Friday, February 08, 2008

Hybrid Fictions

I had an epiphanous moment a few weeks ago reading Eli James post about digital fiction and the examples of Dreaming Method's interactive stories, and this is what occurred to me:

We've had a lot of talk (on this blog and elsewhere) about whether ebooks will take off or not. I now believe that yes, they will be fine for text books, reference books, and some people may use them to read a novel (though the buzz is clearly that most of us wouldn't want to).

And I believe that if the only way to access books was through an electronic device, it would be the end of novels as we know them.

Why? Because if you are going to use these clever hand-held thingies, which over time are going to get cleverer, then why stick to just words-on-a-page when other media can be integrated and the act of reading can become so excitingly interactive?

I think print books will go on being around for a very long time, but I think that along side them we will see new hybrid forms of ebooks.

This thinking also got further nudged along this morning by reading about thriller writer James Patterson's venture into writing computer games. (He isn't the first author to take this route - other early-adopters of this medium include Tom Clancy and Robert Ludlum.) Lindesay Irvine posts a luddite response on the Guardian blog and wonders:

Should I look forward to the Iris Murdoch quest where players race to collect symbols and Jungian archetypes, and the first Martin Amis first-person shooter? To the Henry James adventure where you attempt to escape from inside 3-D versions of his sentences? The Crime and Punishment actioner where you must get away with murder; to rescue fantasies where you can save Tess or Anna Karenina?
(Please do feel free to add your own - I think this is fun!)

But Alasdair Harper reckons:

We need more real writers getting involved in making video games, not fewer. The results could be astounding. It will happen. Elitist suspicion of a new way of storytelling will only last so long, and I doubt the next generation of writers, who grew up on the likes of Beneath A Steel Sky, would have so many prejudices. Heaven only knows what a great writer could do with this new format. I can't wait.
I'm an old fashioned paper book loving grouch who will never mend her ways, but I do find the possibilities of these hybrid forms of fiction very exciting indeed.

Now what's an X-box?

Postscript :

Zedeck has some interesting things to say about this post on the Kakiseni blog.


k0k s3n w4i said...

I, myself is in possession of a few ebooks myself (of piratical provenance, I have to admit). But I do have legit ones; mainly titles which belong to the public domain, downloaded from the Project Gutenberg website.

Anyhow, I am reduced to "stealing" books because a great number of new novels from my favourite speculative fiction authors (namely, Susanna Clarke, Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Naomi Novik etc) does not interest the average Indian market. Yes, I'm Malaysian, but I am currently studying here in the Hindu subcontinent.

But still, I'd pick a good old paper and ink copy of any book over a bunch of pixels on a display monitor - deforestation or not. Real books just feel... cosier

Anonymous said...

Although book writers isn't involved in video games back then, but I've seen video games with stories that could be at par with the best fantasy/sci-fi/thriller/action novels out there.

For instance, games like: Resident Evil, Prince of Persia (Sands of Time, Warrior Within. the Two Thrones), God of War, Neverwinter Nights, Quake, Final Fantasy, Metal Gear, StarCraft all have solid storyline.

Only the thing is, writing for video games is a collaborative effort. For which I think is the very reason why the idea doesn't appeal to book writers, which are synonymous with individualistic glory. ;)

- Namra

k0k s3n w4i said...


Naomi Novik, author of the Temeraire series (which the great Peter Jackson is going to adapt to a live screen feature) actually was involved in the development of a Neverwinter Nights game.

The very epitome of good computer game storytelling is the mucho underrated Grim Fandango, which many people agreed contains voice acting on par with major blockbuster movies.

Somewhat on the subject of alternative media for storytelling, some of Neil Gaiman's Sandman comics are much better than his strictly literary works. In fact, I'm a bigger fan of his comics than I am of his novels.

Eli James said...

But you have to remember there are many types of game out there, k0k. The original half life was different from the other games because they hired a writer to do the story telling, however, you've got to admit there are some games that are not interested at all in telling a story - Doom, for instance, has a stupid excuse of a story for the gameplay, and the Mario games are a lot more gameplay oriented than they are story oriented.

That being said, story based games are a wonderful form of storytelling. And I think to some extent a writer is involved. Perhaps not a novel writer - screenwriters work in groups (think the people behind grey's anatomy - they keep a blog at, or perhaps those with an ability to work in a team and express their vision.

PS: Sharon, an Xbox is a console, primarily aimed for the high school-preU-college group (me!). I wouldn't recommend it to you ... try the Wii instead!

bibliobibuli said...

eli - i was just being disingenious for effect *LOL* i've played with my nephew's xbox

but i am only going to hover on the brink of this conversation because it's an area where i have no knowledge or expertise, but am greatly interested in what the rest of you have to say.

Catalina said...

Dreaming Methods is an excellent art project! I recommended it to a popular video gaming blog as evidence of the video game as an art form. I don't think it'll be covered by the editors =p.

I play video games and read literary books. I don't think the two media of print and gaming will merge (on a technological basis, that is). Book readers would find all the bells and whistles annoying, and gamers would probably shy away from well, something like Dreaming Methods. Despite using (basic) video game technology, it's strange that I've never heard of Dreaming Methods from the gaming community.

As for writers testing waters: that science fiction and fantasy writers are friendlier towards video games as a storytelling mode isn't surprising. I remember those choose-your-own-adventure books I downed as a child (if you choose to face the devil turn to page 5, if you choose to jump into the deep blue sea turn to page 12). The video game is just a step ahead from these books for writers of science fiction and fantasy.

As for literary writers attempting to play with non-linear narrative structures ala Dreaming Methods, they'll end up with a very niche audience; perhaps even more niche than James Joyce's experiments with narration. Technology will work against them. Once a technology is no longer cool, will it be novel for a novel to be written in macromedia flash? Perhaps it may transcend the test of time, like all good art, but it certainly makes it more vulnerable to being swallowed by it.

Chet said...

With all this talk of hybrid fiction forms, ebooks may soon become an old-fashioned way of reading!

Thought you might be interested to know that March 2 - 8 has been designated "Read an Ebook Week". The Epublishers Weekly shares 30 benefits of Ebooks:
30 Benefits of Ebooks

Anonymous said...


In case that wasn't rhetorical, an X-Box is a game console manufactured by Microsoft :) it plugs into the TV and plays games through it.

Sorry if you already knew that, it must come across as being somewhat condescending :)

bibliobibuli said...

catalina - yes i was thinking of those interactive books too as i wrote this post.

Book readers would find all the bells and whistles annoying, and gamers would probably shy away from well, something like Dreaming Methods.

you could well be right but the possibilities of this in-between genre fascinate me

chet - many thanks for that link. you've changed my mind back again. think i will put up a post about this at the beginning of march.

yeah, anon, was just winding you all up! sorry.

Anonymous said...

In my opinion, "Hybrid Fiction" or interactive fiction has already been established by game developers--minus the term--as technically, "Gamers" (Hybrid fiction readers), is directly involved with the story, both as the participant and as the observer (as there are parts of the story that you can't control/change.)

Writing has been serious in video games and comics (even before the involvement of big named "book" writers) It is regarded highly namely in the US and Europe. Only not here. The medium has long hasn't been something just for kids for years.

Only due to its green history, local book readers are not exposed to it, to give these "young" extension of literature an exploration.

I have a vote of confidence that if only a number of graphic novels were written as novels, it could have thwart the Man of Booker top listed anytime.

In the video game industry, the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE) have announced the creation of the WGA's inaugural Videogame Writing Award. To be presented for the first time at the Los Angeles ceremony of the 2008 Writers Guild Awards on February 9, 2008.