In “Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature”, Espen J. Aarseth defines and defends “ergodic literature”, named after the Greek words ergon and hodos (meaning “work and “path”) to be highly performative compared to typical readings of texts. He is careful not to compare it too closely with literature because he is not trying to prove that it fits the same constraints, but instead to investigate it for its own functional features. Though he admits this way of reading still must have some linear characteristics– “the act of reading must take place sequentially, word for word”– ergodic literature and cybertexts create active readers where as linear narratives do not (Aarseth 2). The two types of readers Aarseth describes are divided by their ways of experiencing the text. Readers of narratives are “voyeuristic”, “powerless”, merely looking at a book” (Aarseth 3). However, cybertext readers experience the “investment of personal improvization”, “a struggle not merely for interpretive insight but also for narrative control” and traverse the paths presented by texts with intent (Aarseth 3).
Typically, I expect research material such as this to first explain the topic and terms and then to hit me with the theory or counterarguments. However, it is not until page twelve that Aarseth starts a section entitled “What is Cybertext?”, in which he goes on to (finally) define text. Not to mention, there are multiple times in the introduction where he notes which chapters will continue a discussion of which topics. Though that in itself may be “normal” protocol for an introduction, when paired with the links beside the text (which are obviously only functional when read digitally), it seems that Aarseth created this article with a bit of ergodic encoding. Afterall, as a reader, I could choose which, or how many of those links I would like to explore, if I would like to skip ahead to chapter 4 and if I would like to crush some of the linear functions at work with my “narrative control”. Ergodic texts are characterized by an “unlimited possibility for variation” and also a reminder of paths not taken– or links unexplored (Aarseth 9).