What Happened to Hyperfiction

Aug 1, 21:56 by IROSF

Is it dead, Jim? Or is this a form whose day has yet to come?

Ruth and Jay's essay is here.
Aug 2, 03:31 by Matthew Davis
Possibly overlooked is some of John Sladek’s stories from the late 60s: “Alien Territory” is a 9x4 grid of paragraphs, while “The Lost Nose: A programmed book” is what we would now call a choose-your-own adventure book.
Tom Disch could probably say some harsh things about the failure of even finding a public for his “you-dunnit” “Amnesia” (1986).
Kim Newman’s “Life Lottery” from 1999 was published as a book, and I think has recently been republished as an ebook, so it may work even better as a hypertext experience. However there may be one drawback in that there are about 12 sections which deliberately weren’t linked, so it was up to the reader to thumb though all of the book and discover a contradictory back-story to the apparent one which one followed through the linked entries.
Aug 2, 07:37 by John McDaid
Interesting read. Think that Ruth and Jay really nail it with "The indeterminate nature of the text and the illusion of openness demand more commitment on the part of the reader ...[and] more dedication to the artistic vision of the author than all but the most deliberately challenging of print texts." It's not surprising to me that hyperfiction seems to have submerged for a time; there may need to be a generation raised in the practice of digital text before there is really going to be an appetite for experimentation. Folks who feel challenged by technology do not relish the added cognitive load of a new reading technique.

And I still believe it will be artifactual -- like the "AI" game a few years ago -- but now, it has the potential for being massively customized and database driven. Of course, then, the real question is the chicken-and-egg one of funding the creation of a rich enough experience without an apparent market, but there are open-source models which can address that...
Aug 2, 09:24 by Adrian Simmons
I know next to nothing about hyperfiction, but I'm curious to know if there is/was ever a paying market for it.

Cutting edge art is all very nice, but there is only so much one can do for the love. Were there ever Benjamins involved? Hamiltons even?
Aug 2, 10:21 by Bluejack
Well, I hesitate to call it hyperfiction, because it's not what Ruth and Jay were writing about, but a great many video games these days are quite directly based on the "choose your own adventure" paradigm.

There are sequences in which the player follows a linear course (failing, and restarting until the line is complete), and then there are decision points, which will determine what the next line will become, leading to one of many possible conclusions. (Or, as with those old choose your own adventure books, many lines end up converging, keeping the tree narrow enough to be manageable.)

Videogames aren't hypertext in any sense of the word, but they do match at least some of the criteria for hyperfiction. My hunch is that the High Art variations of hyperfiction will always be fringe players: they simply veer too far from the essential hard-wired human understanding of storytelling. Video games, and their successors, are the most compelling medium for interactive storytelling.

And part of this, ProGoblin, is *all* about the money. Game designers want their rich, multi-media experience to last more than one quick pass through, so inserting these decision points and multiple streams of stories gives players more playing time, more reason to come back to the story. The same can not be said of those crappy little books: who wants to read that tripe twice?

jmcdaid's point to the "AI" game is a very good one: if choose your own adventure stories have found their most suitable form in video games, perhaps artifactual stories will find their best expression in guerilla marketing.

It is worth observing that even in open-ended virtual worlds such as Everquest, where the interactivity is unlimited, the game designers still embed stories: there are quests and adventures with largely linear narrative arcs set within this open ended world, leading to the meta-hyperfiction of stories told within the framework of mutually consensual fictions.
Aug 2, 10:41 by Adrian Simmons
But it seems to me that the big 'hypertext' worlds/stories, can't survive on the story alone. They require something else, graphics, and/or interactivity. A team-effort.

I think that puts it out of the realm of the solitary writer. It was already a hard enough sell, a writer had to want to do hyperfiction and also posses the technical expertese to pull it off (or find someone they trust to do it for them).
Aug 2, 12:55 by A.R. Yngve
You philistines, you! (*irony*)

I have been posting complete SF novels as web-serials online since 1999 -- in English -- and you don't make ONE mention of them in this article.

I'm still at it -- damn the naysayers -- and the novels can be read here, in complete form or as ongoing serials:

Aug 5, 02:34 by Matthew Rees
"Video games, and their successors, are the most compelling medium for interactive storytelling."

Forget their *successors* - what about their *predecessors*? There may not be a commercial market for text adventures anymore, but they've developed into a thriving hobby industry. (Nowadays the preferred term is Interactive Fiction, or IF.) I'd be interested in knowing whether the authors classify IF under the umbrella of hyperfiction - or whether it's even on their radar.

If this is all news to you, here's some sites you should check out:


...And those are just the tip of the iceberg.
Aug 5, 02:57 by Bluejack
Thanks for that list, marees ... provides a whole different perspective on things, and a refreshing reminder that the long tradition in the "adventure" (aka zZork) form of text-based games are also am important part of the interactive storytelling tradition.

I will say that, in line with the authors original point, this form of storytelling appears to be a form that is heading towards obscurity and marginalization, rather than the opposite. I'm sure there's a "home brew" enthusiasm behind it, but looking at the websites you cite, it's pretty clear that updates are far and few between. Still, you yourself reference this kind of storytelling as a predecessor, and within that historical context, the whole advent of text-adventure games is pretty important to bear in mind when discussing interactive storytelling.

What I'm not sure about, however, is whether these games really count as hyperfiction or not. My hunch is that they will be excluded for the same reason that all videogames are excluded: they simply don't conform to the standard expectation for hypertext.
Aug 7, 22:45 by Joi Chevalier
Indeed, marees' comments on the predecessors may indicate what's happened to the theory of hypertext - what was once theory simply became a practice for online writing. Instead of being marginalized, as Bluejack suggests, what was so glamorized as 'hypertext' simply became 'if you created the text in a non-linear fashion, then it was also presented in a non-linear fashion as well. In short, theory gave way to practice: the text is presented in the way the text is generated. These acts are one in the same.

For example look at the text generated in a MUSH. Multiple threads, stories, events, activities happen in real time simultaneously, however all of those activities represent various time frames and story progression(s) in the larger narrative of the MUSH's theme. Is it possible to represent those stories in their relative time frames, with characters and stories in various states, and still have the 'narrative' readable by a passing user, who might become familiar with the story of the MUSH as a whole? Could someone pull a linear story out of a complex hypertext?

It's possible. A few long-standing collaborative writing environments present their fiction writing in a hypertext. For an example, check out Myriad Mush -


As Bluejack also mentioned about why some items are excluded, this might fall into that category. But what is hyperfiction but the allowance to exist, side by side, multiple voices, multiple narratives, multiple spaces, in multiple timeframes - and to be able to access it all in an understandable fashion?

In addition - I do like the term 'artifactual hyperfiction.' Artifacting the acts that take place within the space of Myriad Mush was the intended goal of creating the hypertext, but leaving the collaborative hyperfiction in tact as it transpired in the space.

As to the original question about hyperfiction being dead - at some point in the 90s, we had to quit writing about hyperfiction and actually try to do it everyday.

Thanks - Kit.
Aug 8, 02:14 by A.R. Yngve
Allow me to add, that the fiction manuscripts on my website are edited over time -- small errors fixed, words changed -- which makes the texts "living documents", quite apart from the fixed format of printed text.

We have become accustomed to thinking of books as "crystalline", solid forms - one version is the only "real" one, the one you hold in your hand doesn't change.

ut as soon as you publish a book manuscript as HTML script on the Web, the paradigm changes. The text becomes "soft" (software), malleable, can be endlessly altered even while you read it. In fact, it comes closer to the nature of the spoken word.

We have not yet seen the full cultural implications of this paradigm shift.

For example, consider this thought experiment: If the Bible had been hypertext/HTML from the beginning, would there be only ONE canonized version today -- or countless slightly different versions?
How do you uphold a "canon" if the text can't be controlled by editorial authority, "frozen" in a final version? Religious texts are especially vulnerable to this new media environment.

Aug 8, 15:53 by Carl Frederick
Three or four years ago, I thought it would be fun to write a web-novel where, at any time, one could click to follow the events from the POV of a different major character. Further, I wanted to have multiple threads which could only be illuminated from particular POVs. I wrote Darkzoo, a story of an armed takeover by animal rights activists at the Bronx zoo. Some tracks show a normal adventure novel, whilst two tracks show a werewolf story. One track is a photo essay told/shown by a kid.
It was a nightmare--making the tracks parallel and writing essentially, eight long fiction pieces. Incidentally, Darkzoo was used as a required 'text' one year at Nichols College for a course on the modern novel.
Darkzoo is still free and on-line. If one cares to look, it's at www.darkzoo.net (my homepage) [click on Darkzoo: on-line, multiviewpoint novel].
I could see doing something like it again, but only as part of a team where each member is responsible for a particular track.
Aug 8, 18:14 by Bluejack
Hey Carl, that's a really cool project! I took a quick look at it, enough to figure out how you handle the navigation and so forth, as well as to take in the scope of the project. Very ambitious!!!

For those too shy to use their browser's url bar, here's the entry point.

I'll spend some more time on it. I will say it could benefit with a little touching up on the typography, the full-width text is definitely going to make me narrow my browser down a lot when reading it.
Aug 12, 06:38 by A.R. Yngve
Carl, I tried to write a multiple-choice story for the Web several years ago (you know the type: "If X goes out the door, click here -- if X stays, click here")...

...but soon I had to give up. It was just too hard to keep track of all the alternate plotlines. I even tried to include an Inventory of items -- so that the reader could change the plot with the right choice of items, like in a videogame... but it got too complex for my little brain.

I do admire your patience and effort in writing DARKZOO... but I don't expect any writer to try that kind of experiment more than once in his/her lifetime.


Aug 12, 13:03 by Carl Frederick
Bluejack, thanks for taking a quick look at Darkzoo. Yes, it was ambitious--too ambitious. I never had the time to do what I really wanted with it, namely do a Rashomon-like slanting of the story when two or more characters (from different tracks) were in the same scene together. And, yes, it could indeed benefit from some touching up of the typography, as well as some souping up of the writing itself.

Incidentally, you disliked my Dec. 04 Analog story, The Fruitcake Genome (no prob. Other reviewers had a different opinion). I should say that the story was instigated by one of my little projects where (using the method outlined in the story), I converted some of the fruit-fly genome to music. Analog had a 'Science Behind the Story' article about it on their website and included a downloadable MP3 of the 'music'. Cory Doctorow though, announced it to BOING-BOING and the ensuing traffic brought down the Analog/Asimov website. They had to remove the MP3. But now, I've reprinted the article and made the MP3 available on my site www.darkzoo.net. I thought you might be interested that there's more to the story than just the story.

Yngve: Interesting that you tried a multiple-choice webstory. They are incredibly (IMO) hard to pull off. And yes, one such experiment in a writing lifetime is probably sufficient (Og Yngve. Ar deg fra Norge eller Sveriga?)

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