A Review of Marie-Laure Ryan’s: Fictional Worlds in the Digital Age

GamesMarie-Laure Ryan focuses her attention on immersion, how a reader has the ability to immerse oneself from the real world into another world created by imagination. She begins by pointing out that there is nothing more enjoyable than the immersion of the embodied mind into the fictional world. Unlike non-fiction texts we can let the imagination run wild, there are no restrictions enforced like there are in the real world. Ryan exercises the point that immersion is still the most fundamental of literary pleasures. In Wordswoth words we have to ‘suspend disbelief’ in order to achieve complete and utter immersion in a text. This article aims to investigate how digital media affects the experience of fictional worlds and the practice of fiction. We all know what fiction is and how much fun it can be. We have all spent countless hours playing make believe games, and for the duration of the game we have spent our time complete immersed, the world we were acting in at the time was every bit real to us. Ryan describes this as ‘virtual reality’, throughout this article she places immense emphasis on the role of the imagination.

Once again the internet seems to be taking over, the internet enables us to not just imagine but let us watch our imagination. MOOs (MUD Object Oriented) are an example of the worlds that exist in the digital medium. MOOs enable us to develop a fictional persona, also known as an ‘Avatar’. Here is a video I found on youtube. We all know about the film Avatar and even if you did not see the film I am sure you will have a basic understanding of its plot. Computers allowed humans to go into another world virtually, their minds were somewhere else while their bodies remained in reality. The way an avatar is created is not too different from the way a novelist creates its world. A user can bring together their avatars world like a novelist brings togethers theirs. Imaginary worlds are fake worlds where nothing is ‘set in stone’. In a non technical way a novelist programmes the novel. A writer uses his or hers thoughts like the internet uses codes; codes and thoughts come together to create a story, anew world. Ryan points out the difference in online imaginary worlds and narrative imaginary worlds. Micronations are a collection of descriptive documents, and it is the user who is the explorer of the website. In novels it is a narrative line that make us follower the traveller and explore his discoveries. Online imaginary worlds gives the user complete power and control, each user has their own reason behind their virtual creation. This is perhaps one reason why each virtual online world does not have many followers like a game like Grand Theft Auto does.

Video games are vastly more popular than online games, the player can impersonate and control a character who takes an active part in the evolution of a fictional world. Here is a website of online imaginary games if you would like to experience the world of online games. Video games are categorized into two groups: the Paidia and Ludus. Paidia is simply defined as the ability to free the imagination. There are no existing rules of the game, if there are rules then they are created spontaneously by the participants. By contrast, Ludus games are controlled by pre existing rules, participants accept and follow them. Video games are coded so cheating the system is extremely difficult. I would not know too much about codes to cheat on a video game but I have heard ‘cheating codes’ that are available on the internet. Ryan points out in the article that even if you were to cheat on a video game the imagination is still used: “Cheating in computer games is finding imaginative ways to get around the code, rather than transgressing it.” With a quick google search I was able to find a website with cheating codes for Grand Theft Auto. Games like GTA allow the player to carry out tasks, they have direct interaction with the game.

There is no limit to the fictional world, it can grow and grow and can go as far away from reality as it likes. Digital texts can improve and develop and they do not depend on the user to update them, like online games. This contrasts with books and film reels, they do not have any codes inscribed in them to update them. To finish up Ryan once again highlights a difference in books on the digital world and how our imagination works. Digitally we are immersed immediately, it is our own imaginary world that we construct, when reading a novel it takes time, we have to construct worlds based on textual information. Obviously, the digital way saves a lot of cognitive effort. The online world waits for no-one, if you a playing a multi-player online game and do not play it for a few days you will find that you have been left behind. Online games are very different from traditional narratives. For example, in a novel once something has happened it is done and the act does not have to be performed again, Ryan uses the example of a knight slaying a dragon. Digitally, a death does not always mean death, in Grand Theft Auto the player has lives he dies over and over. A part of the essay that I found particularly interesting was the part where Ryan dealt with fiction and reality and where the boundaries lie and that some people find more self-fulfillment in the fictional world rather than reality. In saying that does it count for anything? At the end of the day what does it really matter if you have the highest score or made it to level 25 in Grand Theft Auto. What matters is reality and people must remember that these two worlds do not have the same value in terms of existence. Overall, I would recommend this article to be read by those who have an interest in the digital world. Sometimes it is nice to escape the real world as long as we can always manage to differentiate between what is real and what is not.

Published in: on March 19, 2011 at 7:42 pm  Leave a Comment