ICM Week 1: Computation And Its Applications

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In college I studied narrative forms of hypertext.

We used a hypertext authoring environment called StorySpace and I just adored using it. These were early days, mind you. The ‘world wide web’ was just a year or two old.

My friend and mentor, Michael Joyce, was the first true hypertext poet-author. Ironically, Michael later renounced that entire aspect of his history, in part because hypertext literature (what we used to call hyper-fiction) never really coalesced, and in part because it was somewhat upstaged by the interactive fiction scene.

There’s a bit of a beef between the old-school literary hypertextualists and the interactive fiction crowd, and it basically boils down to this: ‘is it serious literature, or is it just a game’?

By way of example, Chris Klimas (creator of Twine, the tool used by a significant majority of the interactive fiction crowd) offered a (very civilized) response to a thinly veiled slight from Mark Bernstein (publisher of StorySpace, the ‘serious’ hypertext authoring tool I used to write with).

From my standpoint, it’s neither the specifics of the tool nor the particular camp that uses it to create their content that interests me. The prospect I find most interesting is building a tangible interface that delivers non-linear narrative — text that changes with each reading — while somehow assuaging the anxieties evoked by narrative choices and outcomes that may or may not be transparent to the reader.

We know how far along we are in a printed book less so by the page number at the bottom of the page than by subconsciously comparing the thickness of the pages we hold in either hand. It’s an undeniable part of the reading experience.

And finally, in keeping with the above, Paper Programs is a project I love.