Dissimulations

Time

I saw the movie last week. I want what happened in the movie last week to happen in the movie this week too, otherwise what is life all about? [5]

A key distinction to be made between an interactive representation, like Hellcats, and narrative representations like those of the cinema and literature, lies in the way time is represented. Narrative refers to the past. It is an account of events which have already taken place. Its temporal referent is once upon a time. This relationship to time is not affected by the verb tense - the present tense is often used to bring immediacy and drama to an account - nor does it depend on the reality of the events being described - fiction gives an account of things which happened, which is nonetheless untrue. The historical quality of narrative appears to be part of its very nature as representation, its ontology. The simulator on the other hand operates in the present. If in a narrative an event happened, in an interactive narrative, whether multi-linear or spatio-temporal, an event is happening, its time is now. This temporal shift has important consequences.

A linear narrative exercises a textual authority which is dispersed by interactivity. In a linear narrative, the reader submits to the prior authority of the text. Only the author has the power to make decisions about the story-line or point of view, and the invention of narrative sequence is his or her sole perrogative. The text is certain of itself. Moreover this certainty has a legitimising function. Hayden White writes:

‘We cannot but be struck by the frequency with which narrativity, whether of the fictional or the factual sort, presuposes the existence of a legal system against or on behalf of which the typical agents of a narrative account militate. And this raises the suspicion that narrative in general, from the folktale to the novel, from the “annals” to the fully realised history, has to do with the topics of law, legality, legitimacy or more generally “authority”. [6]

Now this authority is expressed, and legitimacy conferred, at the moment of closure. By recounting what happened an author is also closing of those things which didn’t happen. A character picks up the phone rather than letting it ring, someone walks down the street and turns left instead of right. Closure in this sense is dispersed throughout the narrative. The events unfold as a pattern which progressively resolves itself into an image, each event integrating those which precede it into progressively higher levels of narrative sense. This process continues until the final closure at the end of the narrative, at which point the meaning of the story is revealed at last, and is revealed to have been immanent in all the events all along. Closure can be considered as a function of time, or more precisely of the way in which time is represented, whether as past and complete or present and ongoing. [7]

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