Hugh talked about the rise of reader agency leading to what meaning the death of the author. I would argue that the rise of fragmented story structures that allow readers to make choices does not spell the end for authors, it merely marks a change in their industry that evolving technology has allowed to surface.
It seems logical enough. The author cannot die because then who writes the story? Whether it has a single ending or many possible outcomes, the story needs someone to put it on page or screen. And because of this, interactive stories still have their limits. No ending is possible unless an author has first created it- at least, not in the original story. As the millions of fan works on the internet prove, it is entirely possible for fans to create their own endings elsewhere. The original, however, remains in the hands of its author. Whether it’s a stock standard novel (all due respect to novelists), a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure YouTube advertisement or one of the countless games that exist on- and off-line, from Runescape to Kingdom Hearts, every possible choice and ending to be chosen has already been decided by a creator. I cannot side with the Heartless, or even double jump onto that high ledge with the treasure chest, because these actions have not been written into Kingdom Hearts. Maybe I can choose to leave the groom to be eaten by zombies rather than let him into the car but I cannot just eat pizza while watching them eat him. The creator of the video has not allowed for that to be a choice and so my story is still guided by their hand. The author cannot die without taking the entirety of storytelling with them.
I do think the idea is correct, however, in that their ability to control the reader is diminished, however. Reading is a unique experience and from start to finish a novel is an attempt to position the reader in the exact frame of mind the author wants. Is it possible to sustain the kind of emotional impact stories can have when the reader has the option of going back and changing the ending? As a writer, I don’t even know if I could sustain the emotion to write multiple endings. And once put out for the world to see, the story and its interpretation is up to the readers. They can take away the ending they prefer. Admittedly, I have the habit of ignoring parts of a story that I don’t like (I’m looking at you here, Age of Ultron
*coughunnecessaryromanticsubplotcough*). This is not necessarily suggesting that authors can no longer maintain control over their creations. I can see ways of offering multiple endings and still presenting the same message, through strategies as simple as ‘Follow the “right” path’=live/’Follow the “wrong” path’=die. But the work of an author will change. If the demand becomes for fragmented stories rather than the traditional narrative structure, writers will have to become more flexible and accept that more than the ending they envisioned is needed. Having a story to tell will become less important than building a series of possible stories a reader can follow. Which then raises the question, why do we write?