Ergodic Adaptation: Fidelity, Autonomy and Playability in Digital Adaptations of Literature

8:30 AM, mercredi 15 août 2018 (1 heure 15 minutes)
In A Theory of Adaptation (2006), Linda Hutcheon notes that "[r]ecognition and remembrance [of the original work] are part of the pleasure (and risk) of experiencing an adaptation; so too is change" (4). A successful adaptation, Hutcheon suggests, must embody both a fidelity to some essential features of as well as a creative autonomy from the original (20). In the case of interactive digital adaptations, a key issue concerns the role of the ergodic (Espen Aarseth, Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature [1997]) and how this aspect of electronic literature and games presents unique challenges in the process and product of adaptation that are not encountered in, for example, film and graphic novel adaptations of literature.

To approach this key issue, this paper examines interactive digital adaptations of four well-known works of nineteenth-century literature, examining how each respond to the challenge of incorporating fidelity to the original story along with meaningfully ergodic interactivity. The adaptations examined are: HAAB Entertainment's Sherlock: Interactive Adventure interactive illustrated edition (2014) of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes story, "The Red-Headed League" (1891); Dave Morris' choice-based, dialogic Frankenstein (2012; adapted from Mary Shelley's novel of the same name, 1818), produced by Profile Books and Inkle Studios; USC Game Innovation Lab’s first-person open world simulation Walden, a game (2017), adapted from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden (1854), and Inkle Studios' strategic map-based quest 80 Days (2014), adapted from Jules Verne's Le tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours (Around the World in Eighty Days) (1873).

From an analysis of the approaches to adaptation represented by these works, a tentative model can be outlined that clarifies how the ergodic impacts on issues of textual and narrative fidelity and interactive creativity, which suggests that interactive digital adaptations must recreate their original sources in fairly radical ways in order to be successful ergodic or playable adaptations. The approaches of these digital adaptations of literary texts throw new light on how eLit and video games demand the development of unique modes of storytelling that are faithful to the affordances of digital technology rather than to the narrative pleasures of earlier storytelling media.
Ryerson University
Associate Professor

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