Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Narrative Truth of Digital Hyperfiction: "Lies" and "Alter Ego"

I spent quite a bit of time navigating through Rick Pryll’s “Lies” this week. From the first click, I was charmed—the simple formatting, the brief narrative glimpses, even the two-fold “Truth” and “Lies” buttons staring through the screen—these were all aspects of Pryll’s hyperfiction short story meant to draw readers in.

 I could not settle for a single read-through, but the first time, I did continuously click “Truth” until the end. I want to believe that my selection reveals something about my character, but I just think a natural reaction is to want the truth, especially from a work of literature. The narrative surprised me, though, as I was awfully confused and didn’t quite understand what the purpose was. Despite this reaction, I immediately went back to the beginning and started over, this time selecting “Lies.”

 What I found most fascinating is how the narrative was set up in a way that required the reader to react. The information received for the “Truth” was much different in certain areas than what was revealed for the “Lies,” and the “Lies” sections seemed to provide the information that was needed to make sense of the “Truth” sections. Knowing that the “summer lovers” was actually just a code for the journals, and that the journals had these personas, completely transformed the way that I was reading the story.

 In regard to temporality, I think Pryll’s choice to create this story in such a way is effective because it gives the reader the power of progression. I could read and reread the story in several different ways. I even alternated between the two choices, starting once with “Truth” first and once with “Lies” first. Although these choices didn’t necessarily change how the narrative progressed (considering it ends the same every time, or at least it did for the decisions I made throughout the story), I still felt like my conscious decision to click either button might effect the next page.

 Pryll’s “Lies” reminded me of Dr. Peter J. Favaro’s game “Alter Ego,” which reads very much like a story. Unlike Pryll’s “Lies,” however, it takes the reader from infancy to death, providing a variety of choices for the user to select in order to progress the narrative.

 These two stories are not similar just because of the plain interface and reader-text interaction capabilities, but more so because every choice results in a change in the narrative. In “Lies,” the next few sentences of the text are formulated based on the reader’s decision. In “Alter Ego,” readers are faced with the same kind of decisions, although the outcomes are much more broad, and the choices the reader/user makes are carried throughout the entire narrative from infancy until death, whenever that may be.

 For example, as a baby, the reader peers into the mirror, and by choosing to recognize him or herself as a “beautiful baby,” self-esteem and awareness is then increased. Those same qualities decline if the reader chooses to disidentify with the baby in the mirror. Ultimately, the reader must piece together this puzzle of life by using their own decision-making skills to progress the story.

 What is most interesting, however, is how both of the texts use these decision-making features to give the reader full control of time. With a book, readers are able to jump around and pick and choose what they want to read. Even in a novel, readers might be tempted to head to the end of the book to see what happens, or even skip over paragraphs or chapters if they are bored.

 With interactive texts like these, there is much more at stake. The reader is no longer given the freedom to bounce around the narrative, but instead must carefully read each selection of text if they want to make an informed decision and move themselves forward. In “Lies,” one could easily click through the slides at a quick rate, but the entire story is then at stake. The user sees these decisions being made (irrationally, perhaps?) and when they arrive at the end, nothing is left but a tiny bit of text. They cannot flip back a couple of pages. They must start all over again.

 The same interaction works with “Alter Ego.” Whenever I used to play the game in high school, I remember being upset with certain decisions I had made, so I would try and refresh the page or click the backward arrow, which would do nothing but mess up the game. There was no way to change those decisions unless I started over, which, for the most part, was not only inconvenient, but also defeated the purpose of the game—I needed to follow through to find out what the point was.

 By controlling the rate in which the narrative develops, readers have the chance to feel like the story is more intertwined with them as opposed to a standard book.  These stories also layer the narrative in ways that defy the standards of a literary text—every action has a reaction—and the reader, with all their power and glory, finally gets to be in charge of those actions.


  1. I read "Lies" in much the same ways. I wanted to know the truth first so that I could recognize the lies on the second reading. I then read what I thought were all the lies, but I later realized my one trip through the lies-only path did not include all the lies. I found in the random reads that I could not keep track of whether I had chosen truth or lie, so I ended up not sure which I was reading. Then there was the conundrum of the lie that explained about the code words. Was that a lie, which would mean that the code words information was false? Or was it telling the truth by explaining about the lies? And then I felt a little like S. crawling out of the ocean....

  2. I love the connection you make with "Alter Ego." The hypertext reminded me of a similar video game experience with "Fable." I think I enjoy games like these more because I get to choose, and those choices affect the rest of the game (as opposed to something like shooter games). I felt the same as you and Kristin reading through the narrative multiple times--I want to know the point! Where is the "so what" moment? I think Ty sums it up nicely in his post by mentioning that perhaps the whole point is to get readers to think about how truth and lies affect our own temporality--one that we can control the outcome of, just like the hypertext.