Marie-Laure Ryan
Narrative as Virtual Reality:
Immersion and Interactivity in Literature and Electronic Media

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For those interested in literature, performance and the visual arts, the most fascinating dimension of the emerging technology of virtual reality (VR) is the perspectives it opens on representation. Approaching VR as a semiotic phenomenon, this book invites the reader to rethink textuality, literary theory and the cognitive processing of texts in the light of the new modes of artistic world-construction that have been made possible by electronic technology. VR has been defined as an "interactive, immersive experience generated by a computer." These two concepts are developed into the cornerstones of a phenomenology of reading which encompasses both traditional literary texts and the new textual genres made possible by the electronic revolution of the past few years, such as hypertext, electronic poetry, interactive movies, and synchronic role-playing games. The history of Western art and literature has seen the rise and fall of immersive ideals, and their replacement, during the twentieth century, by an aesthetics of active reader involvement, based on an attitude of critical distance and demystification, that culminates in the postmodern ideal of interactive participation in the creation of the text. This evolution calls for a synthesis which forms the central concern of this study: the reconquest of immersivity, a form of pleasure of the text that still thrives in the texts of popular culture, in an interactive environment that satisfies readers of a more cerebral disposition.

The book covers the following topics:

Table of contents


1. The Two (and Thousand) Faces of the Virtual
Baudrillard and the virtual as fake--Pierre LÚvy and the virtual as potential--The text as double and as fake--The text as potentiality
2. VR Technology as Immersion and Interactivity
Dreams of VR and some realities-- Presence, immersion and interactivity-- The phenomenological dimension of the VR experience
Interlude 2: Virtual Realities of the Mind: Baudelaire, Huysmans, Coover
The Poetics of Immersion
3. Theories of Immersion
Immersion and the world metaphor-- Transportation and being lost in a book-- Possible Worlds-- Make-Believe-- Mental simulation
Interlude 3: The Discipline of Immersion: Ignatius de Loyola
4. Spatial Immersion
Spatial immersion: a sense of place and a model of space--Statio-temporal immersion: how to transport the reader onto the scene.
5. Immersive paradoxes: Temporal and Emotional Immersion
Temporal immersion--Emotional immersion--Immersion and realism
Interlude 5: Virtual Narration as Allegory of Immersion
The Poetics of Interactivity
6. From Immersion to Interactivity: The Text as World versus the Text as Game
The texts as game--Comparing the game and the world metaphor
Interlude 6: The Game-reader and the World-Reader: If On a Winter's Night a Traveler
7. Hypertext: The Functions and Effects of Selective Interactivity
Interactive vs. ergodic design--Varieties of interactivity--Properties of the electronic medium--Conceptualizations of interactivity
Interlude 7: Adventures in Hypertext: Michael Joyce's Twelve Blue
8. Selective Interactivity and Narrativity
The structures of interactive narrativity--Hypertext and immersion--The future of interactivity
Interlude 8: I'm Your Man: Anatomy of an Interactive Movie
Reconciling Immersion and Interactivity
9. Participatory Interactivity from Life Situations to Drama
Children's games of make-believe--Erotic scenarios--The fair and the amusement park--Baroque art and architecture--Ritual--Drama as immersion and/or interactivity: a very short history
10. Participatory Interactivity in Electronic Media
Computer games--MOOs --Automated dialogue systems --Interactive Drama--Design philosophy in two interactive drama projects: Placeholder and Oz
Interlude 10: Dream of the Interactive Immersive Book: Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age