Of a narrative, the quality that events are related according to an obvious ordering principle, especially time sequence.
In a work of Interactive Fiction, linearity is a metric of how many 'paths' exist from the beginning of the work to an optimal ending. A totally linear work would have only one possible path. (Consequently, only one winning walkthrough would exist). More conventionally, a game is said to be linear if, at any time, there is exactly one action that will advance the narrative in a significant way.
It is generally considered more difficult to produce a highly linear game which provides a satisfactory level of interactivity. However, it is likewise difficult to produce a highly alinear game which offers a coherent narrative or plot.
-- LRR 7-30-02
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Hmm.... "an obvious ordering principle"... When speaking of narrative, is there really any other obvious ordering principle other than time? Flashbacks and gimmick narratives that begin with the last chapter and end with the first still progress chronologically within the segments. -- DGJ 20 Aug 2002 (also added a few links)