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Interactive Fiction

11/29/07 01:04 pm - Interactive Fiction

I've been playing Interactive Fiction ever since I got my first handheld computer. Decades previously, I played Infocom games and their contemporaries during their commercial availability in the 80s. But the rise and fall of text-prompt adventure game publishing was neither the birth nor the death of the art form, which flourished free-of-charge before and since. It is no more obsolete because of graphics cards than novels are obsolete because of movies, and for most of the same reasons.

IF has grown tremendously in dramatic depth since the days when such works were little more than puzzle games. In the past ten to fifteen years, Emily Short and Andrew Plotkin have become the masters of the mature field. They have proved equal to multiple simultaneous creative challenges: puzzles, beautiful prose, interesting dramatic problems, and the emotions and knowledge of a player who possesses far more control than does the reader of linear fiction.

There are unique opportunities in interactivity for messing with the reader's head. The boundaries between the reader and the story's viewpoint character become permeable. Some of the best IFs, such as L.A.S.H. or Rameses, take innovative approaches to the relationship of the player to the player character. Some games invent an explanation for the fact that at the beginning of the game, the main character (the player) has no idea of his or her own history. Others use expository infodumps; others make it unnecessary. There is a conversation going on between a player who types commands at the prompt, and a narrator who responds with text. Who is that narrator, anyway? There are many interesting potential answers.

This is what reminded me of IF in the opening to "Steve Fever". Would the player be Lincoln, and the narrator constantly urge him to go to Atlanta? In search of challenge and lacking a motivation to live Lincoln's workaday life, the player would surely comply. Or would the narrator be Lincoln, stubborn and resisting, while the player's commands are that of the stevelets? The stevelets are individually dumb expert systems, and smart only in aggregate. That would explain the player's sense, at the opening of any new game, of "who am I and what is my situation?"

More on this later.
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