<Immersion versus Interactivity: Virtual Reality and Literary Theory
Virtual Reality has been defined as an "interactive, immersive experience generated by computer " (Pimentel and Texeira).This paper investigates the possibility of the literary implementation of these two dimensions. While immersion plays an important role in theories of fiction based on the concept of possible world and of game of make-believe, it presupposes a transparency of the medium that goes against the grain of postmodern aesthetics. Postmodern literature emulates the interactive aspect of VR in a metaphorical way through self-reflexivity, and in a more literal way through hypertext, but both of these attempts involve the sacrifice of the pleasure derived from immersion. In computer-generated VR, by contrast, immersion and interactivity do not stand in conflict but support each other. The difference in behavior between VR and literature is seen to reside in the participation of the body. While textual worlds are created through a purely mental semiotic activity which presupposes an external point of view, the worlds of VR are created from within through an activity both mental and physical. A mind may conceive a world from the outside, but a body always experiences it from the inside.
Interactive Drama: Narrativity in a Highly Interactive Environment
The most talked-about, and potentially the most significant consequence of recent advances in electronic technology for the practive and theory of literature is the promise of interactivity. The idea of interactivity is traditionally associated with hypertext. But compared to Interactive Drama, a genre existing mainly in the conceptual stage, hypertext involves a relatively low grade of interactivity: the freedom to select an itinerary on a network of author-defined pathways. In Interactive Drama, ideally, "the interactor is choosing what to do, say, and think at all times" (Kelso, Bates and Weyhrauch); "the users of such a system are like audience members who can march up onto the stage and become various characters, altering the action by what they say and do in their roles" (Laurel). This essay investigates the basic dilemma encountered by Interactive Drama, a dilemma reminiscent of a familiar theological problem: how can the system grant users some freedom of action, and yet enact an aesthetically satisfying narrative scheme ? The predominantly epic structure of Brenda Laurel's VR installation Placeholder is contrasted to the Aristotelian design philosophy of Joseph Bates' Oz. In spite of these structural differences, both works uphold the ideal of a system designed in such a way that every traversal of the virtual world will provide a rewarding experience. This concern for the "safety of a controlled situation" suggests that in contrast to most forms of hypertext, interactive drama owes more to the spirit of classicism than to postmodern aesthetics.