Hyperfiction – Boldly going where?

Though I've never been a fan, I could always appreciate the appeal of the 'Choose Your Own Adventure' genre. You know the sort: a basic framework for a story with three or four diversionary tracks the reader can follow:
  • If Noddy goes home to wash and wax his little yellow car, turn to page 78;

  • If Noddy summons up courage to ask Mrs Bear out to dinner at Chez Big Ears, turn to page 101;

  • If Noddy trades his car in, buys an AK47 on the Toy Town blackmarket and goes postal, turn to page 132.
If one pathway doesn't excite, then come back and try another. It's like getting three books in one, and might even be seen as the literary precursor to the video game, Nintendo 64, Xbox, etc. It's certainly attracted a lot of kids into reading.

With this in mind, I thought I should overcome my prejudice about reading novel-length slabs of text on a monitor and get hold of some examples of hyperfiction, which I duly did a while back. I'd come across a couple of excited articles about the wonderful potential of hyperfiction and wanted to sample them for myself, so loaded one on to my pc and one on to my work laptop, began flicking from page to page... and felt my interest sink faster than a lead balloon. Since then, they've been sitting there, sulking or skulking on my hard drive, and I've failed to interest anyone else in having a read.


It isn't just the fact that these texts can only be viewed on screen, which kills my eyes after a few thousand words, because if the hardware was any better this still wouldn't win me over. No, even with a hand-held digital book, I can't imagine being enthralled by the notion that what I have in front of me is not so much a story as an almost-endless series of permutations without direction: turn right if you like, or turn left, turn back if you're in the mood, jump forward perhaps, make your own choice, make another choice, read this character's thoughts, discover another character, and another, or another setting.

Navigating the menu alone makes me feel as if the story-teller's craft has been sacrificed to creating endless links and cross-overs instead. Whilst a sense of design undoubtedly exists, the sense of being taken on a journey, the sense of purpose, has been replaced by the frustration of being left to wander in a random manner through an unnavigable maze.

The idea---the potential---intrigues me, but I haven't discovered an extended piece of hyperfiction that captivates me yet. Which might also mean that this is just waiting to be written!


Brigid said...

I've enjoyed a few choose-your-own books in the past, but I haven't really gotten into ready anything really long that's on a computer screen. At least not without pictures. Mainly it's the eyestrain thing, but I figure if I'm going to do this on a computer it might as well be a game like Kings Quest or Myst.

kathleenmaher said...

I haven't tried hyperfiction because to my mind, the plot menus can only minimize character. In literature a character makes his or her own fate or vice versa.

Stella said...

Well, go on, Paul. Show 'em how it's done ;)

Oh, and Chez Big Ears?

You kill me.

Paul said...

I feel the same way about the computer screen, Brigid. Too much text wrecks my eyes, but I do find it hard to tear myself away when graphics are involved. I always get sucked in.

Kathleen: Definitely. I found that the menus became very intrusive, and the choices more of a bar to engagement than the other way round.

No, no, no, Stella. How mischievous you can be! This is a challenge for others. I merely wish to point out that it's there, and waiting to be taken up.

Josie said...

I remember reading some as a teen (when computer games were Space Invaders, Pong and Tracer) and you had to throw a dice to choose which page to turn next. Never seen them on screen but I agree I can’t read on screen text for prolonged periods or my eyes start to dry up.

Paul said...

I'd forgotten about the dice, Josie, but it's that element of chance that would have initially put me off the genre. Thanks for reminding me of this.

Mike French said...

It would have to be page 132 in the Noddy book for me, although Jane might get a bit upset.

Great article. My personal view is that this idea is madness. A book comes to life as a reader interacts with the text not a multiple choice selection.

Jane Turley said...

Hmm...somehow I missed this but now I've found it I am most intrigued by the story of Noddy and the AK47. Why it sounds a thrilling adventure! Does Noddy meet up with Big Ears(who is armed with his RPG) leap into his coverted yellow Tiger taxi and assault The Bridge at Toytown?

An interesting scenario but I have the distinct feeling Noddy and Big Ears may encounter a woman with a deadly flame thrower....

Maybe hyperfiction isn't the future for general fiction but you know I can that it could be used in a humorous manner - maybe as factual/political satire.

Paul said...

And now that you've mentioned political satire, I realise that politicians invented hyperfiction. What word better suits those rubbery promises too many of them make?