Wednesday, November 12, 2003

I Must Never Be the Main Character

One of the reasons that talking about electronic stories is confusing is because it overlaps and coexists with many other, similar, applications. It's a little like adventure games, and it's a little like social software, and it's a little like persistant world games, and it's a little like avant garde fiction that bends the limits of the medium. But -- and this is another place where I think Murray let us down -- it's not those things. The borders may be fuzzy; indeed, there may be no border per se between electronic stories and adventure games. But there is a difference. And we can complete our mining of E. M. Forster by introducing the difference.

Character. Literature -- stories, novels, text in any form -- must be about characters. Ideally, those characters should have an arc where they change. In adventure games, in any first person interactive story where the "I" is really the reader, transposed into the fictional worls, there is no character. "I" cannot be the main character, because "I" won't undergo change, at least not in any way dictated by the author. It's a wonderful dream to believe it possible, and I do hold out some dim hope that some future master of the medium will produce it, but for now, Zork, for all it's one of the greatest games ever created, is not a story. It might borrow elements of a story, and this is one reason telling the difference is confusing, but with no character, it cannot be literature.