publisher colophon

Introduction

Digital fiction is fiction, written for and read on a computer screen, that pursues its verbal, discursive, and/or conceptual complexity through the digital medium and would lose something of its aesthetic and semiotic function if it were removed from that medium (Bell et al.). Hypertext fiction is a specific form of digital fiction in which fragments of electronic text, known as lexias, are connected by hyperlinks. When reading a hypertext, the reader can click the "Enter" key on her keyboard to follow a default path through the text. Alternatively, she can follow hyperlinks that lead him or her to other parts of the text. Since the emergence of Storyspace hypertext fiction1 in the late 1980s, the study of digital fiction has undergone a significant paradigm shift. Recent research has moved from a "first wave" of pure theoretical debate to a "second wave" of narratological, stylistic, and semiotic analysis. While the theoretical intricacies of second-wave digital fiction theory have been well debated (see Ciccoricco; Ensslin; Ensslin and Bell, "Introduction"; Bell, Possible Worlds), the discipline and practice of analyzing digital fiction require a more systematic engagement and understanding than offered by much previous scholarship. With this critical need in mind, the Digital Fiction International Network (DFIN)2 has been exploring new [End Page 311] avenues of defining and implementing approaches to analyzing digital fiction, with the tripartite trajectory of: developing a range of tools and associated terminology for digital fiction analysis; providing a body of analyses based on the close reading of texts, which are substantiated by robust theoretical and terminological conclusions; and fostering a collaborative network of academics working on interrelated projects. The details of this remit have been laid down in DFIN's recent "[S]creed for Digital Fiction" (Bell et al.).

In seeking to exemplify DFIN's overall agenda, this article offers an analysis of two Storyspace hypertexts, Stuart Moulthrop's Victory Garden and Richard Holeton's Figurski at Findhorn on Acid. The article has a specific focus on how the text implements second-person narration and other forms of the textual "you" (Herman, Story Logic) in juxtaposition with other narrative perspectives. We aim to explore the extent to which print-based narratological theories of the textual "you" apply to the texts under investigation and suggest theoretical tenets and taxonomic modifications arising from the way in which the reader is involved in textual construction. More specifically we will show first how second-person narration can be used in digital fiction to endow the reader with certain properties so that she is maneuvered into the position of "you." We will then show how second-person narration can be used to presuppose knowledge about the reader so as to predict her relationship to "you." In both cases we will show that some instances of second-person narration in digital fiction require additional theoretical categories for their analysis. Of particular interest is the way in which the reader and her role in the "cybernetic feedback loop" (Aarseth) are constructed textually and interactionally.

The "You" in Digital, Interactive Texts

The textual "you" features widely across digital, interactive texts. Interactive Fiction (IF) perhaps constitutes the most obvious narrative form employing the second-person throughout. Using present tense and imperatives (e.g., Zork's "You are standing in an open field. . . "), they create the illusion of being present in a storyworld that is constructed by the reader in creative collaboration with the programmed text. In IFs, the textual "you" informs the reader about the basic building blocks of the game world and allows her to co-construct this domain by inputting text commands in the hope of receiving more textual information (cf. Walker). In IFs, the textual "you" is the main character, role-played by the reader (Douglass 129). As Marie-Laure Ryan puts it, "IF is one of the rare narrative forms where the use of 'you' enters into a truly dialogical rather than merely rhetorical relation with an Other, and where 'present' denotes narrow coincidence between the time of the narrated events and the time of the narration" (519). Similarly, the feeling of virtual "presence" has become increasingly stronger with the development of IFs, such as Jon Ingold's All Roads, that follow considerably more ambitious poetic trajectories and feature significantly more sophisticated parsers than early IFs such as Zork and Adventure (Seegert). Steve Meretzky's Planetfall even exhibits instances of metalepsis, where the use of the SAVE command triggers the (intradiegetic) automated response, "Oh boy, are we going to try something dangerous now?" (Montfort, quoted in Ryan 519). [End Page 312]

Second-person address is used extensively in video game discourse and the paratexts surrounding the primary artifacts (such as manuals, discussion fora, blogs and gaming magazines). In Second Person: Role-Playing and Story in Games and Playable Media, Pat Harrigan and Noah Wardrip-Fruin define the textual "you" in terms of player choice and responsibility, with the player being considered as a singular entity rather than collective audience: "you are the person for whom the story is being told" (xiv), and the "you" fills the role(s) enabled by any chosen game's avatar selection or customization mechanism (which is particularly true for offline and online role-playing games). As Pat Harrigan and Noah Wardrip-Fruin point out with reference to Douglass's (2007) work, "even the most 'first person' of game experiences—the 3D virtual reality that reaches its apotheosis in room-sized CAVE displays—serves the same function as the textual second person: simulated immediacy" (xiv). In other words, what is experienced by players as highly individualized and immediate immersion in a virtual game world is based on textual mechanisms directed quasi-apostrophically at a general audience of gamers who are allowed to traverse the game world freely—within the boundaries dictated by the code. Furthermore, the player sees his or her alter ego embodied in the shape of an avatar, an object, vehicle or simply a cursor, which may be compared to I-cum-you internal dialogues or self communication (Margolin, "Narrative" 428). However, in the case of the avatar as embodied alter-ego, "you" in a game does not tend to be indicative of self-alienation (cf. Margolin, "Narrative"). On the contrary: the fact that most post-gaming metanarratives are told by players themselves from the first-person point of view suggests identification with rather than distancing from the player/character, or avatar.

When employed in a more literary scenario, many hypertext fictions employ second- person narration as a means of drawing attention to and harnessing the reader's somewhat unique function in the text. Unlike most IFs, hypertext fiction foregrounds the importance of the authored text and limits reader agency to varying degrees of navigational freedom rather than allowing readers to enter into co-productive, dialogic text construction characteristic of IF. However, in hypertext fiction, the reader does have an active role. She must move a mouse and click a button or type a response on a keyboard in order to learn more about the storyworld and its inhabitants. When coupled with a second-person address, attention is drawn to the corporeal and heuristic role that readers play in hypertext fiction or what Espen Aarseth defines as the "nontrivial effort [that] is required to allow the reader to traverse the text" (1). As the analysis below will show, second-person narration in some hypertext fictions draws upon the conventions of gaming and IF in so far as they ask for reader input, but they also limit the involvement of the reader by preventing her from identifying with "you" completely.

The "you" in Contemporary Narratology

In Unnatural Voices: Extreme Narration in Modern and Contemporary Fiction, Brian Richardson defines the second-person as "one of the most important technical advances in fictional narration since the introduction of the stream of consciousness" (35). Its inherent referential ambiguity as a special case of person deixis (Herman, Story Logic 332) [End Page 313] causes readers to reposition the referent of the "you" flexibly between virtual and actual, between intra- and extradiegesis, and between protagonist, characters, narrator, narratee, implied, and actual reader. Especially in English, where one grammatical form homonymically references male and female, singular and plural addressees, but can also be used as a generalized pronoun replacing "one," the textual "you" has inspired a diversity of aesthetic uses. As David Herman claims, "narrative you produces an ontological hesitation between the virtual and the actual by constantly repositioning readers, to a fundamentally indeterminate degree, within the emergent spatiotemporal parameters of one or more alternative possible worlds" ("Textual" 378).

While the pioneers of modernist and postmodernist fiction have been exploring the narrative effects of second-person narration throughout the twentieth century (see Fludernik and Richardson, Unnatural for comprehensive enumerations of second-person narratives), theoretical interest in the technique did not emerge until 1965, when Bruce Morrissette's groundbreaking essay, "Narrative 'You' in Contemporary Literature," was published following Michel Butor's second-person novel La Modification. Further, interest in second-person narration did not grow into a systematic field of narratological investigation until the early 1990s (see McHale; Margolin, "Narrative"; Richardson; Kacandes; Fludernik; Herman). For the digital narratologist, the dialectic between the personalized "I" and the customized "you" comes to the fore in interactive narratives because the reader/player is physically involved in the construction of the narration. It is perhaps for this reason that interest in the use of the second-person in digital fiction has emerged recently (see Walker; Montfort; Bell, "Do You," "Ontological," Possible Worlds; Ensslin and Bell, "Click").

Figure 1 shows an expanded typology of the functional uses of the textual "you," combining typologies and/or terminological distinctions offered by Herman (Story Logic), Richardson, and Irene Kacandes in relation to print fiction and Jill Walker and Nick Montfort in relation to digital fiction (see also Ensslin and Bell, "Click"). The fact that the graph exhibits a drift towards the bottom right corner of the display reflects the importance of apostrophic address—or specific forms thereof—to digital narratives.

The top section of the diagram represents Herman's five-fold distinction between different functions of "you." Herman suggests that textual "you" can be separated into "referential you" and "address you." As the terminology suggests, "referential you" is used to refer to an entity and can be an "impersonal or generalized" (Story Logic 340) collective audience—what Furrow categorizes as "the 'pseudo-deictic' you" (quoted in Herman 340)—that "often plays a prominent role not only in . . . literary narratives but also in . . . proverbs, maxims, recipes, VCR instructions" (340); this is marked as "generalized you" on the diagram. Alternatively, "referential you" can take a form in which "a protagonist who, as (intradiegetic) narrator, is also, over the course of the novel as a whole, her own intradiegetic narratee" (340). In this case, the narrator refers to him or herself with "you." Herman gives the example of the narrator/protagonist of A Pagan Place reminiscing about his childhood and referring to himself in the second-person. This is marked as "fictional reference" on the diagram.

Contrasting with Herman's "referential you" is "address you," which he suggests "yields two functional subtypes: what I shall call fictionalized address, which entails [End Page 314]

Fig. 1. Functional types of textual "you."
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Fig. 1.

Functional types of textual "you."

[End Page 315]

address to or by the members of some fictional world . . . and actualized address or apostrophe, which . . . entails address that exceeds the frame (or ontological threshold) of a fiction to reach the audience" (341). In both cases, "you" is used to directly address an entity. In "fictionalized address" the communication takes place within the story-world between two characters and is therefore classified as "horizontal." In "actualized address" the communication exceeds the fictional frame—usually by addressing the reader—and is therefore classified as "vertical." Lastly, Herman shows how "you" can be used to refer to both a fictional and a real addressee simultaneously, producing what he calls "double-deixis," in which "narrative you produces an ontological hesitation between . . . reference to entities . . . internal to the storyworld and reference to entities . . . external to the storyworld" (338). In this case "you" superimposes an actual onto a virtual "you," thus causing a large degree of ambiguity and reader identification without, however, leaving the ontological frame of the narrative proper.

In Richardson's taxonomy, second-person narration is split into three different forms: standard, hypothetical and autotelic. In the "standard" form of second-person narrative, "a story is told, usually in the present tense, about a single protagonist who is referred to in the second person; the 'you' often designates the narrator and narratee as well" (Unnatural 20). It thus correlates with Herman's "fictional reference" in which the narrator addresses her or himself in real time.

"Hypothetical" forms of second-person narrative, which Richardson previously termed "subjunctive," are "written in the style of the user's manual or self-help guide ... [and contain] three features generally absent from standard second person narration: the consistent use of the imperative, the frequent employment of the future tense, and the unambiguous distinction between narrator and narratee. The protagonist is a possible future version of the narratee though it soon takes on an independent, parallel existence" (29). The hypothetical form of second-person narration shows how the addressee of "you" can vacillate very subtly in a fictional context. Since the utterances are hypothetical, the imperatives do not have the same illocutionary force that they would if they were produced in a non-hypothetical situation. In some ways, therefore, this particular form of second-person narration makes it clear that the address is ultimately made to a supposed version of the narratee and thus less likely that the reader will feel directly addressed even though they can partially assume the "you" slot in this case. Thus the hypothetical form of second-person narration still takes place within the fictional world and is therefore "horizontal" according to Herman's taxonomy. In this case the self-help style imperatives are directed at a hypothetical version of the narratee and are therefore distinct from the standard form of second-person that takes place in the present. Importantly however because in some cases the imperatives could apply to the reader as "you," the hypothetical form of second-person narration can easily slip into an apostrophic form of address to the real reader. The dotted arrow pointing from hypothetical address to real apostrophe on the diagram shows the fluid boundaries between fictionalized and actual addressee.

Lastly, Richardson categorizes the "autotelic" form of second-person narration as "a direct address to a 'you' that is at times the actual reader of a text and whose story is juxtaposed to and can merge with the characters of the fiction" (30). This form of second-person narration is ontologically flexible insofar as it can easily switch into a [End Page 316] fictional form of reference as the defining attributes of "you" become more specific. It is therefore unlikely to describe the reader, but, at least initially, it can certainly invoke the reader directly and thus behaves much like Herman's "actualized address" category of "you."

While Kacandes's work chronologically prefigures Herman's, it refines his category of "actualized address." In drawing on Austin's speech act theory, Kacandes distinguishes between real apostrophe and literary performative. The latter form of second-person is rare in print narratives but it forms an important conceptual basis to digital instantiations of the "you" address. In reading a literary performative, readers involuntarily actualize what the text suggests (e.g., "you are reading this sentence"). To Kacandes's mind, this technique differs significantly from more standard apostrophic forms (e.g., "Reader, I married him") that draw the reader's attention yet do not trigger the performance of a metafictional act.

In the context of digital narrative, Kacandes's literary performative form of second- person narration offers itself most aptly to interactive texts, the enactment of which relies on the reader/user's response to directives embedded aurally or visually (or both) in the interface. From this point of departure, Jill Walker subdivides Kacandes's literary performative into "involuntary enactment," typically found in print narrative, and texts that embed "forced participation" by making it impossible for the reader/user to continue without physically performing the actions suggested by the text. The latter of the two is typically found in interactive, digital narratives. That said, even digital narratives encode conceptual and physical interaction to varying degrees. It is thus more useful to think in terms of a continuum rather than a bipolar division when considering instances of involuntary enactment and forced participation. This relationship is signified on the diagram by the bidirectional arrow between "involuntary enactment" and "forced participation."

In drawing on Nick Montfort, we suggest the term "actualized input/output" as a replacement for the somewhat negatively connoted "forced participation," which Walker characterizes in terms of a "ritual of submission." "Actualized input/output" emphasizes the physical interaction that happens between the user and the machine code as the actual reader inputs electronic data directly through hardware interaction in alternation with software output displayed on screen in the form of multimodal information. In Montfort's analysis of IF, he states that "anything that the interactor contribute[s], from a press of the space bar to a long typed text, is an input" (25) and "whatever texts are produced by the program are output" (25). An input and all the output that follows until the next input is known as a "cycle" (25). Refining input further, Montfort states that "an input that refers to an action in the IF world is a command [and] is usually in the form of an imperative" and "all other inputs, such as those that save, restore, quit, restart . . . are directives" (26). Since commands affect the contents of the IF's storyworld, they are defined by Montfort as "diegetic" and since directives do not affect the IF's storyworld, but instead change circumstances outside the storyworld, they are classified as "extradiegetic." In the analysis below, we incorporate and add to Montfort's typology in order to categorize the different types of interaction that take place between reader and text when second-person narration is used in hypertext fiction. [End Page 317]

As the preceding theoretical overview suggests, the medium in which second-person narration occurs usually affects the way in which it operates and thereby implicates the reader. Print narratives tend to involve the reader indirectly or ambiguously, whereas reader/players of IFs and computer games are somewhat obliged to assume the position of "you." As our analysis of second-person narration in two Storyspace hypertexts will now show, some digital fictions employ the textual "you," mostly by combining actualized and fictionalized address with doubly deictic "you," in order to blur the boundaries between game and fiction while simultaneously subverting the subjective, uncritical behavior and attitudes exhibited by reader/players.

Victory Garden

Stuart Moulthrop's Storyspace hypertext Victory Garden is a historical novel set during the first Gulf War. Protagonist Emily Runbird has been drafted to work in a Saudi Arabian military base, leaving her friends back home in the fictional town of Tara in the United States. Much of the narrative revolves around the two settings with the text documenting Emily's experience of the war in the Gulf as well as the effect of the conflict on her friends, family, and colleagues at home and on the campus of the University of Tara. The motives behind and consequences of the Gulf War resonate throughout the text and are debated either explicitly between characters or implicitly through the various viewpoints that are presented. Offering a mediated view of the conflict, scenes from news broadcasts depict the off- and on-air discussions between two television war correspondents. Theoretical debates between academics at the University of Tara take place over the ideological and ethical motives of the war. Quotations from real world figures such as George Bush, Saddam Hussein, and CBS anchorman, Dan Rather, are also scattered throughout the text that, while usually a product of Moulthrop's artistic license, remind the reader that the Gulf War was an actual world event rather than a purely fictional construction.

Epitomizing the metafictional devices that run throughout, a second-person narrative occurs in part of the hypertext in which university professor, Boris Urquhart, and television journalist, Harley Morgan, are involved in a furious car chase. Preceding the second-person narration, a heterodiegetic narrator, speaking in third-person voice, reveals that Boris has collected Harley from his house and is driving erratically, pursued by the police. The car chase is described over a series of lexias before reaching the point at which Boris looks certain to crash the vehicle. The default reading path then leads to a lexia entitled "Our American Way of Life," which contains the following text:

Folks, the President's already told you that we didn't go to war in the Gulf to protect no fragile shoots of democracy in Kuwait. And gee it looks like we weren't really fighting to save the world from the fiendish Saddam Hussein, because at this writing he's still over there in Baghdad trying to cut the deal on a sequel. Of course, some of those nattering nabobs etc. they'll tell you the whole thing was a sham, one big geopolitical smokescreen meant to make the beginnings of a major crash look like just a mild recession. [End Page 318]

Have none of it, my friend.

We all know there was only one reason we jumped in to save the House of Saudi's royal Arabian ass. I know what it was. You know what it was. Harley and Urquhart are about to find out, when we get back to them in another sentence or two, just what that shining compelling reason was. Okay, next screen. "Our American Way of Life"

Following the interjection by the narrator to comment on the reasons for the first Gulf War, the default reading path then leads back to the car chase. Thus, the narrator appears to stop the action to comment on the political context that frames the novel using both second-person and first-person plural narration.

Stylistically, the interruption begins with a collective noun, "folks," representing a plural form of reference. The use of a colloquial form of address also presupposes that a level of familiarity already exists between narrator and addressee. The rest of the statement is delivered using a mixture of second-person and first-person plural pronouns, but since the collective noun precedes the second-person pronoun, in "the President's already told you that we didn't go to war . . . to protect . . . democracy," "you" functions anaphorically. The "you" here is therefore plural. Since Victory Garden is ultimately intended to be read by a wide readership, the narrator self-reflexively signals an awareness of the hypertext's readership. The "you" thus constructs a hypothetical and therefore fictional audience into which each reader can place herself or not. That is, it serves as a collective form of Herman's "actualized address." The communal address is interesting because it resembles one-to-many lecture or talk scenario rather than an intimate dialogue between the narrator and a single reader, which is often found in second-person print fiction (cf. Richardson, Unnatural). This form of dialogue is notable because, unlike movies and TV broadcasts, for example, hypertexts are not usually read by a group of people at a time, so media expectations are mingled here.

While the narrator initially appears to invoke a group with which he is acquainted, the pronominal reference is affected by the local context of his statement. The narrator asserts that the president has told "you that we didn't go to war to protect no fragile shoots of democracy in Kuwait." As a means of validating the narrator's assertion, "Our American Way of Life" contains a hyperlink to a lexia in which this condition is fulfilled. The link signals that more information about the storyworld is to be found elsewhere. In the destination lexia, entitled "By the way . . . ," a quotation from George Bush appears in which he asserts that "the war wasn't fought about democracy in Kuwait." While the authenticity of the quotation in the actual world is extremely dubious, in the context of a reader's experience of Victory Garden the output endows the reader with the information required for them to fulfill the conditions associated with the "you" slot. That is, they have now been told by the president that the war wasn't fought about democracy in Kuwait. In addition, this link affects the referential scope of the second-person pronouns because it can only be followed by one reader at a time. If the link is followed by a reader, the communal frame of reference established by the actualized address to "folks" is narrowed to a much more specific and singular addressee. Using Montfort's framework, we suggest that the lexia-link-lexia configuration—or what [End Page 319] Montfort would call a "cycle" (26)—comprises output followed by an actualized input command (mouse click on hyperlink or keystroke on "Enter") followed by actualized output (new lexia). The reader might follow the link to "By the Way . . ." in order to gain more information about the storyworld. However, because the quotation in "By the Way . . ." also maneuvers the reader into a specific "you" position by endowing them with certain properties (being told that the war was not about democracy), it represents a very specific type of actualized output. As a means of categorizing this example, which reifies the reader's epistemological position (undermining the perceived reasons for the war) and ontological circumstances (having properties associated with "you"), we add "specifying" to Montfort's (2003) typology (see Figure 2). This category aims to refine the type of output that is generated—in this case an output that endows the reader with properties—as a consequence of the reader's input command.

In addition to the use of "you" in the first paragraph, the first-person plural pronouns are also responsible for deictic shifting. The narrator does not specify to whom he is referring by "we" at the beginning of the lexia, but given the lexia title and content, we can only assume that "we" is intended to signify the United States government and its military; in the statements, "we didn't go to war" and "we weren't really fighting," a first-person plural pronoun refers to a group of people who were certainly associated with military combat in the Gulf. In this case, the first-person plural pronouns potentially represent two types of "we." First, as a historical fiction set against the first Gulf War the United States government and military form a part of the storyworld. The "we" thus at least partially refers to these entities within the story-world and can be categorized as a plural form of Herman's "fictionalized address." In addition, however, because the events in the storyworld are based on events in the real world, "we" also invokes real world addressees. The first-person plural pronouns in this case thus also represent a plural form of Herman's "actualized address" in which a group of individuals, potentially including the reader, is invoked directly.

Since the first-person plural pronouns refer to two potential addressees simultaneously, they constitute a "we" form of Herman's "double-deixis" in which the pronouns switch from one addressee to another, producing "an ontological hesitation between . . . reference to entities . . . internal to the storyworld and reference to entities . . . external to the storyworld" (Story Logic 338). Further, while the reader might not politically affiliate with the group that "didn't go to war . . . to protect . . . democracy" and "weren't really fighting to save the world from Saddam Hussein," the first-person plurals here are intended to carry nationalist if not imperial undertones. American readers in particular are maneuvered into a collectively responsible "we" position because of their unavoidable association with the United States administration.

As the narrative continues in "Our American Way of Life," a further deictic shift can be detected in the referential scope of "you" and "we." In the second, one-line paragraph the narrator's use of the singular form of address, "my friend," restricts the frame of reference to a singular addressee. This narrowing is further implied by the subsequent separation of "we" into its constituents; the narrator reiterates that "I know what it was" and "you know what it was." Moreover, because these assertions appear in the latter part of the lexia, the arrangement of the text on the screen signals that an individual reader will soon have to act. That is, as the reader moves towards the end of [End Page 320] the text, she will have to assume her or his role as constructor of the text and press the "Enter" key or click the mouse in order to move onto the next screen. The narrator also tells the reader that the characters are "about to find out" the reason for the war with an adverb of time moving the focus of the narrative away from the political context surrounding the Gulf War and back to the characters' car chase. The referential scope of "you" thus begins to change from a fictional to an actual addressee.

Yet while the second-person pronouns narrow the scope of "you," the first-person plural pronouns that appear in the third paragraph fluctuate between a very specific and a more general audience. The declarative, "we all know there was only one reason we jumped in to save the House of Saudi's royal Arabian ass," extends the range of the "we" in the first instance via the use of the emphatic attributive pronoun, "all." It shows that "we" here refers to everyone who witnessed the conflict both as reality and as represented in the media and asks all readers, whether American or not, to acknowledge the real motives behind the United States' invasion of Iraq. In the subsequent first-person plural pronoun, "we jumped in," the frame of reference shrinks again because the phrasal verb signifies that action was taken by a specific group—namely the United States administration and, by association, those that lived under it. Overall, therefore, the pronouns in this sentence shift in terms of reference. They are however used to underscore what the narrator assumes is a shared political viewpoint.

In his analysis of "we" in fiction, Margolin argues that, in cases like "Our American Way of Life", where a transaction takes place "between a unique textual speaker and a plurality of anonymous individual readers" ("Telling" 122), a "'we' group is established . . . in the hopes that this reading contract or suggested cooperation will in due course . . . extend to the sharing of attitudes, views and judgements between author and reader(s)" ("Telling" 122). Margolin, thus, suggests that some forms of "we" can be used as a means of signifying, if not presuming, an ideological alliance between the narrator and/or the author and the reader. Richardson also notes that "'we' narration . . . continues to be deployed . . . [to] emphasise the construction and maintenance of a powerful collective identity" (Unnatural 55-56). As the preceding analysis has shown, "we" can certainly be used as a means of signifying a political allegiance between one or more groups. In this part of Victory Garden, not to identify with the "we" group would be to renounce the narrator's assumption that we all somehow know what the war was and was not about.

Yet while the motives behind the war are crucial to the reader's actual or hypothetical identification with "you" and "we," the narrator does not explicitly specify what these motives are in the "Our American Way of Life" lexia. Thus even if the reader suspects what the narrator is implying, she cannot completely fulfill the epistemological conditions required for a full association with "you" and "we" at this point. The pronouns must therefore be assigned to an unknown addressee—a hypothetical and therefore fictional entity that definitely knows what the narrator thinks the war was about and also agrees with him. However, because the reader is the recipient of the narration and because the text seems to presume a particular level of mutual understanding, "you" and "we" certainly could apply to the reader in the real world, especially if she followed events during the Gulf War and engaged critically with the way it was fought and represented by the mass media. Readers cannot be completely [End Page 321] aligned with either "you" or "we" until the narrator's standpoint is confirmed so that both the second-person and first-person plural pronouns are "doubly-deictic." That is not to say that the reader is not addressed using these personal pronouns. However, the referential scope of "you" and "we" is expanded or narrowed depending upon whether the reader identifies with the groups referred to by them.

Once the reader reaches the end of the "Our American Way of Life" lexia, the narrator informs her that she must act in order to progress through the text; she must click the mouse or press the "Enter" key. More specifically, the self-reflexive imperative, "okay, next screen," calls for an actualized input command from the reader and her subsequent key stroke or mouse click will result in her learning more about the storyworld. Like the plural form of address at the beginning of the lexia ("folks"), the discourse is reminiscent of a one-to-many situation. We might think, for instance, of a presentation or lecture given to a group of people, where the presenter signals that he is moving onto the next PowerPoint slide by dictating to an assistant. In the context of the reader's reading experience also, the imperative construction suggests that the narrator dictates the pace. Indeed, the text implies that the narrator is the dominant force in this relationship so that, contrary to first-wave hypertext theory claims about the power of the reader in hypertext fiction (see Douglas, Liestol), the reader is not completely in charge of her reading experience (cf. Bell, Possible Worlds, "Ontological").

In the next lexia, entitled "gas?," the narrator reassumes a third-person voice and shifts his focus back to the car chase within the storyworld. The output therefore relocates the action away from the narrator and back to Urquhart and Harley. However, while the reader moves on to a new lexia and back to the car chase, the referential scope of the pronouns in "Our American Way of Life" is affected. Instead of the impending car accident, Boris Urquhart's car grinds to a halt as it runs out of fuel. Thus, the lexia following the narrator's interjection insinuates that the first Gulf War was fought over "gas" or, more generally, oil. Once the reader discovers the narrator's account of the motives for the Gulf war in "gas?," there are two options. If she agrees that the first Gulf War was fought for oil she can retrospectively completely align herself with the "you" in "Our American Way of Life" and the second-person pronoun affects a form of actualized address. She might also become part of the first-person plurals "we." In this case, the actualized output is, as in the "By the Way . . ." lexia, "specifying." However, if the reader does not agree that the war was fought for oil, she cannot completely fulfill the conditions associated with the entity referred to by "you," and the address must be either fully or partially aligned to a hypothetical and therefore fictional recipient—someone who does agree with that interpretation. The "you," in this case, represents a form of fictionalized addresses.

As the analysis suggests, the pronominal reference in "Our American Way of Life" is volatile and ambiguous because the referential scope is widened or narrowed depending on the reader's path through the text, her national identity and her attitude towards the Gulf War. In Victory Garden the fragmented structure of hypertext is used to facilitate a very obvious change in narration and focus from the third-person narration of the action inside the storyworld to a first-person plural and second-person discussion of the war outside the storyworld and back again. The sequence of [End Page 322] lexias suggests that a recording has been paused for the narrator to talk to the reader before he allows her to continue her reading. Perhaps more importantly, the fragmentation and dynamism of hypertext reading means that the eventual fulfillment of the "you" and "we" slots is delayed very explicitly. While the reader is addressed using second-person and first-person plural pronouns in "Our American Way of Life," her relationship to these roles is not completely defined in this lexia alone. As well as her extratextual views, her relationship to the second-person pronouns in particular are determined by the path she chooses to take through the text (i.e., whether she follows a link or not). Thus her journey through the narrative as well as her relationship to it and its constituents is determined and also exposed as she navigates through the interactive interface.

Figurski at Findhorn on Acid

The example of second-person narration in Victory Garden shows how the referential scope of "you" can be narrowed or widened by the local context in which it occurs. Our second example, taken from Richard Holeton's Figurski at Findhorn on Acid (henceforth Figurski), will show, even more clearly than in Victory Garden, how "you" can be used to signal an awareness of the text's ideal, if not likely, audience.

Figurski is an episodic narrative that describes the antics of three characters, taking place in three locations and revolving around three objects. The three main characters are: Frank Figurski, a failed PhD student on parole for the murder of his supervisor/ advisor; Van Tho, also known as the No Hands Cup Flipper, a performer who earns money by flipping stacks of coffee cups in roadside diners; and Fatima Michelle, a female journalist disguised as a man disguised as a woman. One of the artifacts is LSD and one of the locations is the Holodeck of Star Trek notoriety, which transports the characters into a range of simulated locations. As this synopsis suggests, the novel is rather extraordinary and often describes quite surreal scenarios and situations.

Like Victory Garden, Figurski is presented from a number of different viewpoints but a hetero-extradiegetic narrator is responsible for much of the narration. Distributed throughout the text are lexias in which the narrator asks for a critical engagement with a narrative. One such example is headed "Questions for Discussion" and asks: "How would you characterize the relationship between Figurski's personal demons and the Pan-like nature spirits dancing along the edges of the Findhorn ether?" The second-person narration in this case thus asks a question about the hypertext in which it appears. Clearly, the "Questions for Discussion" are seeped in irony and are not intended for serious consideration. This irony is made obvious by, amongst other things, the absurd imperative at the end of the question that commands that the addressee "defend your answer using a semi-automatic weapon." ("1.3.01"). However, whether or not the activities are undertaken, the second-person pronoun draws attention to the interpretative function that the reader plays when reading the text.

Since the question asks for an analysis of the text that the reader is currently reading, "you" implicitly refers to the reader and thus constitutes Kacandes's apostrophic form of actualized address. Yet because the request is absurd, the reader is [End Page 323] unlikely to undertake the activities so that the "you" is assigned to a hypothetical recipient, and the second-person narrative comprises Richardson's hypothetical form of fictionalized address. As above, Herman's concept of double deixis is useful in this case because, while the reader is implicated by the second-person address, so too is a fictional counterpart. The address refers to both a real and a fictional addressee.

Herman's concept of double deixis provides an adequate explanation of the ontological mechanics of the use of the second-person narration in the "Questions for Discussion," but there is more to say about the context of the address in Figurski. Since the questions parody typical academic practice, some of the instructions would be appropriate in a particular context and therefore be particularly relevant to a certain type of reader. Thus, the "you" of the study questions refers neither to an individual "you," nor to a generic "you," but instead to a specific type of "you" who is engaged in an academic study of Figurski.

In his examination of second-person narratives Phelan advocates reintroducing Rabinowitz's elapsed concept of the "ideal narrative audience" in order to characterize instances of "you" that appeal to or signal the existence of a particular type of narratee. Rabinowitz defines the ideal narrative audience as

the audience for which the narrator wishes he were writing. . . . This . . . audience believes the narrator, accepts his judgments, sympathizes with his plight, laughs at his jokes even when they are bad. I call this the ideal narrative audience, that is, from the narrator's point of view. In John Barth's End of the Road, the authorial audience knows that Jacob Horner has never existed; the narrative audience believes he has existed but does not entirely accept his analyses; and the ideal narrative audience accepts uncritically what he has to say.

(134)

Rabinowitz's categorization distinguishes between the reader in the real world and two different types of narratee in the fictional world: the narrative audience that retains a critical distance to the narrator's claims and the ideal narrative audience that does not. Crucially, Rabinowitz's "narrative audience" and "ideal narrative audience" can be used in conjunction with any of the "you" categories given in Figure 1 because they refine the epistemological nature, as opposed to the ontological status, of "you" in a text. The ideal narrative audience of a second-person narrative, for example, could be a referential "you" or an addressed "you" or indeed a combination of the two. Whether or not the authorial audience recognizes their relationship to these categories is a different matter. As Rabinowitz notes, "much of the problem—and most of the joy—of reading irony comes from sorting out these three levels, and feeling the tensions among them" (135). Moreover, "narrative audience" and "ideal narrative audience" are not restricted to second-person narratives; they can be used to analyze first-, third-, first-person plural narratives, and, claims Rabinowitz, music, as well (135-6). They therefore do not appear as separate categories in the taxonomic chart in Figures 1 and 2 because they act as interpretative, as opposed to ontological, categories that can be used alongside a range of different types of narrative. [End Page 324]

We argue that Rabinowitz's concept of the "ideal narrative audience" provides a means of conceptualizing "you" in Figurski because it acknowledges the fictionalization of "you" that takes place in the "Questions for Discussion." In this context, the ideal narrative audience to which "you" refers is someone who will seriously undertake the study activities and believe them to be useful for her analysis of the text. Although utterly horrifying, she will also be prepared to "defend [her] answer using a semiautomatic weapon." The use of "you" therefore constructs a fictional incarnation of "you" but with a knowing nod to the actual reader of the game that the narrator is playing. The ideal narrative audience would answer the questions in earnest, but the narrative and authorial audiences—as well as a large portion of the actual audience—would not. Instead they would be greatly amused by any such effort to respond with any seriousness to these instructions.

Focusing on the concept of a characterized "you," Margolin considers the role of the reader in second-person narratives, which presuppose the existence of a particular type of narratee. He suggests that, while the reader will not fully assume the role of "you," she will recognize that there is an intended audience and deictically relocate, if only partially, into that slot. He suggests that "the actual and the fictional are blended . . . by the incorporation of the actual reader into the feigned domain, thereby fictionalizing or turning him or her into a quasi-literary figure" ("Narrative" 438). Margolin emphasizes that this process results in a "blended" and a "quasi-literary figure"—vocabulary which takes into account, like Herman, that the role requires two participants, one fictional and one actual. Acknowledging the referential flexibility of second-person pronouns, Margolin further notes that "the adoption by any actual reader of this communicative 'you' role will be easiest if . . . his or her specified properties do apply to the actual individual" ("Narrative" 439-40). Margolin thus suggests that readers will be more able to perform the role of "you" if they are able to empathize with the narratee.

In Figurski, the discussion questions are intended for a reader of Figurski and, because the actual reader has something in common with that figure, she is able to partially assume while simultaneously distancing herself ironically and satirically from that role. In the case of the "Questions for Discussion," however, the ideal narrative audience is a reader within an academic context. This detail is particularly significant in the case of Figurski because, as a hypertext, it is likely that academics comprise a large proportion of its actual readership. As studies have shown (see Pope, Ensslin), the readership for hypertext fiction is limited to a relatively small and niche market. It is, however, taught on university syllabi, and many hypertext authors, including the author of Figurski, Richard Holeton, are university professors or academic researchers. It is likely therefore that at least some readers will have direct experience of the academic discourse that is parodied. Thus the study questions not only create a fictional incarnation of the ideal narrative audience in the fictional world but they also signal an awareness of the text's likely audience in the real world. Indeed, Holeton seeks to connect with this likely audience in part by constructing the ideal narrative audience of the "Questions for Discussion": the likely audience joins with Holeton in being amused at the ideal narrative audience's inability to detect the irony in those questions. Thus the use of "you" in this example is particularly self-conscious. [End Page 325]

Fig. 2. Additional functional types of textual "you."
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Fig. 2.

Additional functional types of textual "you."

[End Page 326]

While the "Questions for Discussion" are not meant to be taken seriously, they do ask the reader to perform an analysis of the text that she is reading. According to Montfort's typology, they represent an example of actualized directive output because the text instructs the reader to act, but because she must be external to the story-world to perform the analysis, this must be from an extradiegetic position. Because the imperative asks the reader to acknowledge the academic discourse that is parodying (whether or not the "audience" performs the analysis that the study questions demand), such an imperative represents a very specific kind of directive output. As a means of categorizing this example, which acts as an interdiscursive and satirical reference to literary classroom discourse, we add "interdiscursive directive output" to Montfort's typology (see Figure 2). This terminology acknowledges the interdiscursive parody enacted by the "Questions for Discussion," but it is also sufficiently broad to accommodate other forms of intertextual reference, such as allusion and pastiche, that might be found in other examples of this or other texts.

Theoretical Outcomes

The preceding analyses have shown that narrative theory, which is based on research in print, can be used to map the forms and effects of second-person narration in digital fiction. However, the incorporation of Montfort's media specific theory as well as the addition of several more specific functional subtypes of textual "you" show that the digital context of hypertext fiction must also be acknowledged if the analysis is to be sensitive to the idiosyncrasies of these interactive texts. Figure 2 shows how these new additions fit into contemporary narratological approaches.

Conclusion

Since the reader is integrally involved in the construction of the narrative, "you" is a particularly pertinent and compelling feature of digital fiction. As the analyses of Victory Garden and Figurski show, hypertext can expand the referential capacity and ontological peculiarity of "you," because it provides an interactive environment in which to place it. Some instances of second-person narration, such as the example from Victory Garden, foreground and corroborate with the interactivity of the medium and emphasize the physical participation of the reader as well as asking the reader to assess her role in events outside the text. Other uses of "you," such as the example from Figurski, interrupt the narrative, but do not necessarily foreground the fact that the implied "you" has a physical participatory role. Instead, Figurski utilizes knowledge about the genre of which it is a part as well as the eventual recipient of the narration to draw attention to the ontological status of the storyworld. While the new categories of textual "you" that have been developed in this analysis may well be useful for analyzing some forms of print fiction and could certainly be expanded through analysis of other texts, whether digital or print, any taxonomic refinement must be sensitive to the modal and media affordances within the different types of text. [End Page 327]

Alice Bell

Alice Bell is Senior Lecturer in English Language and Literature in the Humanities Department at Sheffield Hallam University in England. She is the Principal Investigator of the Digital Fiction International Network and has published a monograph entitled The Possible Worlds of Hypertext Fiction (Palgrave-Macmillan 2010) as well as articles on digital fiction and narrative theory in Contemporary Stylistics (Continuum 2007) and New Narratives: Stories and Storytelling in the Digital Age (Univ. of Nebraska 2011).

Astrid Ensslin

Astrid Ensslin is Senior Lecturer in Digital Humanities at the School of Creative Studies and Media, Bangor University (Wales, UK). Her main research interests are in digital fiction, videogames and virtual worlds, narratology, semiotics and discourse. She is Co-Investigator of the Leverhulme Digital Fiction International Network and Principal Editor of Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds. Her main publications include The Language of Gaming (forthcoming, 2011), Creating Second Lives: Community, Identity and Spatiality as Constructions of the Virtual (co-edited with Eben Muse, 2011), Canonizing Hypertext: Explorations and Constructions (2007), and Language in the Media: Representations, Identities, Ideologies (co-edited with Sally Johnson, 2007).

Endnotes

1. The term "Storyspace" refers to the software in which the hypertext fictions are produced. Storyspace hypertexts are published on CD-ROMs and distributed by Eastgate Systems.

2. DFIN was funded by The Leverhulme Trust from January to December 2009 (Ref: F/00 455/E) and brought together scholars from the UK (Alice Bell and Astrid Ensslin), Norway (Hans Rustad), the United States (Jessica Pressman), Canada (Jess Laccetti), and New Zealand (Dave Ciccoricco). The grant funded two research visits by the Investigators to Otago, NZ (Alice Bell) and to Yale (Astrid Ensslin), and a workshop designed to launch a number of joint publication projects.

Works Cited

Aarseth, Espen. Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1997.
Bell, Alice. "'Do You Want to Hear About it?' Exploring Possible Worlds in Michael Joyce's Hyperfiction, afternoon, a story." In Contemporary Stylistics, edited by Marina Lambrou and Peter Stockwell, 43-55. London: Continuum, 2007.
———. "Ontological Boundaries and Methodological Leaps: The Significance of Possible Worlds Theory for Hypertext Fiction (and Beyond)." In New Narratives: Stories and Storytelling in the Digital Age, edited by Ruth Page and Bronwen Thomas. Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, forthcoming.
———. The Possible Worlds of Hypertext Fiction. Basingstoke: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2010.
Bell, Alice, Astrid Ensslin, Dave Ciccoricco, Jess Laccetti, Jessica Pressman and Hans Rustad, "A [S]creed for Digital Fiction." Electronic Book Review. http://www.electronicbookreview.com/thread/electropoetics/DFINative (accessed January 25, 2011).
Ciccoricco, David. Reading Network Fiction. Tuscaloosa: Univ. of Alabama Press, 2007.
Douglas, Jane. Y. "What Hypertexts Can Do That Print Narratives Cannot." Reader: Essays in Reader-Oriented Theory, Criticism, and Pedagogy 28 (1992): 1-22.
Douglass, Jeremy. "Enlightening Interactive Fiction: Andrew Plotkins's Shade." In Second Person: Role-Playing and Story in Games and Playable Media, edited by Pat Harrigan and Noah Wardrip-Fruin, 129-36. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007.
Ensslin, Astrid. Canonizing Hypertext: Explorations and Constructions. London: Continuum, 2007.
Ensslin, Astrid, and Alice Bell. "Introduction—New Perspectives on Digital Literature: Criticism and Analysis." Special issue, dichtung-digital 37 (2007). http://www.dichtung-digital.de/ (accessed January 25, 2011).
———. "'Click = Kill': Textual You in Ludic Digital Fiction." Storyworlds: a Journal of Narrative Studies 4 (forthcoming).
Fludernik, Monika. "Second-Person Narrative as a Test Case for Narratology: The Limits of Realism." Style 28.3 (1994): 445-79.
Harrigan, Pat and Noah Wardrip-Fruin, eds. Second Person: Role-Playing and Story in Games and Playable Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007.
Herman, David. Story Logic: Problems and Possibilities of Narrative. Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 2002. [End Page 328]
———. "Textual 'You' and Double Deixis in Edna O'Brien's A Pagan Place." Style 28.3 (1994): 378-411.
Holeton, Richard. Figurski at Findhorn on Acid [CD-ROM]. Watertown, MA: Eastgate Systems, 2001.
Kacandes, Irene. "Are You in the Text?: The 'Literary Performative' in Postmodernist Fiction." Text and Performance Quarterly 13.2 (1993): 139-53.
Liestol, Gunnar. "Wittgenstein, Genette, and the Reader's Narrative in Hypertext." In Hyper/Text/ Theory, edited by George P. Landow, 87-120. Baltimore: John Hopkins Univ. Press, 1994.
Margolin, Uri. "Narrative 'You' Revisited." Language and Style 23.4 (1990): 425-46.
———. "Telling Our Story: On 'We' Literary Narratives." Language and Literature 5.2 (1996): 115-33.
McHale, Brian. "'You Used to Know What These Words Mean': Misreading Gravity's Rainbow." Language and Style 18.1 (1985): 93-118.
Montfort, Nick. Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003.
Moulthrop, Stuart. Victory Garden [CD-ROM]. Watertown, MA: Eastgate Systems, 1991.
Phelan, James. "Self-Help for Narratee and Narrative Audience: How 'I'—and 'You'—Read 'How.'" Style 28.3 (1994): 350-65.
Pope, James. "A Future for Hypertext Fiction." Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies 12.4 (2006): 447-65.
Rabinowitz, Peter. J. "Truth in Fiction: A Reexamination of Audiences Author(s)." Critical Inquiry 4.1 (1977): 121-41.
Richardson, Brian. "The Poetics and Politics of Second Person Narrative." Genre 24 (1991): 309-330.
———. Unnatural Voices: Extreme Narration in Modern and Contemporary Fiction. Columbus: The Ohio State Univ. Press, 2006.
Ryan, Marie-Laure. "Narrative and Digitality: Learning to Think with the Medium." In A Companion to Narrative Theory, edited by James Phelan and Peter J. Rabinowitz, 515-28. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005.
Seegert, Alf. "'Doing There' vs. 'Being There': Performing Presence in Interactive Fiction." Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds 1.1 (2009): 23-37.
Walker, Jill. "Do You Think You're Part of This? Digital Texts and the Second Person Address." In Cybertext Yearbook 2000, edited by Markku Eskelinen and Raine Koskimaa. Univ. of Jyväskylä, Finland: Research Centre for Contemporary Culture, 2000. http://jilltxt.net/txt/do_you_think.pdf (accessed January 25, 2011) [End Page 329]

Additional Information

ISSN
1538-974X
Print ISSN
1063-3685
Pages
311-329
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-21
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.