight at 9:07 AM on October 5, 2011


The effect is kaleidoscopic. It’s also one of overwhelming stasis.

I thought this was perceptive and could also be applied to contrasting hypertext with IF. Hypertext fiction is stateless: no past, no future, only the current page. This makes it a fundamentally different experience, not just vs. novels, but also vs. (most) interactive fiction. In novels, there's a clear beginning and end; likewise, in most interactive fiction, some of your actions will affect the world of the story, so you can also divide things mentally into cause and effect, past and future. Hypertext doesn't have that anchor.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:12 AM on October 5, 2011


Yeah, I was imagining a hypertext version of Infinite Jest, in which the footnotes are linked (actually the case in my e-reader version of the book) but with additional links for forward and backwards references within the text itself.

The main issue, I think, is that links in the text can break up the flow of narrative - in exactly the same way that footnotes do. Thus they have to be used carefully, and risk falling into a gimmicky space if not.
posted by kaibutsu at 10:10 AM on October 5, 2011


Make Way for Ducklings!: "One of the main issues with trying to create branching narrative is the lack of tools that make it possible to write and keep track of an elaborate system of stories. If you try and use most of the existing, somewhat fickle and programming-heavy tools, it's easy to get caught up in trying to make them work, and find yourself being more of a hammer operator than a carpenter.

(Full disclosure: I make tools for people to write CYOAs.)
"

I actually have this dream of a world building tool - with a visual timeline/mapping system, objects/bio-ages, etc... There's some stuff like liquidbinder that has some features, but nowhere near as powerful or as visual and easy to use as I imagine in my head. I really see an amazing ability to have a full on hypertext "world" with nodes connected between places, event, people... Click on a map, find out a region's history, drag a timeline slider, watch the empires/regions/biomes change, see the people within a given time, click on them, pull up a family tree, watch everything morph and change visually. Select key points, tie them together... Really, I can't imagine that people who write novels wouldn't love software like this to help them keep track of everything. Easy and visual and simple and clean, not klunky with a bajillion windows open and submenus... Why don't we see something like this yet?
posted by symbioid at 10:12 AM on October 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


Like the internet, hypertext novels should evolve organically over time, reaching a critical mass through the efforts of a number of people who have limited perspectives of the whole.

That's why a hundred years from now, the Great American Hypertext Novel will be TVtropes.

"Brilliant!"

"I can't stop reading it"

"An amazing journey through pre-Collapse American media landscape, in all it's complex banel and brilliant confusion."

"No seriously, I can't stop reading it! Somebody help me!"
posted by happyroach at 11:20 AM on October 5, 2011 [10 favorites]


Some of what the author is pining for exists now under the name "electronic literature". I enjoy these collections a lot. The stuff in them ranges from more-or-less straightforward poems and short stories with some kind of interactive element overlaid on them, to things that really seem more like games than literature.
posted by roll truck roll at 11:45 AM on October 5, 2011


My pal used Parchment to build me a virtual art studio.

We shoehorned my subject/action/setting idea generator into the Zork style interface and it works like a charm!
posted by chronkite at 12:23 PM on October 5, 2011


Interactive Fiction (of the Inform/Tads variety) is undergoing a serious renaissance and more and more people are starting to realize that narratively interesting things can be done with it. Modern IF authoring tools are just so robust that even a completely novice author can turn something out in an hour that makes the most sophisticated hypertext fiction look like the flailings of an infant.

Actually, not just IF, but CYOA/Hypertext Fiction has seen a couple of interesting javascript based libraries develop recently: Choicescript by the Choice of Games folks and Undum.
posted by juv3nal at 12:25 PM on October 5, 2011


Oh also Varytale by the Failbetter Games/Echo Bazaar folks, although I don't think it's publicly available yet.
posted by juv3nal at 12:27 PM on October 5, 2011


I remember reading a couple of books about hypertext within the context of MUDs; this stuff was actually part of my dad's reading for his master's (I wonder if he'll be by).

But I do second the idea that a lot of this stuff is totally exhausting for a reader. I've made it through Hopscotch in both versions, but I sort of feel like I'm going to need to do it again a couple times to really get the text.

One way that hypertext can work really well is by allowing multiple perspectives of the same event or timeline, with each offering a different take on a set of events. This has been done again and again within traditional novels, but there's no reason not to take advantage of hypertext to simply make those perspectives more simultaneous.
posted by klangklangston at 2:35 PM on October 5, 2011


The difficulty in keeping track of where you are and where you have been in a hypertext story/choose-your-own-adventure (which is handily solved by the 'fingers in book' expedient) is something we aimed to tackle in The (Former) General in His Labyrinth, which takes the usual CYOA structure but maps it out spatially. There are also other fun tricks like when we change the text on pages that you've visited before.
posted by adrianhon at 3:35 PM on October 5, 2011 [2 favorites]



Now, what I would like to see much more of is annotated ebooks, where you can click on words or phrases and get explanations of topical references or commentary on literary allusions. This is starting to happen, for example with this annotated version of James Joyce's story The Dead. (Click the "Look Inside" and look inside. Note to Amazon: hyperlinked words would work better than those interpolated footnote numbers.) I'd love to be able to read Pynchon that way, instead of having to go back and forth between the book and the very useful Pynchon wikis.


The Hypertext Ulysses proves that this began and ended with Joyce.


When I write I do like to embed as many references as possible in the text.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 3:46 PM on October 5, 2011


Looks like someone already mentioned Undum but I wanted to point out a couple stories that I particularly enjoyed: Flaws and The Matter of the Monster.
posted by speicus at 6:14 PM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hypertext fiction is cool and all, but how many people remember Portal for the Commador 64 (Well, and a bunch of other stuff, but I know it from the Commador 64 Sixteen-pack)

It was cool because it was totally non-linear: As you read certain things, other areas would open up, and the interface really added to the experience. I'd love to read more books like that.
posted by Canageek at 6:58 PM on October 5, 2011


The Hypertext Ulysses proves that this began and ended with Joyce.

I was aware of Jorn Barger's project, dormant now for 10 years. The chapter texts there are not hyperlinked in the way I was suggesting, or the way the Kindle version of The Dead is.
posted by beagle at 5:07 AM on October 6, 2011


Life's Lottery Get it, there's not much like it. Very dark.
posted by jcruelty at 12:50 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


On fake freedom.
posted by Artw at 4:16 PM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


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