Electronic literature takes many forms. Showing ties to previous printed texts, electronic literature has become a part of everyday life. You have most likely heard of the popular ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ story books. The books are a form of literature known as interactive fiction. According to Dictionary.com, interactive fiction is, “an adventure or mystery story, usually presented as a video game or book, in which the player or reader is given choices as to how the storyline is to develop or the mystery is to be solved” (Dictionary.com). Similarly, the website’s second definition classifies the same literature as, “a type of computer game in which the player controls characters with text commands; also called text adventures.” Text adventures, however, are more commonly referred to as video games. While video games are a fairly new type of entertainment, they have already become a new form of art. As a result, the fine line between electronic literature and video games is shrinking. Take for example Fallout 3 (available for the Xbox 360 console) and Façade (available for download online), a video game and piece of electronic literature, respectively. In the proceeding paragraphs I will show the similarities and differences between Fallout 3 and Façade, as well as provide more basic information on both interactive fiction and text adventures.
Interactive fiction allows the user to make choices that alter a story’s narrative. The viewer is allowed to choose a prewritten response to the current part of the story. While the user has the option to choose the response, he or she must choose from responses that are predetermined by the author. In response to the unique decisions chosen by the player, or reader, the storyline concludes accordingly. Sometimes referred to as video games, interactive fiction draws more similarities to a game than it does to text. However, some pieces of electronic literature, as well as video games, both incorporate interactive fiction. According to the Dictionary.com definition, both can tell stories, exist as either a video game or a book, and allow the reader or player to make choices that alter the storyline. How then are video games not a form of electronic literature?
Text adventures enable the user to have direct influence over the outcome of the story by manually entering the desired text. While similar to interactive fiction, text adventures don’t require the user to select text, but rather input the text themselves. The responses can range from individual words to full length sentences. Upon receiving the unique text, the text adventure responds appropriately. However, the one downside to text adventures is the lack of a definite response. The program can only respond to the users command if a response has been input by the creator. Interactive fiction, on the other hand, only allows the user to select a response that has a definite answer.
At one point, Fallout 3 was considered one of the most impressive video games on the market. However, the title was not only praised for it’s gameplay and graphics, but also it’s narrative. Fallout 3 exemplifies interactive fiction with it’s use of in-game dialogue boxes. The player interacts with computer characters by selecting an onscreen text box. During conversations, the player has about three to five unique options to choose from. Each response has it’s own consequence, whether good, bad, or neutral. The player has the freedom to interact with the narrative of the game, alter the story, and ultimately lead to one of about two-hundred different endings. In contrast, most video games usually only have one definite ending due to the lack of interactive fiction.
Façade, on the other hand, is a text adventure. Users type unique text into the program and the computer characters react accordingly. There is no text to select, and yet infinite options. The question here is whether or not this is a video game. Compared to “Fallout 3,” many similarities can be drawn. However, the literature is in the narrative itself. While both contain unique options, Façade allows the user to create his or her own responses. Thus, the media earns it’s electronic literature title.
In conclusion, it is easy to see the similarities between electronic literature and video games. As technology improves and creativity expands, we are bound to see more interesting versions of both. You may be wondering, how does this apply to me, or why should I care? Whether you play video games or read books, electronic literature is gradually becoming a large form of entertainment that almost everyone can appreciate. When video games and electronic literature share qualities, the product opens up a market for those who may not have experienced it otherwise. After trying both Fallout 3 and Façade, I can say I am thoroughly impressed by both titles. Each one was unique and offered different styles as both electronic literature and video games. Whether or not you try either of these titles, you are sure to experience electronic literature and/or video games on a frequent basis. I urge you to keep an eye out for these types of media and draw your own conclusions; what are the differences and similarities between electronic literature and video games?