Word Salad Wednesday: Ergodic Cybernetic Textuality and Games

Salad with catsWell the title is a mouthful, yet it relates to an article in The Guardian concerning the literary significance of role-playing games. Norway’s Aarseth coined the term “ergodic” to describe literary systems that evolve according to the choices of the reader/player.

First, this is just incorrect. Ergodic has a very specific meaning in thermodynamics. Ergodic means that the temporal evolution of a system will be random and irreversible. Aarseth takes the Greek meanings too literally choosing to equate the ergo (work) and hodos (path) with the temporal evolution of hypertexts (where one chooses the next step) or RPGs (where players choose the next steps but there may be random decisions dictated by dice roles). He also likes the term “cybernetic” which was literally “pilot” and was given its modern meaning by Norbert Weiner wherein it refers to autonomous control of a system to stabilize against environmental signals.

Neither of these relate to RPGs or hypertext per se, nor to the general class of reader/engager-based control of media access or fiction. The concept of generative art might be more apt, though it should be modified to include the guidance of the reader. Oddly, guided evolution or change might be the best metaphor altogether leading us to something like Lamarkian Literature (though that is too culturally loaded, perhaps).

Or we could just say “games.” After all, these are games, aren’t they?

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