There are a lot of issues surrounding network fiction that I’m not sure we really got to in the presentation today (especially since we didn’t spend much time talking through the formal elements of the genre the way we’ve done in other presentations). So I wanted to ask a question that didn’t quite come up during my and Ellen’s presentation today, in terms of what, exactly, constitutes network fiction (not one I necessarily have the answer to).
Most of the examples of network fiction we discussed – The Wire, films like Syriana or Cloud Atlas, etc., all try to tell (relatively) coherent stories that model or compress massive, realistic networks into (again relatively) organized, structured narratives. So The Wire manages to tell a story about Baltimore without actually capturing the totality of the networks that constitute the city (the institutions, economic trade, etc.), which would be impossible structurally (for example, we can only pay attention to one thing at a time, even though all 200-odd characters are acting at the same time). We already discussed the distinction between complex storytelling with multiple plots or character arcs and something that captures and aims to mimic the rhythms of networks, but I’m interested in another possible grey area: What sorts of networks in network fiction are merely models of networks, and which are networks unto themselves?
I’m not sure if there’s an actual answer to this question for all network fiction, but I’m especially interested in its application in the context of games. Lots of games model or create networks, especially in genres like Massively Multiplayer Online games (Second Life, World Of Warcraft, etc.). In bigger games you can find whole networks that are facsimiles of “real” networks, or ones that take on individual structure and purpose within the world of the game. Other games like Animal Crossing (I think, I’ve never played that game) seem to mimic networks for single players, who then interact with those networks but not with any other “real people.” In general, it seems like games create a vastly more complex array of ways that networks can be modeled or represented in art than in relatively linear narratives like film or television. So are the networks created by say, a Warcraft guild any less “real” than a similar group of individuals with common goals?
My inclination is that those networks aren’t any less “real,” especially if they’re formed between different players all interacting in a virtual environment (which raises a host of other questions about games that aren’t MMOs or create these networks with NPCs), but that seems to make the question of what networks are or how they’re represented even more confusing. To some extent, most networks aren’t “real” (social networks, etc. are all virtual). But if those networks are virtual, what distinguishes them from the virtual representations of other networks (within a game, say)? Do networks somehow model themselves? I’m not sure.