[Video Link] Here's the latest video from PBS Digital Studio's excellent "Idea Channel" web series. It's about the 5,000-page (and growing!) webcomic Homestuck.
You might not think that a 265,000+ word novel from 1918 and a webcomic started in 2009 would have a lot in common. But one trait they both share is that each work presents a real challenge to the reader -- in length as well as difficulty. Created by Andrew Hussie, Homestuck is over 5000 pages so far -- and still growing. It has a strong cult following and presents incredible challenges to its readers: a giant cast of characters, huge walls of text, and animated flash games that you must beat in order to continue. Likewise, James Joyce's Ulysses is a lengthy book full of dense language and crammed with literary references, requiring lots of previous education or continuous research to catch all meaning. The joy that readers of both works share relates to a bit of psychology known as "Effort Justification," which basically says that the more difficult an experience a person undertakes, the more satisfied that person will be once finished.
Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the editor-in-chief of MAKE and Cool Tools. Twitter: @frauenfelder. His new book is Maker Dad: Lunch Box Guitars, Antigravity Jars, and 22 Other Incredibly Cool Father-Daughter DIY Projects