Category Archives: Metafiction

Prelim rationale v 1.1

I’m working on a v 2.0 of my rationale, but thought I’d post this second version for the sake of posterity/transparency.

I’ve opted with the 1.1, as though it dose contain some substantial changes, I don’t feel as though it is necessarily more than a small departure from the first draft. Mostly, I’ve added some explication and connections.

In the upcoming (in a few days) v 2.0, I’ll largely try to do the opposite: discretize these blended areas in order to more clearly define them. I’ll also be following up with a reorganization of my booklist, which is currently on Evernote. I’ve been reluctant to match the list to my areas, as I personally cannot not see many texts applying to more than a single area. Alas, it is time to try!

Rationale after the break… And, as always, comments welcome!

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Preliminary Exams Rationale

The following is the first version of my Preliminary Exam Rationale, including: the major area of transmedia narratives, production, and aesthetics; a minor area on ergodic and nonlinear literature; a minor area on ludology and simulation.


Jay Johnson
Preliminary Exam Rationale
Plan C
Fall 2011

My major area of focus is on the production, aesthetics, and analysis of transmedia narratives, with a specific focus on Alternate Reality Games (ARGs). In Henry Jenkins’s Convergence Culture, he explores transmedia storytelling–“entertainment for the age of media convergence, integrating multiple texts to create a narrative so large that it cannot be contained within a single medium”–in terms of the eponymous media convergence, which “represents a cultural shift as consumers are encouraged to seek out new information and make connections amongst dispersed media content” (97, 3). Therefore, in order to explore transmedia, my foci will concentrate on media studies, with a specific focus on “new media” aesthetics and production, as well as transmedia narratives and traditional narratives that explore the notion of “alternate reality.” Some of these texts include: Lev Manovich’s The Language of New Media, Waldrip-Fruin and Montfort’s New Media Reader, and Mitchell and Hansen’s Critical Terms for Media Studies for media studies; texts, message boards, and other paratexts from ARGs, such as The Beast, I Love Bees, The Lost Experience, Year Zero, and Push, Nevada; narratives that represent “alternate realities” of a dystopian, science fictional, and magical realist variety, such as the works of Borges, Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and VALIS trilogy, Robinson’s The Wild Shore, Chesterton’s The Club of Queer Trades, and Link’s Magic for Beginners.

Complicit with Jenkins’s understanding of transmedia narrative–and perhaps new media, at large–is the engaged reader/viewer, or, in Jenkins’s words, “participants who interact with each other according to a new set of rules that none of us fully understands” (3). As such, I’m interested in exploring the boundary between reader and author as found in metafiction, an area with which my own creative work often intersects. I’m also interested in exploring the breakdown of this boundary as a print medium example of the superimposition of the virtual and the non-virtual (or “real”) in order to create a different (or “alternate”) experience of reality, what Virilio refers to in Information Bomb as a “field effect” view of reality that is a result of the collapse of time and distance facilitated by light-speed digital networked communication technology (43). Texts that explore this metafictional boundary include many short works of Borges, Fernandez’s The Museum of Eterna’s Novel (The First Good Novel), and Marias’s All Souls and Dark Back of Time.

My first minor area, ergodic literature, is both an extension of my interest in transmedia narrative as well as a reflection of the desire in my own creative work to incorporate a more active, participatory reader. In Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature, Espen Aarseth defines ergodic literature as a form which requires the reader to “[effectuate] a semiotic sequence,” or order the text in a nontrivial, self-selected manner. This active role for the reader can also be seen in what Manovich describes as the “database logic” of new media, which requires a reader to sort narrative elements, much like players in ARGs sort narrative clues in to a narrative. Some representative examples I will explore include both non-electronic ergodic literature, such as Cortazar’s Hopscotch and Nabokov’s Pale Fire, and the electronic, including Joyce’s afternoon and Jackson’s Patchwork Girl.

My remaining minor area of interest is ludology and simulation, which is, again, related to my main interest in transmedia. The theoretical intersection of ludology and narratology is a turbulent space, as evidenced in Waldrip-Fruin and Harrigan’s First Person. Transmedia narratives that incorporate video games, such as Star Wars or The Matrix, blur this boundary; moreover, ARGs are definitionally positioned as games, yet are frequently presented as transmedia stories, as they lack the interface of the screen and controller and purposely confuse gamespace with “real,” everyday spaces. Similarly, Aarseth asserts, in “Nonlinearity and Literary Theory,” that “simulations are somewhere in between reality and fiction” (79). I will explore this transliminal space between reality and fiction in terms of “alternate realities” and as a dominant form of representation in post-modernity, through the visual representation of computational and dynamic rules. Some texts that will be applicable to this area include Margaret Atwood’s novel Oryx & Crake, the films Run Lola Run and The War Game, the reality television show The Colony, and the critical texts The Order of Things, by Michel Foucault, and Suspensions of Perception, by Jonathan Crary.

Textual Simulation

Below is an attempt at converging two of my main interests, metafiction and simulation, with Alternate Reality Games, my main focus. Many of the ideas are rough, and the seams are jagged, but it is a first attempt!

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Narratives and games have enjoyed a close, if contentious, relationship over the past decade.  With the increased adoption of digital technology into games—whether digital remediations of board games like checkers, chess, or Monopoly, or games developed solely for a digital platform, such as Asteroids, Pac-Man, or Grand Theft Auto 3—the convergence, as Henry Jenkins describes it, of what is more traditionally seen as narrative media (print, film, television, etc.) and interactive video games has led to many new possibilities.  With the increase in computing speed and power, more and more complex narrative elements, such as photo-realistic animated “cut scenes” that serve as interstitial narrative guideposts between the “playable” segments of many digital games, are appearing in video games.  Most recently, these cut scenes have been integrated into the playable interactive user interface. One such example is with Quantic Dream’s recent title Heavy Rain, which has been described in the New York Times as “a brilliantly engaging example of nonlinear storytelling” and compared, not unfavorably, to the films of Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, and David Lynch (Schiesel).  With the increasing convergence of games and narrative, it is no wonder that narratology is a popular tool for the academic study of video games.

The 2004 critical essay collection First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game showcases many of the narratological approaches to video games.  Janet Murray and Ken Perlin, in separate essays, situate interactive video games as an extension of narrative, applying the aesthetics of storytelling to games.  In the same volume, however, Espen Aarseth passionately argues against the narratological colonization of games, stating that “games are not ‘textual’ or at least not primarily textual,” questioning “why aesthetics would be the most relevant perspective” for the study of games, and finally, plainly stating that “games are games”—with the strong implication that games are not stories (“Genre Trouble” 46-9).  While this dialogue serves an important purpose for the foundation of video game studies as a distinct discipline, as well as a primer for constructive critical approaches to video games and storytelling in what Lev Manovich calls the “database logic” of new media in The Language of New Media, the particular question of whether games are narratives is not the central focus of this critical assessment.  Rather, Gonzalo Frasca’s response to this debate provides a framework from which I explore narrative text in terms of a specific type of game, the simulation—an approach that is perhaps a reversal of what Aarseth finds so polemical about narratologists infringing upon the field of ludology.  I will argue, that by considering the aesthetics of simulation and the shortcomings of hypertext, the metafiction of a group of Argentine writers—Jorge Luis Borges, Adolfo Bioy Casares, and, most importantly, Macedonio Fernandez—can be understood as offering readers an interactive, generative framework to realize the possibilities of narrative form. The aesthetics of this type of metafiction interrogate the distinction between the real and the fictional, a perspective that is increasingly relevant to an everyday life imbued with digital telecommunication technology.

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