Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature Hardcover – 6 Aug 1997
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"A book that critics and researchers in the field cannot easily ignore." -- Svenska Dagbladet
From computer games to hypertext fiction, Aarseth explores the aesthetics and textual dynamics of digital literatureSee all Product Description
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When one reads a book in the "normal" way one stares at the cover, reads the title, opens the book, and then begins reading at the first page and continues reading until the book is finished. The content of the book usually does not require the reader to perform any particular actions other the mere act of turning the pages and reading. But in the Internet age it is clear that texts or books (i.e. "hypertext") can require that the reader become more "active". For example, the reader may have to click on hyperlinks, input words or information to the story or text, or even interact with story by using user interfaces so that the story can take on a different path or even have a different ending.
To require the `reader' to become actively involved is the key strategy of ergodic literature. As the author states, a `nontrivial' effort is required by the reader to get through an ergodic text. This is to be contrasted with a nonergodic literature where no such effort is needed. In ergodic literature, something else must be occurring outside the confines of the thought processes of the reader. This is what the author refers to as the `extranoematic' responsibilities on the part of readers when they `interact' with ergodic literature.
So other than `hypertext', are there any other examples of ergodic literature in history? Interestingly, the author points to the ancient Chinese text I Ching, The Book of Changes, as an example, due to the use of randomization to combine the texts of the `hexagrams.' The author gives a few other examples, all of them of which should be familiar to the experienced reader. All of these examples require that the `reader' participate in some way with the text or the play. For one example, the result of court trial is dependent on the `vote' of the reader.
Of course, this book itself is not an example of ergodic literature since it presents a case for it in an organized `linear' fashion, and readers must respect this linear order if they are to fathom the arguments of words of the author. However when reading the book one can see the value and challenge of ergodic literature. A computer game for example, could be viewed as a full-fledged novel. Literary purists may be cringe at this prospect, but to this reviewer it signifies a fascinating development, and one that could evolve into a genre that depends on advanced technology. And along these same lines, the ability of the `reader' to change the "flow" of the text has interesting ramifications for the field of artificial intelligence. A story that can adapt to the input of the reader, or even perhaps to learn from it and then rewrite it if necessary is an exciting prospect. Ergodic literature will no doubt expand in its ramifications and complexity in the twenty-first century, due mostly to the more exotic technologies that will be developed alongside of it.
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