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So, I went to the first class for English 344 today, Digital Writing in the Genres (you’ll see posts for the class on this blog as well), it looks like it is going to be a lot of fun. We were going over a number of the course requirements and I saw that among the possible projects was listed the option to create an interactive fiction.

Now, perhaps I am biting off a bit too much, but out of all the options that jumped out at me for a number of reasons, not the least of which is because I had, only a few weeks ago, read READ GAME at The Escapist (and subsequently downloaded the winners of the 2007 IF Contest). I decided I should figure out a little bit about the genre and perhaps play the games before I do anything else. So I’ve read up on IF from a quick search on The Escapist and actually installed all the games are the virtual (or Z-) machines.

I am afraid to admit it, but I have never actually played Zork. I guess I’m too young, when I started gaming (Duke Nukem the first anyone? By the way, in the beyond side scrollers category, 3D Realms released a teaser trailer for the long long anticipated Duke Nukem Forever) we were already playing with graphics. However, it seems from these articles that the community is still growing strong and producing free and fantastic games. After reading the experience of Lara Crigger, of The Escapist, I can’t help but be intrigued. It has been a long time since IF games could have been called mainstream, even in the gaming community, but it looks like the opportunity here for storytelling is remarkable.

I’m going to take on the 2007 IF winners and see what they are like, with a mind towards creating my own.

IF is especially interesting because of the mechanics inherent in the gameplay. One might ask, what sort of mechanics can a text-based game have? However, “Textual Pleasure” makes it clear, in the parable of Photopia, that even the limited functions of IF have to wrangle with how gameplay mechanics conflict or magnify stories. As Crigger makes clear,

Some experimentation with fancier prose and philosophical themes did occur, such as Lucian P. Smith’s 1997 winner, The Edifice, a monkey-makes-good tale about human evolution. But even Smith struggled with the idea that interactive fiction was a function of its puzzles, rather than the other way around.

It is no mistake that even in the simplest and most linier and technically limited of stories, gameplay is intrinsic to how the story is laid before the player. The best example in modern games (in my opinion) is the timed decision making mechanic built into Fahrenheit. Here we see a mechanic flowing naturally from the story. The rush of making decisions and mirroring real movements with mouse movements is essential to the game and also to the sense of building panic that is part of the game’s story.

It’ll be interesting to see what the latest batch of IF winners has to offer.

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