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ELO 2015: The End(s) of Electronic Literature

Beneath the Surface: System Representation and Reader Reception in Electronic Literature

Alex Mitchell and Tiffany Neo (National University of Singapore)

Panel:  Platforms, Writers, and Readers
Wednesday, August 5 • 13:30 - 15:00 (Sydneshaugen skole: Auditorium Q)

One challenge authors face when creating electronic literature is to balance immersion in the story with awareness of the underlying computational system (Wardrip-Fruin, 2010, 2013). This paper presents a preliminary investigation of the ways in which the representation of the underlying computational system in the user interface influences the readeräs focus on either the story or the underlying system. To begin exploring this question, we conducted a series of semi-structured interviews with seven participants. Each participant interacted with variations of a procedural hypertext story that represented the underlying system state either numerically or in natural language, and displayed the underlying system state either non-diegetically or diegetically. Observations suggest that although numerical representations make it easier for the reader to grasp the procedural nature of the system, they can also lead to a focus on playing the system, rather than on reading the story. Interestingly, participants reported that the natural language representation was harder to interpret, but that this difficulty actually enhanced their engagement with the storyworld. Although non-diegetic representation distracted attention away from the text of the story, participants could choose to ignore the display and focus on the story, whereas embedded, diegetic information focused attention on specific portions of the text, leading to selective reading. These findings suggest that authors of procedural electronic literature should pay particular attention to how the underlying system is represented on the surface of the work, as this can influence the ways in which the reader engages with the work.

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