Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Immersion in a Virtual World

You may recall that back in August, I ranted rather, about something I had read in the essay collection Reading The Lord of the Rings: New Writings on Tolkien's Classic edited by Robert Eaglestone. This came back to me today, when I was sorting through a large pile of notes for book reviews. And I remembered that not only did Jay Bolter's comment annoy me, but so do this remark from Marie-Laure Ryan:

"immersion [in a virtual world] promotes a passive attitude in the reader" (Ryan, Narrative as Virtual Reality, p. 11)

I've been thinking a lot about immersion in a virtual world, since I've been immersed in one myself for the past couple of months, as regular readers will know. It's known to fans as the Whoniverse (short for the Doctor Who universe, logically). My own immersion in a virtual world feels far from passive, to tell the truth. I've moved from being a viewer of the New Doctor Who TV episodes, to being a "sub-creator", writing fiction that allows me to create my own characters, places and events that impact on the Doctor. I'm now actively watching the TV episodes (of both New and Classic Doctor Who), "reading" the show through an analysis of character behaviour and interactions, and analysis of plot and pace. I'm also reading (as you'll have noticed) "Doctor Who" books - fiction and non-fiction, and discussing both the TV episodes and the books avidly with everyone around me, be they devoted Whovians, or non-fans.

I have also begun to read fiction of all kinds on yet another level. In addition to reading as a "pure" reader (someone who just wants to know "what happens next?"), and reading as a critic (someone who asks how book A compares with all the other books by author X, or how it compares with other books in book A's (sub)genre), I now find myself reading as a fiction writer, wondering about complex plots, checking character behaviour for consistency (which is easier to do if only one author is responsible for writing a character, but rather harder if the character, like the Doctor, has been written by many authors and has had a number of incarnations!), looking at narrative structure - in terms of paragraphing and chapter breaks, as much as anything else. And I've concluded that my life as a reader was definitely more passive when I wasn't immersed in a virtual world.


Gail Gauthier said...

So you do think writers read differently than readers? That's been my impression this last half year or so. Do you feel you're becoming more demanding?

Michele said...

Now that I'm writing fiction, I do find myself reading it differently, yes... It's been interesting to realise that I am reading differently. I don't know if I'm becoming more demanding though - not yet, anyway - maybe I will after I've been doing this for longer than 6 weeks (assuming I continue to write fiction!)