A Step Towards Reader Acceptance of Hypertext Fiction: From Annoying Distraction to Enjoyable Experience

Beatty, Michelle (2010). A Step Towards Reader Acceptance of Hypertext Fiction: From Annoying Distraction to Enjoyable Experience. Student dissertation for The Open University module M801 MSc in Software Development Research Dissertation.

Please note that this student dissertation is made available in the format that it was submitted for examination, thus the author has not been able to correct errors and/or departures from academic standards in areas such as referencing.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0001609a


The first hypertext novel (Douglas, 2000), afternoon, a story (see bibliography, Joyce 1990) was published in 1990. Despite its existence for over 20 years, hypertext fiction is little known amongst “ordinary” readers of fiction and has failed to achieve the popularity and mainstream audience envisaged by early theorists. The domain itself is highly theorised but there is little, if any, empirical evidence available to back up the sometimes grand claims of theorists. In fact, research conducted to date highlights the frustration and disorientation readers experience and attempts to present conventions and guidelines that authors and designers should follow in order to improve the experience (Pope 2006, Gee 2001). This research aimed to investigate hypertext fiction from the reader’s perspective in an effort to identify features that hinder or foster enjoyment. Readers were presented with a variety of hypertext fictions and asked to join an online discussion group to present their views and opinions. The qualitative data gathered was analysed to identify important themes raised by the participants. Subsequently, more data was gathered from a questionnaire, designed in relation to the qualitative data, in an attempt to corroborate the initial analysis. It is interesting that while the qualitative data was largely negative, the questionnaire results were less so. It was found that readers are not averse to hypertext fiction and the majority of participants would choose to read it again in the future, although they would opt for a text-only work. Although the multimedia and gaming elements contained in the hypertext fictions in this research were not considered particularly enjoyable participants saw the potential. Participants would be willing to interact with hypertext fiction through such features if they were intuitive to use, added something to the story and were seamlessly integrated. Participants want to control hypertext fiction, particularly with regard to pace of reading, length of time spent reading and interactive elements (such as multimedia and gaming). Indeed, it was found that participants want much more control over the experience than the works in this study allowed them. Due to the subjective nature of reading, the small number of participants and the limited number of hypertext fictions presented in this study, it is not considered possible to generalise the results. However it seems clear that authors would be able to attain a wider audience for their work as long as they consider the reader with regard to interface, design, interactions, writing style and plot. Future research could be conducted using younger participants, a different selection of participants and a wider range of hypertext fictions.

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