Abstract

The concept of narrative has been widely invoked by theorists of digital textuality, but the promotion of what is described as the storytelling power of the computer has often relied on shallow metaphors, loose conceptions of narrative, and literary models that ignore the distinctive properties of the digital medium. Two myths have dominated this theorization. The myth of the Aleph (as I call it) presents the digital text as a finite text that contains an infinite number of stories. The myth of the Holodeck envisions digital narrative as a virtual environment in which the user becomes a character in a plot similar to those of Victorian novels or Shakespearean tragedies. Both of these myths rely on questionable assumptions: that any permutation of a collection of lexias results in a coherent story; that it is aesthetically desirable to be the hero of a story; and that digital narrativity should cover the same range of emotional experiences as literary narrative. Here I argue that digital narrative should emancipate itself from literary models. But I also view narrative as a universal structure that transcends media. This article addresses the question of reconciling the inherent linearity of narrative structures with the multiple paths made possible by the interactive nature of the digital text by distinguishing four forms of interactivity, which result from the cross-classification of two binaries: internal versus external interactivity; and exploratory versus ontological. Each of these categories is shown to favor different narrative themes and different variations of the universal narrative structure.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-5507
Print ISSN
0333-5372
Pages
pp. 581-609
Launched on MUSE
2002-12-31
Open Access
No
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