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Entertainment & Media

Ergodic Literature, Alternate Reality Games, Chaotic Fiction

Posted 8 Months ago by 9x19mm

I recently brought this up in a conversation with tnu, so I thought that I would be helpful to have a general talk about this subject.

Ergodic literature, as a genre, is more obscure and elusive than many. A generally workable definition is as follows (Aarseth, 1997, Cybertext - Perspectives on Ergodic Literature):

In ergodic literature, nontrivial effort is required to allow the reader to traverse the text. If ergodic literature is to make sense as a concept, there must also be nonergodic literature, where the effort to traverse the text is trivial, with no extranoematic responsibilities placed on the reader except (for example) eye movement and the periodic or arbitrary turning of pages.


In far simpler terms, it's literature where simply reading is not enough. Ergodic literature may require a vastly more sophisticated toolset in order to receive the conveyed meanings, and often involves unconventional manipulations of the medium itself which are not viable unless the reader changes their own methodology accordingly.

One of the more popular example of ergodic literature are the works of Mark Z. Danielewski, whose books often require large amounts of physical manipulation or pursuit of intratextuality in order to understand. For instance, Only Revolutions was printed with no right side up; the text appears along multiple angles and requires the book to be rotated and read the opposite way once it has been read through to initial way. Accordingly, the narrative thereof is circular and eternal, even though the two orientations tell two accounts that are contemporaneous and disagreeing.

Alternate reality games are a somewhat parallel development that nonetheless bear many similarities. In ARGs, the narrative is more focused on audience interaction. It is inescapable that the "actual" medium by which the narrative is conveyed is the interaction between the participants and the "literal" medium(s) used. The story of an ARG necessarily relates the events of the audience participating and acting themselves. This can include anything from deciphering coded messages for directions to hidden pieces of media on the internet to physical exploration of certain public areas where items have been left, or even for the purpose of personal interaction with characters portrayed by the media creators.

Chaotic fiction* is the newest of these, and also the hardest to define. Speaking in a very general sense, it stylistically originated from many of the same design principles that ergodic literature and ARGs did. However, chaotic fiction does not always make use of media manipulation and/or audience participation. It does, to the best of my knowledge, either provoke or require extensive application of critical theory, structural analysis and inter/intratextuality in order to access the conveyed experience.

Chaotic fiction is often disturbing, cryptic, absurd, numinous, and incomplete. I would go so far as to say that chaotic fiction is necessarily incomplete, as one of the core elements in every piece of media that I would call chaotic fiction is the sense that "there is much more going on here than what I can see". This requires the viewer to initiate themselves into the mystery of the product, and to apply a broad toolset of theory in order to effectively consume the product. As such, it bears striking similarity to both ergodic literature and ARG - compounded by the fact that some chaotic fiction creators employ specific elements of ergodism and ARG in their chaotic fiction.

For assistance, some examples of chaotic fiction (in order from most accessible to least):

REJECTED



I wouldn't call REJECTED chaotic fiction exactly. It's more like chaotic fiction with training wheels, as the context of the media is provided in plaintext within the piece itself. Generally speaking, chaotic fiction would prefer either the obscurement or complete destruction of that context (though there are still deeper themes to examine, such as the thinly-vailed inverse association of commerce and artistic merit).

This House Has People In It



We've already jumped quite a bit up in the amount of critical attention needed, but that is to be expected from a genre as volatile as chaotic fiction. Here, the delightful filmmaker and professional Tingle cosplayer Alan Resnick (with Wham City) craft an incredible, absurd, terrifying scene that immediately demands significant attention and application of thematic analysis from the first seconds to the last. The work of Resnick (and Wham City) are major rabbitholes, with this video being one of their most potent trailheads. Everything down to the symbols of the recording hardware are thematically interlinked - I'm serious. This piece technically functions by itself, but it also includes ARG elements that lead to much more content.

Don't Hug Me I'm Scared



Rarely have I seen more conflicting (and incomplete) analysis of chaotic fiction done than in the general reaponse to DHMIS. Initially appearing to be a simple kid's TV show, the product begs questioning of everything from the esoteric whims of broadcast media authority to the nature of perception and reality itself - and how those things interact in iteration, censorship, messaging and personal development. Rarely do I see something that requires addressing history, psychology, phenomenology, aesthetics, etc. to such a degree.

Salad Fingers



Presented without comment.

  • the term "chaotic fiction" is not nearly set in stone, it's just what I've seen a few times with regard to media in this general style. Another term, hopefully more appropriate, may overtake chaotic fiction.

  • There are 1 Replies


    i keep meaning to respond to this but haven’t had the time to watch all of the videos. i immediately thought of somebody from newgrounds. (search “somebody archive” on youtube for examples).

    also, have you ever read Dionaea House? that might fit the bill. the website is long-gone, unfortunately, but it was “House of Leaves” as it should have been, and it involved having to navigate between different websites (the main site to tumblr to blogspot etc)

    7 Months ago
    poptart!
     

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