I was having lunch yesterday with a colleague who mentioned that her husband used to create hyper-fictional poetry in book form. His poems would appear in the same printed book at various levels of detail, to create a kind of printed hypertext.
She said he later had electronic hyperfiction versions of the book created, so that readers could interactively choose to dive into the poems to see the more detailed levels.
I asked whether that really worked. After all, in my experience people don’t always dive down to see all the levels in interactive hyperfiction. Often they are not even particularly aware that there are deeper levels to explore.
She agreed that in some ways the piece was hurt in just this way: A number of readers would now go through the entire experience by simply skimming the surface.
It occurred to me then that one interesting use of interactive games as a rhetorical device is to lead people into such deeper levels, which can so easily be missed in “folded” narratives. For example, the game Myst, which really was at heart about exploring a world, was structured as a mystery so that people would dive deep into the experience to try to solve that mystery. The real pay-off was the opportunity to explore its rich fictional world. The challenge of playing the game of Myst was a mechanism by which the designers of the world created an inviting path for people to keep exploring the world of Myst.
Maybe something that looks like a game doesn’t need to be primarily about being a game. Providing challenges to be solved can simply be a useful interaction technique to help lead people to a more complete exploration of a rich and complex fictional world.