Penguin’s collaborative writing experiment A
Million Penguins was launched
in February 2007 and completed
in March 2007. This month saw its final scholarly assessment published in a
report out of De Montfort University in Leicester, UK.
The results? Terrible, according to Gawker, echoing a consensus that the project failed as literature. As a study of online behavior, though, it’s quite fascinating, and the research paper describes examples of all types of user contributions, from the grandiose and self-serving to the quietly constructive.
But if “every book needs its author,” game-like fiction has been shown to be more amenable to collaboration. Each of Penguin’s We Tell Stories pieces was co-written by interactive developers and a novelist. This month, the Guardian has launched a participatory
interactive fiction project.
Although technically a type of computer game, interactive fiction has a long association with print authors, starting with the commercially successful adaptation of Douglas Adams’ The
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1984). In 2003 Adam Cadre (Ready,
Okay!, HarperCollins, 2000) wrote the game Narcolepsy incorporating 12 dream sequences written by different authors (of which I was one). In a more experimental vein, the recent UpRightDown
project released its first story, which generated submissions in multiple media, including some interactive works.
One lesson from these experiments is that while a work of fiction may not need a single author, it does need a single editor or authority to weave together disparate contributions and reject the
obvious vandals. A unified final work has the potential to be a
marketable product rather than a research project. (On the other hand,
if the printed German Wikipedia sells, all bets are off.) Scale is important as well: two or even three dozen
contributors are probably manageable; A Million Penguins had 1,700.
The Guardian’s interactive fiction project is being managed using wiki
software at textadventure.org.uk.
The organizers are soliciting both programmers and non-technical
writers. It is scheduled to run through at least the end of May.