In Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age, Lord Alexander Chung-Sik Finkle-McGraw commissions the creation of the ultimate interactive book, the Young Lady's Illustrated Primer, for his granddaughter. This book, called a Propædeutic Enchiridion, is the fantastical version of the Dynabook, a responsive text which can serve not just as a text, but as a teacher and a guide. As the child engages with it, this primer would form around the interests of the child, respond to her interaction, grow with the child and nurture that child's growth. That is the dream of the creator of digital literature for children -- the vision behind all those iPads in public schools -- and the subject of countless tales of NeverEnding Stories -- inspired by the immersive experience of reading itself. But there are lighter dreams as well.
Since my children first began interacting with books, long before they started reading, I began to wonder what the world of electronic literature had to offer them. As it turns out, there is a long-standing category of books which my classmate back at LMU once called hypotext -- books with feelies, books with buttons and sounds, pop-up books and even edible ones.
But now we ware seeing the first and second generation of digitally born enhanced reading experiences for kids. Artists have begun to explore the potential for these new kinds of reading experiences. I am interested and invested in seeing how these will develop, looking from the vantage point of a storyteller, scholar, and, well, dad.
While imagining what these new reading experiences might look like, my children and I began collaborating on a series of interactive stories under the name Mrs. Wobbles and the Tangerine House. You can see the first of those here: http://markcmarino.com/mrsw. Working on these has given us the opportunity to reflect on what makes interactive writing powerful and engaging. How to make interactive books that don't subordinate the literary to the novel. What does digital interactivity offer writers? What more can children's books be?
Of course, in entering this conversation, we are following the work of Brenda Laurel, Kate Pullinger and Chris Joseph, and Lucas Ramada Prieto who as creators and scholars have created and documented this space. We follow storygame makers like Andy Campbell and Mez Breeze and artists in Interactive Fiction, like Emily Short, Aaron Reed, Jacob Garbe. We follow the Twiners, the Inklewriters, and the Choice of Games-ers. We also are following a growing rise of interest in electronic literature for children, following, among others, the recent exhibit of children's electronic literature in Norway.
Much of this work will tie in electronic literature for adults, drawn from the artists and scholars o the Electronic Literature Organization, which since 1998 has been at the forefront of this new form, networking creators and critics while curating wonderful new works.
On this blog, I will offer reviews of digital literature, reflections on the craft, recommendations for the future, and accounts of the progress in my collaborations with my children. I will include apps, Interactive Fiction, hypertext, reading platforms (LeapFrog), and whatever else comes along the pike as we toddle, in baby steps, into the Diamond Age.