Texts and reading in virtual environments : history and prospects
This thesis examines the activity of pleasure reading as conducted within three kinds of virtual environments: role-playing and adventure video games, Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs) such as World of Warcraft, and graphical online social worlds such as Second Life. I ask how and to what extent different types of virtual environments are able to provide immersive reading experiences. This analysis relies upon the concepts of telic (purpose-driven) and paratelic (pleasure-driven) modes of reading, and I examine how virtual environments provide affordances for one or the other mode. How they do so usually has to do with how their situate reading materials in relation to the environment’s diegetic world, as well as whether the diegetic world is coherent and bounded. I conclude that while paratelic reading is encouraged in all virtual environments, role-playing and adventure video games are conducive to partially telic reading experiences, with players reading in order to better understand the diegetic world in which they act. MMOGs feature largely immutable diegetic worlds lacking normal relations of causality, but they still manage to some degree to encourage telic reading by circumscribing and enriching the world with lore. Virtual social worlds are generally unable to provide this sort of telic reading experience due to their lack of coherent diegetic worlds, and their effectiveness for paratelic reading is currently hampered by unwieldy interfaces and lack of innovation in the format of virtual books. Although MMOGs and social virtual worlds both feature synchronous collaboration between players with the potential for emergent narratives, neither has been able to leverage this advantage for the creation of immersive reading experiences. Finally, all three forms of virtual environment have inspired innovative user-created narratives and interfaces, but they have done so outside the contexts of their diegetic game worlds, in the sphere of participant culture.