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Involvement of the reader/player in interactive fiction and computer games

Research project The project aims at a deeper understanding of how the reader and/or the player interact with the narrative and how this experience relates to the fictional/virtual world.

How do new digital media differ from older analogous media (such as books, TV, theatre, and so on) in terms of interactivity? A comparison is made between “new” and “old” media in order to understand similarities and differences. In the early days of digital media it was claimed that media will have an effect on structures on both social and individual level. One aspect of the project is to interpret these alleged changes.

Project overview

Project period:

2007-12-14 2009-09-30

Participating departments and units at Umeå University


Project description

Van Looy’s project builds upon his earlier research in both electronic literature and computer games. His aim is to inquire into the particular nature of both forms, more specifically into the role of the reader/player relative to the narrative experience, the experience of happenings in the fictional/virtual world. One claim that is often made about new (digital) media is that they are interactive, that they allow the reader, viewer, listener even, become an active participant not just in the generation of meaning but also in that of the content itself. Early hyperfiction theorists believed that hypertext could bring about social change, deliver the reader from the yoke of a dictatorial author etc. Many of those claims have turned out to be at least partly unsubstantiated. On the other hand, when we look at the success of creative commons projects such as Wikipedia, we must admit that there was at least a grain of truth in the claim that technology can bring about institutional change.

The conceptual framework he have developed to shed light on the workings of various “new media”, particularly computer games, is based on the notion of “introjection”. Introjection, from Latin “being cast, (pro)jected into” refers to the fact that players of a game (both table-top and computer), unlike readers, viewers or even active spectators of say a theater play, are given an active role in the fictional universe. In other words, a player of a game is always thrown or projected into the midst of fictional happenings where he is supposed to take the role of an in-game or intrafictional entity within the simulation. Hence he constantly has to negotiate between on the one hand his personal feelings, preoccupations and scruples and on the other the role that is carved out in the game artifact and which often serves as a means of escaping everyday reality and thereby challenges everyday conceptions. In relation to Algirdas Greimas’ narratological theory of actants, we can see that it can be applied to both interactive fiction and introjective games, but in different ways. One way of looking at it is by making a distinction between narrative and ludic conflict.