The World’s Worst Intriguee

Perhaps, because I’d already read Daniel Punday’s article, “Narration, Intrigue, and Reader Positioning in Electronic Narratives,” I was already primed (and perhaps too aware) of myself as an audience upon my visit to Welcome to Pine Point. As somebody who has only a passing familiarity with computer games, interactive stories always make me wonder if I’m missing a hidden clue or means of moving the narrative forward. Sure enough, I messed it up. I first saw the list of lexia (I hope I’m using that term correctly) at the lower left hand corner of the “Intro” screen. I assumed this screen was something akin to a DVD menu and thought that hitting “GO” would make the narrative “play” like a movie, failing to realize that this was all part of the introduction. Instead, maybe due to being too much in my own head, I assumed that the list of lexia were an index of various pieces of background information that would familiarize me with the narrative. Believing that I would return to “GO” having familiarized myself with—what I believed to be—pieces of background information, I jumped in at the “Town” section and moved through the narrative this way. In doing so, I skipped an incredibly important piece of context, the seven different pages of introductory material.

I certainly feel silly about this mistake but am comforted (somewhat) by Punday’s assertion that “we must understand how a particular hypertext narrative works before we will know how to follow its links” (29). I highlight this experience because it made me very aware of my role as intriguee and gave me a sense of how that was different from the roles of narratee or implied reader. In the actual introduction of Welcome to Pine Point, the narrator talks about nostalgia and memory formation by recounting his own first-hand experiences, his discovery of Pine Point’s fate, and the rediscovery and recognition that comes from viewing a photo album. The implied reader seems to be one who is able to understand the nostalgic value associated with place (even if they can’t necessarily understand the attachment of many Pine Pointers) and material objects, like the magnetic photo albums that the narrative seems, at times, to remediate. The intriguee, however, seems to be a person who can follow simple commands. The narrative is laid out in a linear manner; clicking “GO” will launch it, then the reader can toggle forward and back by using the “NEXT” and “PREV.” tabs onscreen. Whereas the narrator of “Intro” seems intent on highlighting those themes having to do with memory, the intrigant demonstrates the way that the rest of the narrative will unfold. That is, in a manner similar to a book. The reader could navigate the lexia out of order, but this would result in confusion, since the narrative relies on linearity to make sense.

On one hand, this gestures to, as Punday says, “[translating] the demands that intrigue makes on the reader into those made by acts of narration and [blurring] the role of intriguee and narratee” (39). In following the narrative as it progresses linearly, we’re asked to go on a journey that might be similar to the experience of the authors as they collected the stories of Pine Pointers: listening to recounted memories, following along as people explain what’s happening in a given photograph, watching a home movie. Taking part in other peoples’ memories often asks us to follow narratives that unfold at a pace we can’t control, as speakers forget, embellish, double back, or pause to remember. The narrator’s words, written on strips across the background of moving or still images, often jockey for attention with the audio of the speakers. Because there was no scrubbing button and starting the audio over requires re-loading the page, I quickly learned to listen to the speaker first and then read the words of the narrator.[1] Whereas the town of Pine Point lacked, as the narrator says, “the organic growth of most towns, where things morph to fit trends and tides of people,” the narrative is the opposite. The time it took to listen to each speaker, watch each clip, comb through the “material” artifacts that are available, reminded me that the diffuse experiences of the individuals whose memories the narrative relates are what drive it forward. In this regard, it reminds me of a scrapbook or photo album. Often, it’s collections of events that define the organization and shape of these pages’ grid-like spaces rather than the exigencies of a single, unified narrative.

Nevertheless, the relationship between intrigue and narration in Welcome to Pine Point, a move taken from Punday, makes me wonder about the implications of discussing narrative and intrigue as distinct aspects of a text. For example, Punday offers a thematic analysis of the texts he’s looking at as well as a description of their intrigues. In the case of his final example, the collaborative text Outrances, he states that

In Outrances narration and intrigue are connected thematically: both are concerned with finding order in chaos, with losing oneself in art, and with the process of connecting to and differentiating oneself from crowds. Here narration and intrigue are independent but thematically complementary textual systems” (43)

Of course, multiple interpretations of any text are possible, but I wonder about the extent to which we can analyze intrigue separately from narration: how, for example, has the poem’s manifest and latent content impacted Punday’s analysis of its intrigue? Moreover, what about the broad categories of narration and intrigue themselves? What about the context of a narrative’s creation or its genre? Punday certainly talks about the implications of the text as digital, but what about other things? I’m trying to think about my own reading of Welcome to Pine Point in this regard, but am having difficulty separating (what I understand to be) the design of the intrigue from (what I interpreted as) the goals of the narrative and its relationship to the history that it’s trying to recount.

It’s entirely possible that much of this question could be attributed to the gaps in my knowledge of narratology. I wonder, though, whether my question highlights some of the criticisms of the discipline, mainly its tendency to, in the words of Michael McKeon “[cut] across the chronological and disciplinary divides of historical practice” (McKeon xiv). Might separating narration from intrigue in this way risk creating a new category of analysis that could be criticized as ahistorical or too static? My intention here isn’t to criticize Punday, I’m just curious about what this means for the ongoing conversation about the ways that narratology negotiates things like genre and history.  It’s clear that I need to do more research about how digital narratives like Welcome to Pine Point are being studied and discussed.

Finally, I didn’t get a chance to talk about it here, but Evie Ruddy’s narrative Un/tied (https://www.untied.shoes/) is also available on the National Film Board of Canada website. It’s a really great piece and one that I’d recommend!

 

McKeon, Michael. “Introduction.” Theory of the Novel: A Historical Approach. Ed. Michael Mckeon. Johns Hopkins UP, 2000. xiii-xviii.

Punday, Daniel. “Narration, Intrigue, and Reader Positioning in Electronic Narratives.” Storyworlds: A Journal of Narrative Studies. 4, 2012, 25-47.

[1] I’m reminded here of Professor Davidson’s question about interpellation that my last blog post discussed. Members of wilde Cunningham may have had their bodies interpellated by the Second Life experience, but in the context of the reading experience (broadly) readers are “hailed” and told whom the implied author needs them to be–I’ve never thought about this before! Intrigue takes this interpellation a step further and hails intriguees, asking them to become a certain type of game player. Whether these two instances of interpellation are distinct, though, I can’t say.

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