The Pleasure of the Hypertext

I feel compelled to make a brief comment on Fitzpatrick’s third chapter, “Texts” – and in a somewhat anecdotal way, which I apologize for in advance.  A good chunk of the chapter is devoted to finding the right questions to ask about digital texts, about what they gain or lose of the traditional “codex”, over “how the book works“, etc.  When she begins to discuss hypertext, she writes:

Developing [the format of the ebook] is of vital importance, not simply because the pleasure it can produce for readers will facilitate its adoption, but because it promises to have a dramatic impact on a wide range of our interactions with texts.

It feels important to me that she frames this question, the question of recreating a traditional “reading” experience, in terms of pleasure, as if pleasure is an integral part of “how the book works”.  For she then goes on to list the ways in which hypertext is manifestly un-pleasurable – it’s alienating, it deprives the reader of agency (which is, conveniently, central to the Barthes text I allude to in my title), the typeface is jarring, etc. – in the “choose your own adventure”-style hypertextual canon.

And the anecdote: I distinctly (and fondly) remember spending months after school playing Adventure and the Zork trilogy with my best friend (this was second grade…..not last year).  We’d draw maps, have hot cocoa, work out the word puzzles, get in fights…which is to say (and Fitzpatrick does liken it to D&D) that there was something pleasurable to the hypertext, but it wasn’t borne of the medium itself.  I’m not really sure what to do with this beyond making the bland appeal to “play” – the tactile change from codex to screen may be a matter of changing “games”, in the sense of Wittgenstein’s “language games”.  The best we can hope to do, if that’s the case, is content ourselves with describing the hypertext game.


2 Responses to The Pleasure of the Hypertext

  1. Anderson Evans October 1, 2012 at 11:41 am #

    I really like your thought process here James. I, too, am a digital native (as are the bulk of students in the class at least to some degree), and while I had a hard time with a lot of the pure text adventures, I was obsessive about their graphically obsessed children — The Point-And-Click-Adventure: Games like Sam and Max Hit the Road and The Adventures of Monkey Island. These games attempted to make hypertext more pleasurable the same way comic books attempted to make pulp fiction more pleasurable. They made a cool medium hotter.

    It is only now that I am going back and playing games like Super Star Trek (text) and the ZORK series and realizing how much analog pleasure that can be found in the early hypertext adventures. These games have embedded in them a guidebook for a really in-depth and engaging analog experience, but it took me until my mid-twenties to understand this. To solve these pre ROUGE-like dungeons, the player had to find ways to personally illustrate the described environments without hand-holding. I had been introduced first to the graphics heavy hypertextual adventure game, meanwhile playing the extremely hyperactive platformer games on my NES. When I booted up my parents Apple iiC to play The Marvel Comics Questprobe series with a type-command interface and no-color graphics I was confused and bored by what I considered to be an antiquated medium… probably not just in part because this game too had graphics, but inferior to those of the platformers I was introduced to via my Nintendo. I never thought to move the digital narrative outside of the machine, and maybe this is a consideration that could be helpful for the developing digital humanist.

    Presently my occupation is to take what was (in many cases) a print text, digitally encode it, and print it again. If you take a listen to today’s “Morning Edition” from NPR there was a story about the Makers movement, where people are joining together to share techniques to “build things” PHYSICAL AUTONOMOUS things and sharing them. The democratization of niche or long-tail production, is now possible only because of the networking the digital space provides. There was ANOTHER story on the same program about retro products being revised (i.e. the USB typewriter kit, “the photo lab” that prints Polaroid pictures from an iPhone). We are moving beyond real constraint in even the physical world thanks to the digital, so now it seems logical to me that we study the origins of constraint itself, and perhaps this is most promising in the digital sphere.

    I am in no way arguing with anything laid out by Fitzpatrick in her 3rd chapter, because like the boyhood version of myself shirking off the old Apple iiC for the modern NES, as a mass we have moved far beyond what constituted computational hyperreality only 20 years ago, and to suggest that academics push away from organic digital networks with a hard shove would be inappropriate in my estimation. However, it is my hope to continue to study game systems backwards, to study early constraints with a goal in finding where some constraints can add to engagement and knowledge, much like I might argue that there was probably a good bit more substance to text adventures like ZORK than to many of the games I, at face value, saw as their evolved offspring.


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