phd thesis online
I fixed the PDF of my PhD thesis and put it online!
Jill Walker. Fiction and Interaction: How Clicking a Mouse Can Make You Part of a Fictional World. Dr. art. thesis, Dept of Humanistics, University of Bergen, 2003.
To try to convince you to read it, or, more realistically, skim bits of it, I’ll quote one of the best bits of the committee’s report on it:
She succeeds in problematising the concept of interactivity in a way that still makes it possible to use the term in a fruitful way. She also represents a pioneering effort in her analyses of various interactive websites that so far have eluded this kind of theoretical reflection. In short, her dissertation is to be recommended as a useful theoretical excursion into a quickly developing field. (..) Another strong point of the dissertation is its lucid and economical writing style, which make it a true pleasure to read.
My opponents were excellent, and I was especially thrilled that one of my academic heros was my first opponent: Marie-Laure Ryan, who has done wonderful work on fictional worlds and digital media and narrative. Bjørn Sørensen and Dag Elgesem also gave me excellent feedback, and the report was co-written by the three of them. Oh, it’s wonderful having a year and a half’s distance to this! Instead of seeing all the (plentiful) criticism, I now notice all the positive remarks that they also made! How different from my first reaction to the report. Oh, just look at this lovely explanation of my “original contribution”:
The originality of the dissertation lies in the following areas:
Data selected: Walker’s study goes much beyond the well-studied genres of digital texts, namely literary hypertext and computer games. While these genres serve as standard of comparison, together with print fictions, Walker brings into the discussion texts that have not, to our knowledge, received extensive critical attention: Web-based texts that use e-mail or other devices to collect personal information from the user; digital hoaxes; and “pseudo” computer games whose main purpose is not to provide challenging player action but to convey a political message.
Theoretical approach: The issue of whether digital interactive texts are or are not narratives has been one of the most controversial in new media studies. Walker finds an elegant alternative to the dilemma by regarding these texts as fictions as invitations to the user to become part of an imaginary world. Kendall Walton’s concept of “fiction as a game of make-believe”ù and his notion of “depiction” — which has not been tested before on digital textsîprovides a very efficient approach to the issue of user participation in the worlds of digital fiction and place the texts under study in an interdisciplinary perspective. In fact, Walker may have located the true home, i.e. the strongest domain of application of Walton’s theory. In its original form, this theory creates an analogy between children’s games of make-believe and artistic texts, such as standard literary fiction and the visual arts. While “game of make-believe”ù describes literature and art only metaphorically, the notion applies quite literally to the interactive texts analyzed by Walker, since in these texts the user really performs actions, and since many of these texts are genuine games.
Critical analysis of interactivity: While earlier studies of digital texts have defended the view that interactivity empowers users by enabling them to participate in the creation of the fictional world, Walker takes a much more nuanced approach. She studies several cases of “fake interactivity” where the program asks the user for input, but develops its narrative in a pre-determined way, without taking this input into consideration. But this “fake”ù or non-consequential interactivity is not without functionality, since it facilitates the user’s immersion in the fictional world. Walker also refines current conceptions of user participation in texts by proposing an original typology that cross-classifies two criteria into four categories: user internal vs. external to discourse; user internal vs. external to story.
And yes, know, it’s been ages since I finished the thesis and I should have put it online long ago, but you know, I didn’t have the full version of Acrobat to fix the broken PDF and, uh, well, you know, I was utterly sick of the whole project. Now I think it looks quite interesting again. There are some really good bits in it, though there are also bits that are there because it was a three year process of changing perspectives.
Maybe Google will index it in Google Scholar. I’d like that!