What Constitutes as Literature?

The first major question that was brought to my attention through Nick Montfort’s article, “Interactive Fiction’s Fourth Era,” was what constitutes as literature? Webster’s dictionary defines literature as “writings in prose or verse; especially writings having excellence of form or expression and expressing ideas of permanent or universal interest” (Merriam-Webster). This definition made me ponder whether or not interactive fiction constitutes as literature. Many of the works of interactive fiction are, indeed, written in forms of prose and use various narrative techniques to tell a story or a plot. The difference between interactive fiction and literature in the traditional sense is that, in classic literature, the author narrates the story completely without reader interaction or input. In contrast, interactive fiction allows the “interactor”—or reader—to inform their own story and pattern of narration; the commands given by the “interactor” determine the computer’s narration, essentially indicating that the audience can determine rhetoric based on their choices (Montfort 2).

Interactive fiction affords possibilities that are impossible in print literature. While choose your own adventure books offer readers various decisions along their journey, interactive fiction allows the audience to view images that simulate real life experiences and incorporate personal text within the narration. Readers become a part of the story in a way that is unfeasible in traditional literature. Additionally, interactive fiction ensures that the reader is knowledgeable about the text before the “interactor” can proceed in the narration. Montfort states that progress can only be made “because the interactor, like one who solves a literary riddle, has deeply understood the working of this unusual world” and the text within (Montfort 5). The audience must read and comprehend the text before advancing in the storyline whereas readers of print literature can continue reading without understanding the textual content. Interactive fiction forces readers to explore and understand the text in ways that cannot be enforced in traditional literature.

The journey through interactive fiction ensures greater analysis and comprehension in order for the narration to continue. Furthermore, interactive fiction attempts to bridge the gap between literature and video games through a complex weaving of text, textual analysis, real-life simulation, and interactive role-playing. While Monfort realizes that interactive fiction does not produce the same level of in-depth textual analysis like traditional literature, he is optimistic about the future opportunities and progression of interactive literature as he believes it will be able to “[further develop]…the ability to narrate” (Montfort 7). If this form of digital media is continually developed, it will be able to bridge the gap between “the literary establishment, the art world, and academia,” creating the opportunity for many users to study and understand the capabilities of language through this digital medium (Montfort 7). In conclusion, interactive fiction can be viewed as a work of literature, yet its potential poses even greater possibilities in portraying text and narration through a literary lens.