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Summary: Jane Yellowlees-Douglas’ “What Interactive Narratives Do That Print Narratives Cannot.”

In this article, Yellowlees-Douglas talks about “hypertext” fiction and evaluates how interactive narratives differ from print narratives. In terms of reader experience, Yellowlees-Douglas begins by exploring the long-established definition of hypertexts as “nonsequential writing with reader-controlled links.” She then questions how exactly readers can participate in something non-sequentially, considering that language is inherently sequential. Hypertexts can indeed be read nonsequentially, but the inevitable story that is comprised via the reader’s choices is linked electronically and becomes some sort of storyline. The apparent dilemma with definitions of hypertext is the term “sequence,” which is somewhat arbitrary, since anything following something else in a pattern can be a sequence of events.

Yellowlees-Douglas continues to unpack the elements of hypertext by addressing whether or not these narratives tend to privilege any or one order of reading or interpretation. She claims that since hypertexts play with the traditional forms of chronology and completeness, they cannot possibly privilege one reading over another. Furthermore, she states that interactive narratives like these have no singular, definitive beginnings and endings. Unlike print texts, where one cannot hope to understand the story if they start one-third of the way through, hypertexts allow one to begin in medias res and explore the text from a variety of points. While printed texts dictate the reader’s gradual progression from beginning to end in the way the writer wants him or her to get there, hypertexts allow the reader to make initial decisions about how they would like to pursue the story.

Yellowlees-Douglas also asserts that in hypertexts or interactive narratives, readers can only proceed based on the choices they have made, and the interactive element constitutes both the writer and the reader developing the story. Of course, the writer does provide a number of scenarios and pathways, but it is not one complete storyline, and the reader does not necessarily have to pass through every single one in order to “finish” it. Ultimately, it is up to the reader to decide when he or she has had enough of the story, and whether or not all of the elements that they need in order to satisfy themselves have been met. Overall, Yellowlees-Douglas claims that there is no “final cut” in a hypertext, since the experience is about multiplicity and simultaneity, not exhaustive completion.

Works Cited: Yellowlees-Douglas, Jane. “What Interactive Narratives Do That Print Narratives Cannot.” The End of Books – Or Books Without End? Reading Interactive Narratives. Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 2001. 37-62. Print.


About Judy

I am a posthumanism scholar researching how VR and AR technology affects our conception of the body and helps us to redefine the physical and digital spaces we occupy. I am currently completing my Ph.D at the University of Waterloo.


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