Class Thread on IF (Week 9)

From Geoffrey:

Douglass, in the EBR article on Shade mentions that “like game books and RPGs, IF was arguably predated by simulation methods that emphasized fact over fantasy and system over story.” On a similar note, Jerz in Digital Humanities Quarterly quotes the idea that “words were seductive because they revealed a hidden order behind everything.” In his introduction to IF, Jerz also claims that “the game will expect the player to type commands that follow patterns.” All this suggests that Interactive Fiction is inherently rigid and heavily structured.

As we approach IF as both audience and critics, how would you analyze the structures and patterns in IF you’ve read (feel free to bring in IF not assigned for class, if relevant… just offer enough explanation to make your point)? To that end, what are some of the basic patterns of interaction with the fiction? How do those patterns or structures shape the experience? How do they relate to the fiction itself and whatever themes the fiction might be raising?

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9 Comments

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  1. The pattern is a penchant for annoying the player. With a book, you can just flip the pages back and forth like a map of the narrative. With these interactive fiction pieces, I’m just frustrated. Especially that goddam dwarf, which incidentally killed me by throwing a dozen knives although I had an axe. Perhaps it is because I have been raised in the realm of fictions that come with instructions, whether the perfectly crafted first level of Mario Bros or just a good old game manual. Having to find my own commands was not fun as advertised, and I admit that it is because of the limitations of the relevant technology. You have to believe that the creators of each work had a certain sadistic side to them, rubbing their evil hands in glee as they imagined the audience struggling for five minutes just to enter a room or find water. On one hand its defining characteristic, on the other the bane of my sanity, using a literary narrative to unfold a story is certainly the definition of interactive fiction. The story provides a setting with minimal explicit description. It would seem that every detail mentioned is important to traversing the narrative, but that’s a lie that I so very wish was true. I don’t really know exactly what to write beyond that because interactive fiction, at least in the works provided, is more aggravating because of the infinite command possibilities.

    I’m carrying an axe. There is an evil dwarf chucking knives at me. “use axe” “SORRY I DONT UNDERSTAND THAT COMMAND”. “equip axe” “SORRY I DONT UNDERSTAND THAT COMMAND” “kill dwarf” “SORRY I DONT UNDERSTAND THAT COMMAND” You died. “WANT ME TO RESSURECT YOU HUEHUEHUEHUEHUE”.

    I hate this game.

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  2. First!
    (See what I did there)
    I would like to share some spoof IF for anyone who has time after Adventure. Have a look at Thy Dungeonman http://www.homestarrunner.com/dungeonman.html
    and its even more beautiful successor Thy Dungeonman 3
    http://www.homestarrunner.com/dman3.html

    I’d link to Thy Dungeonman 2, but it’s basically more of the same. Otherwise I think I’ve done what I came for.
    See you in class.

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    • Whoops. Forgot to put down the most impressive thing in vaguely interactive or at least interactive inspired fiction: Homestuck.
      http://www.mspaintadventures.com/?s=6
      This was authored with input from a large group of people, and I’m sure it’s relevant somewhere, if not here. It’s also more than 5000 pages long, so its functionally a bottomless time sink. I’m given to understand this took over Tumblr at some point, so I wouldn’t be surprised if you’d heard of it.

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  3. FIRST OFF: Props for bringing up Thy Dungeonman. one of my all-time favorites. Along with peasant quest 😉

    Describing IF structure as a whole is a bit of a tall order, but here’s my attempt to discuss some of it. Most recognizably, there is the limited nature of the types of input from the player that can be usefully interpreted. Recieving messages of “you cannot see that item” or “I only understood (X) but not (Y)” trains the reader away from any typed command that doesn’t fit the specific forms of the genre. In that way, the games require a bit of simple know-how, but once the conventions (LOOK AT X or N for north, etc) are understood, it is like a secret code that opens possibilities in all (or most) IF works. When certain inputs are given, certain things will happen. This creates a kind of confidence with engaging the text that is both pleasing and reassuring after so many e-lit texts that seem to desire to alienate the reader or prevent her from being able to control the piece.
    That being said, some IF works subvert that formal, expected structure in ways that are interesting and powerful. For a rather silly example, see “Pick up the Phone Booth and Die” (http://ifdb.tads.org/viewgame?id=4gb36vjo20qpvxty) in which the title is very literally true. If you type “pick up phone booth” you die and the game ends. This particular IF work is mostly a joke, but it gains power in reworking the structure of the game to one where you must decide whether to put in the action they prescribe (with a warning) or to try something different. The piece winks at the deterministic structure of IF. Aisle also subverts the typical IF, giving you brief stories from one command only and making it unclear how much the stories interact or if they do at all. Galatea (http://ifdb.tads.org/viewgame?id=urxrv27t7qtu52lb) takes away the typical visual options for action (look at this, etc) and instead creates a space for a complex, changeable conversation with a richly developed NPC. Another piece by the author of Shade, The Space Under the Window (http://ifdb.tads.org/viewgame?id=egtt6j8vif0plzrc), allows you to only type the names of objects to focus on, limiting you from typical action comments to mere observational choices.
    Basically, if the IF structure is getting you down, go find one that flips it around! But don’t try flipping the phone booth. It won’t end well.

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  4. After playing around with the IF samples for a bit (and fondly remembering Goosebumps), I have realized that in comparison to hypertext, IF is really not all that free in structure. As Jerz notes in his blog, “Hypertext narrative offers some degree of free interaction from the reader [while] Text-based IF, by contrast, actually requires the interactor to write part of the narrative.” Although IF might seem more freeing in that we are actually able to command part of the story, I had much of the same results as Phil. There really seemed to be only a few options that I could actually type that the computer would recognize or execute. For example, in Halt or Catch Fire, I entered a small brick house with a bottle of water. I wanted to drink the water, but the computer kept telling me not to be ridiculous. There is a more definite structure and therefore more fixed plot lines than hypertext–however counter-intuitive that may be. Although frustrating at times, the illusion of freedom I had with IF made me much more interested and engaged with the samples. I guess I indirectly was more focused on what the author/creator was trying to accomplish when I was trying to figure out the commands that would actually work.

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  5. Oh my goodness gracious. Interactive fiction. I originally signed up to do the prompt for this week, and I’m actually glad that I didn’t have to do it because I found this to be so frustrating and difficult to figure out. Some of the responses would make me laugh, but most of the times, I was frustrated because I wasn’t sure where I should proceed next. There aren’t clear directions nor are there always clear cues of where to go next. I struggled with figuring out what I should enter in as a prompt next. I would often have a “eureka” moment and think that something was completely genius and original, but then I wold be told that the system didn’t know what to do with that word or recognize it. Here, we can clearly see the differences in intelligence between technology and humans. There are limitations to the number of unique responses that a game can “spit out,” especially if the author wants to release the work within three or five years.

    I definitely agreed with Phil though. I thought that finding my own prompts would be more fun and interactive than I thought, but I found myself endlessly frustrated. Phil seems to have advanced farther than me. I didn’t get to a dwarf that was throwing knives at me because I got so frustrated by a stream that told me it didn’t understand that I was trying to pick up a rock. However, ‘Aisle’ was probably my favorite, only because I tried to eat and drink the trolley to no avail. And then I got frustrated and killed it. (I’ll go into more detail in class today. I swear I’m not homicidal…)

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  6. @Phillip’s comments were both hilarious and similar to my own experience. Going into the story, I was excited for the possibilities, but after a while I got tired of my inability to interact with the stories on a level I was familiar with. I actually couldn’t even finish Shade, because I didn’t know what to do next. I tried to drink water because my “mouth was like wool” and then it gave me three options, “from the sink, shower or bathroom sink?” And I tried all three, only to receive the answer that, “You stopped drinking from the faucet at 11.” After that I tried a series of commands which yielded no results. Apparently I couldn’t even leave because when I typed in “Go to door” the game said “there is no such object.” I ended up quitting in frustration.
    Personally, I thought this genre was very interesting and had hints of a truly exciting type of fiction, but it didn’t take long for the drawbacks and pitfalls of the genre to distract me from my initial enticement.
    Part of my frustration stems from an intentional aspect of the game as described by the preface to “Halt and Catch Fire” which says, “Part of the game is trying out different commands and seeing what happens.” That would be great so long as “what happens” isn’t a series of errors and unrecognized verbs.

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  7. I found the IF to be very enticing and exciting. I wanted to keep going in Colossal Cave Adventure but I was getting frustrated at my own inadequacy. I couldn’t even find the cave without reading the step by step in the FAQ. Then once I got to the bird I didn’t know how to carry it. Basically I would love it if I had someone helping me along. I really can’t tell if this is a flaw in the game or in my own ability but I’m more likely to blame myself because I already know I’m bad at game-like things. I think a lot of my frustration was in not being able to communicate. I didn’t know which words the computer would know and what it wouldn’t be able to understand. I think work of interactive fiction would be a lot more fun probably if the program didn’t have communicational limitations. I found myself getting more frustrated at Shade than Colossal Cave Adventure. At least in CCA is felt like I was doing something a little bit magical and impossible while in Shade I couldn’t even figure out how to get a drink of water. I think I feel a lot more compelled to try and figure out the story when I think something exciting is going to be waiting at the end. The tasks and subject matter of Shade seem very menial so why would I want to put effort into figuring out how to get a drink of water just to go on to something just as boring? I think IF works are supposed to have a sense of adventure (that’s why they say choose your own adventure) so if there isn’t, then what’s the point of going on? Out of the three we read though, Aisle was by far the most boring, pointless, and unworthy of it’s genre. It was lacking in adventure and in the possibility to further the story. I probably could’ve tried harder, but everything I said ended the story. I think that’s kind of supposed to be apart of it’s charm but it was really just an ineffective use of IF as a genre.

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