This book came highly recommended to me. With all the hype surrounding its apparent genius I expected to be blown away. Sadly though, this book comes across as someone who has just played a video game for the first time (MYST) and decided that the kids might be on to something. Murray proclaims that one day in the distant future, they'll make a 'holodeck' and we'll finally have true immersion. In the mean time, we can gloss over all the interactive components that make such an experience compelling in the first place. The future of gaming/narratology/ludology whatever-you-want-to-call-it is already here. You don't need a "VR Suit" or some imaginary technology to have a truly immersive experience. Her woefully uninformed look at the games of her day are completely inexcusable:
"...interactors will be lured into worlds where they float, tumble, and arc through thrillingly coloured spaces, fly through imaginary clouds and swim lazily across welcoming mountain ponds. The nightmare landscape of the fighting maze, in which we feel imperiled may give way to enchanting worlds of increasingly refined visual dealight that are populated by evocative fairy-tale creatures."
At the time of this book's publishing (1997) games such as Jumping Flash, Mario 64, and Tomb Raider had already taken the world by storm. By reducing contemporary gaming to mindless, juvenile violence (while championing those themes in 'War & Peace', 'Hamlet' and 'Star Trek') Murray shows a complete lack of interest and imagination.
The heavy hand of narrative is not the only way to tell a story. We don't need a "cyberdramatist" the likes of a Dickens or a Shakespeare to show us the way. She could have explored the work of Miyamoto, Wright or Kojima and the stories that arise out those gaming experiences. Instead she focuses on the Miller Brothers because they offered up the most conventional form of storytelling. Eight years on, their impact is almost forgotten. Above all, people want to act - not in the theatrical sense, but in the name of imaginative 'play'. Maybe someday she'll prove us all wrong and the "Dr. Quinn Holodeck" will sweep us up in the rapturous joy of existing in a town populated by:
"...blacksmiths, barbers, general store owners, saloon keepers, scouts, and, of course, female doctors and who could be given their own homesteads or boardinghouse rooms in particular physical locations within the fictional world."
Sounds like fun.
Criticism aside, I did enjoy the chapter "Eliza's Daughters". Murray's look at procedural characters and believable agents proved informative and intriguing. If only the rest of the book were as objective and plausible then I might actually believe the hype surrounding, "Hamlet on the Holodeck".