Storytelling Via Google Maps

23:50 Thu 20 Mar 2008. Updated: 02:02 21 Mar 2008
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Continuing directly on the theme from the previous entry, author Charles Cumming has written a hypertext work that’s a fiction/Google Maps mashup: The 21 Steps.

I’ve always been interested in hypertext fiction, although I’ve written almost none of it myself. It tends to split into two large groups: texts where the reader doesn’t get to make choices and texts where they do. In the first case, what then makes it better than a typical book narrative? Experimental form can be interesting in itself, but tends not to hold enough interest to make the form really work for non-experimental works.

As for the latter category, why then not go further and make it a game, a text adventure? The rules for games and non-game narratives are rather different, however, and it’s hard to move to that realm while remaining “fiction” in any traditional sense.

Which isn’t to say that people shouldn’t try to create hypertextual works, or that every work of fiction should in fact be considered a candidate for the form, with attention to where on the game/non-game continuum it might end up.

Hypertext works do tend to be clunky, though. The reader isn’t used to having to do more than turn the page to continue the narrative, and almost no work emphasizes within itself the necessity for page-turning, whereas hypertextual works tend to do just that. Sometimes, as in the case of The 21 Steps, this emphasis comes partly by way of the initial explanation, instructing the reader how to read. The fact that instructions seem necessary is a warning in itself.

As is usual with hypertexts, the flow is broken, resulting in staccato episodes that feel oddly strung together. This might well suit the work in question, but it also feels like a structural limitation.

The map interaction, however, is quite interesting. It doesn’t do much other than move you around a Google Maps view of London, but having that backdrop, intertwined with the narrator’s movements, has a powerful effect and embeds the reader in the location in a way few non-cinematic forms can match—which, of course, is the point.

It’s definitely worth a look.

(But how do I enter it as a published work in Freebase?)

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