Writers Reading Digital Fiction: An Empirical Study of Digital Writers’ Response to Ergodic Texts

Style & Response Conference
Sheffield Hallam University
11 November 2016

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This paper presents findings from an empirical study of writers creating digital fiction, and specifically reports on data regarding participant responses to reading digital fiction. This study was conducted as part of the AHRC-funded “Reading Digital Fiction” project (2014-17) (Ref: AH/K004174/1), whose primary purpose is to introduce readers to digital fiction, and to investigate reader response to digital fiction using cognitive and empirical approaches. Few empirical studies have been conducted on digital fiction reader cognition, though the works collected in three Electronic Literature Collections and the Twine “storygame” community indicate continued growth of hyperfiction. Previous studies proposed that digital fiction readers employ specific cognitive strategies to parse fictional narratives from nonlinear sequences presented in digital fiction, and that these texts offer varying types of pleasure depending upon cognitive engagement (Douglas 1992a; b; Douglas and Hargadon 2000). The literature identifies a level of reader frustration due to the unfamiliar medium and its divergences from conventional narratives. As part of this project, an undergraduate module in writing digital fiction was designed and taught to creative writing students; data collected included module assessments, questionnaires on the students’ reading and writing habits, student-maintained research logs, and instructor observation notes. Initial findings indicate that doing (writing, designing, creating) digital fiction changes participant expectations for reading digital fiction. The increased familiarity and practice-based intimacy with digital works results in an increased proficiency in reading and interpreting digital fiction, and a deeper appreciation for ergodic works in general. This paper will review these findings, and discuss the implications for reading and writing digital fiction.

Cite as: Skains, R. Lyle. 2016. “Writers Reading Digital Fiction: An Empirical Study of Digital Writers’ Response to Ergodic Texts.” In Style & Response Conference. Sheffield, UK.

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