Narrative as Virtual Reality: Immersion and Interactivity in Literature and Electronic Media

Marie-Laure Ryan

Language: English

Published: Dec 29, 2000


Is there a significant difference in attitude between immersion in a game and immersion in a movie or novel? What are the new possibilities for representation offered by the emerging technology of virtual reality? As Marie-Laure Ryan demonstrates in Narrative as Virtual Reality, the questions raised by new, interactive technologies have their precursors and echoes in pre-electronic literary and artistic traditions. Formerly a culture of immersive ideals--getting lost in a good book, for example--we are becoming, Ryan claims, a culture more concerned with interactivity. Approaching the idea of virtual reality as a metaphor for total art, Narrative as Virtual Reality applies the concepts of immersion and interactivity to develop a phenomenology of reading.

Ryan's analysis encompasses both traditional literary narratives and the new textual genres made possible by the electronic revolution of the past few years, such as hypertext, interactive movies and drama, digital installation art, and computer role-playing games. Interspersed among the book's chapters are several "interludes" that focus exclusively on either key literary texts that foreshadow what we now call "virtual reality," including those of Baudelaire, Huysmans, Ignatius de Loyola, Calvino, and science-fiction author Neal Stephenson, or recent efforts to produce interactive art forms, like the hypertext "novel" Twelve Blue, by Michael Joyce, and I'm Your Man, an interactive movie. As Ryan considers the fate of traditional narrative patterns in digital culture, she revisits one of the central issues in modern literary theory--the opposition between a presumably passive reading that is taken over by the world a text represents and an active, deconstructive reading that imaginatively participates in the text's creation.


"A study of breathtaking depth and scope and, like all the very best academic books, it has some of the attributes of a good novel: it is elegantly written; it is enthralling; and it leaves the reader buzzing with new and exciting ideas. It is essential reading for anyone with an interest in virtual reality, and a rich source of information, inspiration, and insight for a wider readership concerned with the relations between fictions, technologies, and their users." -- Sara Gwenllian Jones, Intensities: The Journal of Cult Media

"A major achievement of great value to students of literature, the new media, and art and aesthetics in general. Its richness of detail and comprehensiveness of overall design make it an object of immersive reading, a challenge for intellectual interaction, and last but not least, a source of pleasure for the mind." -- Uri Margolin, Poetics Today

"Ryan's book fosters critical thought and debate, and it does so without being overly provocative or deliberately vague... [Ryan] creates a virtual reality for us to explore and take delight in." -- Julian K├╝cklich, TEKKA

"What intrigued me the most was Ryan's description of the emotional aspect of immersion which entails the contemplation of purely imaginary states of affairs as an evolutionary asset that works towards the preservation of the species." -- Niran B. Abbas, Yearbook of English Studies

"Perhaps the most detailed and thorough study to date." -- David S. Miall, Comparative Literature Studies

About the Author

Marie-Laure Ryan is an independent scholar and former software consultant. A Guggenheim Fellowship recipient, she is the author of Possible Worlds, Artificial Intelligence, and Narrative Theory and the editor of Cyberspace Textuality: Computer Technology and Literary Theory and the forthcoming Narrative Across Media: The Languages of Storytelling.