Ken Perlin's response

Ken Perlin's response

2004-11-06

Ken Perlin finds hypertext templates useful as they are used, not in tool form.

Mark Bernstein and Diane Greco present two card games which are exercises in hypermedia. Each game is an attempt, in its own way, to combine what we usually think of as “game” with what we usually think of as “narrative.” It is not clear whether the two game/story approaches they propose would lead to fun or interesting or other edifying experiences, but both certainly provide food for thought.

I’m particularly intrigued by the notion posited in Card Shark of starting with an overabundance of possible paths, and creating the experience as a careful pruning away of potential paths, mainly through the use of ordering-condition constraints, as the primary way of authoring an experience for the reader/player. This approach makes very clear the sense that non-linear hypertext narrative is a sort of interactive sculpture or garden, a negative space carved by pruning away from a universe of possibilities.

Unfortunately, it is somewhat difficult for me to get a strong handle on this essay, since it describes an enabling mechanism, without any real and specific content built on that mechanism. I can’t ask myself the sorts of questions that would tell me whether what is being described is a truly effective medium (and therefore truly interesting).

I don’t have any problem with this, since Bernstein and Greco are presenting these ideas as a thought piece. But it is hard to know whether what is being described will lead to a rich and infinitely malleable medium (i.e. the novel) or a tool for making shallow and gimmicky experiences that all seem oddly similar to one another (i.e. the 1953 3D movie craze). In a sense, I feel as though I’m being presented with a lump of clay or a slab of marble and a chisel, and someone is saying “ah, but imagine the possibilities.”

I don’t find in myself a desire to create anything with either Card Shark or Thespis, mainly because both feel at this point more like tools for making points about interactivity and hypertext, not for bringing people into a new and revealing psychological place. I would, however, be delighted to find out otherwise, and to see a compelling interactive literary work built from these techniques.

Andrew Stern responds

Mark Bernstein and Diane Greco respond