Between Interactive Fictions and Visual Novels: Diversity of Agency in Videoludic Novels

paper, specified "long paper"
  1. 1. Emmanuelle Lescouet

    Université de Montréal

  2. 2. Pierre Gabriel Dumoulin

    Université du Québec à Montréal (Quebec a Montral - UQAM)

Work text
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Interactive fictions are digital narrative artworks that require little to no dexterity. These multimedia fictions do not require a particular proficiency in their manipulation to access and explore the story. However, they demand distinct mechanics and reading moves, specific to narrative models (Juul, 2007). These items, between literature and videogame studies, call for the analyses of their own modes of interaction and consumption (Aarseth, 1997; Hayles, 2007). Reading and book theories will be of use in this presentation, as we consider the latter as a form of the ludic, notably through the establishment and transgression of “magic circles” (Huizinga, 1938; Picard, 1986; Macé, 2011) and of game studies (Triclot, 2017).

In this specific environment, the reading is one of entertainment, voluntary and engaged. Since there is a tacit contract that readers sign with the work, establishing a horizon of expectation and conveying reading habits (Jauss, 1978; Iser, 1976), our study establishes the purpose of this reading experience as immersion, plunging into a second world, and exploring the possibilities offered by it. Following Ryan (2001), we define the immersion as an entertainment experience where the human subject gets lost inside the text. Xe is transported into the fictional universe; when xe is incorporated (Calleja, 2013), reproducing reading moves and interacting with the narrative mechanics. Not that fiction and reality are confused, but rather that the reader finds themself in the narrative and their potential affects (Massumi, 2015).

We must therefore consider a continuum between artworks relying on a few interactions and others that require more complex sequences, in constrained times. This axis allows us, on the one hand, to recognize the complexity of narrative practices and, on the other hand, to establish anchor points throughout the continuum without basing our research strictly on opposite relationships.

Since the physical inscription in the cultural work and the sensations which result from it strongly influence the reception - the readings - of these works (Citton, 2012; Bigé, 2018; Garmon, 2020), the body’s implication in these gestures poses the question of the place of the work, an implication located between the body of the player, the game and the space between them. This varied involvement, created by the different reading gestures, modifies both the narrative mechanics and the immersion possibilities (Ryan, 2004; Murray, 1997). Understanding the implications of these mechanics is necessary to approach a theory of novel mechanics in game novels. Furthermore, the objective of this study has been to move towards an analysis of the geographical and historical shifts of these forms.

If visual novels are a digital form strongly anchored in Asian digital culture, Western creations and adaptations take up and adapt narrative mechanics including them in more typically Western videogame structures, such as the Quick Time Events. The importance of Asian cultures in the corpus and communities of Western reception leads us to this comparative study in order to understand the implications of these formal intercultural transfers.

These reflections have focused both on a corpus of Japanese and Western interactive fictions, but also on a segmentation of their characteristics: works employing Quick Time Events, according to the expression of the developer Yu Suzuki, such as Detroit: Become Human, Robotics;Notes; games that require minimal interaction : Synergia and Doki Doki Literature Club!; and games that alternate dialogue phases with certain mini-games, which influence the development of narrative arcs: Coffee Talk and Root Letter.

This presentation will begin by describing the reading gestures and the narrative mechanics, before studying the continuum mentioned above and thus approaching the transfers that have taken place between the cultural areas. Through the study of the three categories of interactive fictions, we situate the reading gestures and the narrative mechanics, following the studios’ practices. From the establishment of this comparative approach based on Western and Eastern practices, we then analyse a small selection of the corpus as to determine how narrative traditions evolve in the video game universe, but more specifically to identify the main components of both Western’s and Japanese’s influence. These components then allow us to draw conclusions on how videogame practices shape the development of interactive fictions and the reader/player’s experience. The comparative corpus is based on the ontologies of digital works from the Canada Research Chair in Digital Textualities Repository, which serves as a tool for the corpus construction and statistical analyses necessary for this presentation.


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Conference Info

In review

ADHO - 2022
"Responding to Asian Diversity"

Tokyo, Japan

July 25, 2022 - July 29, 2022

361 works by 945 authors indexed

Held in Tokyo and remote (hybrid) on account of COVID-19

Conference website:

Contributors: Scott B. Weingart, James Cummings

Series: ADHO (16)

Organizers: ADHO