Interactive Metafiction

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ni...@tramp.cc.utexas.edu

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Oct 31, 1994, 1:12:21 PM10/31/94
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"Most interactive fiction today does not adopt the metafictional form of the
infinite, hall-of-mirrors story but rather the tactics of the detective, spy,
or adventure novel -- an extremely complex puzzle ..."

They continue

"... there seems no reason why an interactive fiction could not present
subtler, subjective states mimetically and so greatly enlarge its scope beyond
the action-oriented, finite adventure type, read only once. Similarly, an
interactive fiction built on miragelike, infinitely shimmering points of view
of metafiction should be more like "high" fiction, something to which one can
return again and again ..."

Why is it that A Mind Forever Voyaging and Trinity are often lauded on this
newsgroup as Infocom's best? I would think it has something to do with their
metafictional tendencies -- both involve stories-within-stories, in AMFV the
simulation mode within the landscape of Dakota, in Trinity the time-travel
episodes within the frame of the mushroom land. These aren't merely
ornamental narrative frames; exploration is important at both levels.

But in the dichotomy of Niesz and Holland, these are both puzzle-oriented
games, not "hall-of-mirrors" stories a la Borges or Calvino. (I foresee an
argument about AMFV being puzzle-oriented. But it is: there are few puzzles
(really just one, I think) but the game is directed toward a resolution that
requires you to solve those few puzzles (or one puzzle), so it's
puzzle-oriented.)

My question is this:

What are some good interactive metafictions? Michael Joyce's Afternoon, from
Eastgate systems, seems a closer fit than AMFV or Trinity. Is this as close as
we've gotten in a decade, or are there others?
--
/
Nick Montfort / ni...@ccwf.cc.utexas.edu
________________________________/

David Baggett

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Nov 1, 1994, 5:25:17 PM11/1/94
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In article <393c25$n...@tramp.cc.utexas.edu>,
<ni...@tramp.cc.utexas.edu> wrote:

>"Most interactive fiction today does not adopt the metafictional form of the
>infinite, hall-of-mirrors story but rather the tactics of the detective, spy,
>or adventure novel -- an extremely complex puzzle ..."

What exactly do the quoted authors mean by "metafiction"?

>"... there seems no reason why an interactive fiction could not present
>subtler, subjective states mimetically and so greatly enlarge its scope
>beyond the action-oriented, finite adventure type, read only
>once. Similarly, an interactive fiction built on miragelike, infinitely
>shimmering points of view of metafiction should be more like "high"
>fiction, something to which one can return again and again ..."

Egad. This is both confusing and confused. The authors seem to think the
important difference between Zork and "high metafiction" is cardinality --
that one is "finite" and the other "infinite". How is _Afternoon_ and more
"infinite" than Zork? In terms of the number of states the work can be in,
both are of course finite, but I'd give Zork the cardinality advantage by a
long shot.

"Miragelike, infinitely shimmering points of view"?! What is this supposed
to mean? What works supposedly offer this wondrous experience?

There's no reason why a sentence-parsing IF work has to be a "read-once"
affair. There's also no reason why an action-oriented work has to be any
more "finite" than anything else -- why it has to have narrower scope or
less-subtle "subjective states" (whatever that means).

Subtlety, mimickry, and scope are all orthogonal to the nuts and bolts the
work is built from.

The authors also define "high fiction" as "something to which one can
return again and again". This doesn't seem sufficient to me, and in any
case does not omit really good Zork-like works to which one can return
again and again.

>Why is it that A Mind Forever Voyaging and Trinity are often lauded on this

>newsgroup as Infocom's best? I would think it has something to do with their
>metafictional tendencies

I'm not sure what you or the quoted authors mean by "metafiction", but I
think the reason for AMFV and Trinity's success is that both make the
reader *think*. They both raise interesting philosophical issues. They
both deal with more than just puzzles.

>these are both puzzle-oriented games, not "hall-of-mirrors" stories a la
>Borges or Calvino.

Though I'm very much in favor of trying to expand Zork-like IF beyond
puzzle-solving, I don't think it's correct to label works with puzzles "not
high fiction" and those without puzzles as "high fiction".

>What are some good interactive metafictions? Michael Joyce's Afternoon, from
>Eastgate systems, seems a closer fit than AMFV or Trinity. Is this as close as
>we've gotten in a decade, or are there others?

As close to *what*? The ideal that _Afternoon_ is closer to than Trinity
is no work I'd have much interest in. It's ironic that the "interactive
fiction" that the literary world has chosen to embrace is the *least*
interactive genre. Chasing links in an online fictional encyclopedia is
hardly "interactive" compared to typing in sentences (albeit simple ones)
and having the work respond appropriately.

Dave Baggett
__
d...@ai.mit.edu MIT AI Lab He who has the highest Kibo # when he dies wins.
ADVENTIONS: We make Kuul text adventures! Email for a catalog of releases.

Gareth Rees

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Nov 2, 1994, 5:13:15 AM11/2/94
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David Baggett (d...@case.ai.mit.edu) writes:
> What exactly do the quoted authors mean by "metafiction"?

Metafiction is fiction that is about fiction. For example, Jorge Borges
wrote a story about a man who set out to write Don Quixote - not by
copying from Cervantes, but by trying to live the same life, experience
the same things and to write it *originally*.

Most often, metafiction is about itself. Here it becomes subsumed into
the category of "post-modern" fiction, by which is meant fiction that is
aware that it is fiction, that does not try to "objectively" describe an
external world, but plays with the boundary between fiction and reality.

Italo Calvino's classic metafictional novel "If on a winter's night a
traveller" opens by explaining that you have just bouht Italo Calvino's
new novel, "If on a winter's night a traveller", and are about to read
it. The novels of John Barth comment on their own structure and the
author often bewails his inability to get the characters to do what he
wants.

It shouldn't be thought that this is anything particularly new.
Lawrence Sterne's 18th century novel "Tristram Shandy" is definitely
post-modern.

Having said all that, the article you quoted from sounded a bit dim.
Another pie-in-the-sky "why can't you write IF that does *this*?"
without a line of code in sight. Where did you find the original (it
seems to have disappeared from my local NNTP server)?

--
Gareth Rees

Gareth Rees

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Nov 3, 1994, 5:40:09 AM11/3/94
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Nick Montfort tells me his quotes are from

Anthony Niesz and Norman Holland.
"Interactive Fiction".
Critical Inquiry XI:110-129, September 1984.

I think that there's a genuine point to be made, which is that text-only
Interactive Fiction is in a bit of a creative doldrums at the moment,
i.e. there isn't much in the way of creative or artistic innovation.

I don't think this is a criticism of anyone, it's just a natural
consequence of the commercial games companies having given up on
text-based IF; of having a very small creative community; and of the
rest of the cultural world taking almost no notice (and that usually
derogatory) and thus providing to encouragement or feedback.

Reading through the various "how to write IF" articles on ftp.gmd.de,
and playing some recent games, it seems that IF authors have a model for
IF that we know works (i.e. a prologue/middle game/endgame structure, a
hierarchical object-based world model, a strongly goal-oriented plot
whose solution is repeatedly blocked by puzzles), but no-one really
knows what to do next.

I will read Niesz and Holland next time I'm in the library, but I think
that you can't encourage creative innovation by writing papers about it
(and I'm guilty of this myself) - you have to go out and innovate
yourself.

--
Gareth "do what I say, not what I do" Rees

Mathematical Institute, (0865) 2-73525

unread,
Nov 3, 1994, 10:09:22 AM11/3/94
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Gareth Rees on the apparently static state of the art:

> I think that there's a genuine point to be made, which is that text-only
> Interactive Fiction is in a bit of a creative doldrums at the moment,
> i.e. there isn't much in the way of creative or artistic innovation.
>
> I don't think this is a criticism of anyone, it's just a natural
> consequence of the commercial games companies having given up on
> text-based IF; of having a very small creative community; and of the
> rest of the cultural world taking almost no notice (and that usually
> derogatory) and thus providing to encouragement or feedback.
>
> Reading through the various "how to write IF" articles on ftp.gmd.de,
> and playing some recent games, it seems that IF authors have a model for
> IF that we know works (i.e. a prologue/middle game/endgame structure, a
> hierarchical object-based world model, a strongly goal-oriented plot
> whose solution is repeatedly blocked by puzzles), but no-one really
> knows what to do next.
>
> I will read Niesz and Holland next time I'm in the library, but I think
> that you can't encourage creative innovation by writing papers about it
> (and I'm guilty of this myself) - you have to go out and innovate
> yourself.
>

Guilty, m'lud! Speaking as someone who has written one of these articles
himself, I have to agree. But I did have two goodish reasons for doing so:
firstly because I felt that to some extent a necessary condition for making
IF into a literary form is to introduce some element of literary criticism.
When I first browsed these newsgroups, I felt that the word "Infocom" was
being used synonymously with "divine". In fact, their best was brilliant
and their worst... well, not awful, but still undisguisably poor. Moreover
the games were treated as if they were all written at one time, by one
author, which is far from true.

Secondly because I feel that although the classical model is indeed
long-established, it's important to learn it inside out before going on
to more advanced things: the same way that poets ought to learn to write
sonnets before attempting free verse. I was trying to help define what is
meant by the structure of a game, in order to make looking at the quality
of other games easier. Similarly, I think that in the final analysis
most different models come down to different ways the same work could be
written (just as in poetry). And attempts to redefine "the novel" have
generally led to embarrassment all round.

I also feel there's life in the old dog yet - I wrote Curses consciously
in the style of the Old Games, so stylistically there's nothing original
in it, but that doesn't seem to bother the players. In the end, it wants
to be an addiction as well as Art.

If I might just plug myself here, an updated version of my attempt at
literary criticism will be coming out soon. As Gareth says, you can't
encourage creative innovation that way, but you can encourage craftsmanship
and that's what I hope to have done.

In my view Infocom's games still represent about 75% of the best games
written. The state of the art will advance when, and only when, it's more
like 25%.

Graham Nelson
Oxford, UK

Felix Lee

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Nov 3, 1994, 8:08:14 AM11/3/94
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hmm, well one project near the top of my todo list right now is a
small game called, "Your Roommate's Annoying Adventure Game". A sort
of parody of annoying features of IF games. I suppose it qualifies as
metafiction. And it's become annoyingly complicated to program.

The intro text is:

Showing "The Inform Designer's Manual" to your roommate Jerry
was a mistake. For the past week, he's been frantically
working on an adventure game that's "going to be like Zork,
only *better*!" The way he says it makes you cringe. Jerry's
idea of a fun evening is to spend hours fiddling with a
Rubik's Tesseract, making absolutely no progress you can see.

You wish you hadn't agreed to playtest his game, but there's
no weaseling out of it now. So with Jerry watching, you sit
down at the computer and find yourself trapped in . . .

ANNOY
Your Roommate's Annoying Adventure Game : a self-parody

You start out in "The Stupid Maze", carrying just "a random object",
and the game is supposed to give sympathetic running commentary as you
fail to make progress. In fact, the commentary is the whole point;
the maze isn't quite real.

But making sure the commentary makes sense is a tangled mess. Plot
dag modelling doesn't quite handle it.

If anyone's interested, I'm willing to talk out loud about the design
and implementation. Or rather, my lack of progress in design and
implementation :). The complexity was frustrating, so I haven't been
doing much lately beyond playing with Inform and getting accustomed to
its structure.
--

Werther Pirani

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Nov 4, 1994, 4:23:56 PM11/4/94
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In article <FLEE.94N...@jovial.cse.psu.edu> fl...@cse.psu.edu
(Felix Lee) writes:

> hmm, well one project near the top of my todo list right now is a
> small game called, "Your Roommate's Annoying Adventure Game". A sort
> of parody of annoying features of IF games. I suppose it qualifies as
> metafiction. And it's become annoyingly complicated to program.
>

> [...]


>
> If anyone's interested, I'm willing to talk out loud about the design
> and implementation.

Count me in! :-)

Sincerely,

Werther 'Mircko' Pirani

--
e-mail: wer...@karunko.nervous.com
Fidonet: 2:335/602.12 (Mirko Pirani)
Amiganet: 39:102/1.12 (Mirko Pirani)

Gareth Rees

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Nov 5, 1994, 10:12:11 AM11/5/94
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David Baggett (d...@case.ai.mit.edu) writes:
> Why would we want to think of _Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote_
> as a fundamentally different *kind* of literature?

It's in the nature of criticism that it has to invent categories in
which to put the things it is criticising. Just as ordinary fiction is
categorised by subject matter, style, viewpoint, length and so on, so in
order to make any sense of Interactive Fiction we have to categorise it
- although in the absence of much critical work the categories are a but
nebulous. We might divide it up by interface (two-word parser, multiple
word Infocom-style parser, point-and-click, hybrid, menu-driven), by the
structure of the plot (wide, narrow, linear) and so on.

I think that people who study literature in a deconstructive manner
(following Derrida) are interested in metafiction because it exemplifies
the possibilities of *knowingly* deconstructing your own work
(e.g. Delany's "Tales of Neveryon").

> At first blush this sounds gimmicky, but I'll get Calvino's book and
> take a look. Thanks for the pointer.

It may be gimmicky, but it's great fun, especially if you love books.

--
Gareth Rees

Matt Ackeret

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Nov 5, 1994, 6:37:05 PM11/5/94
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In article <397onr$2...@lyra.csx.cam.ac.uk>,

Gareth Rees <gd...@cl.cam.ac.uk> wrote:
>Most often, metafiction is about itself. Here it becomes subsumed into

So, using a theatrical term, it "breaks the fourth wall"? Or is
that just a subset? (Breaking the fourth wall -- George Burns talking to
the audience in his TV show, David Addison and Maddie Hayes, in character
(sometimes), stopping in mid-argument to talk to the audience in "Moonlighting",
apparently Woody Allen does the same thing...)
--
unk...@apple.com Apple II Forever
These opinions are mine, not Apple's.

Andrew C. Plotkin

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Nov 6, 1994, 12:15:25 PM11/6/94
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Excerpts from netnews.rec.arts.int-fiction: 5-Nov-94 Re: Interactive
Metafiction Matt Ack...@apple.com (578)

> >Most often, metafiction is about itself. Here it becomes subsumed into

> So, using a theatrical term, it "breaks the fourth wall"? Or is
> that just a subset? (Breaking the fourth wall -- George Burns talking to
> the audience in his TV show, David Addison and Maddie Hayes, in character
> (sometimes), stopping in mid-argument to talk to the audience in
> "Moonlighting",
> apparently Woody Allen does the same thing...)

There's talking to the audience, having the author appear, crossing over
between stories, crossing over between levels of story within the
story... (Remember in the Muppet Movie when Dr. Teeth waves around a
copy of the script?)

Anything that highlights the fact that the story is a story.

--Z

"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the borogoves..."

Neil K. Guy

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Nov 7, 1994, 6:30:43 AM11/7/94
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gd...@cl.cam.ac.uk (Gareth Rees) writes that Dave Baggett writes about
Italo Calvino's "If on a winter's night a traveler":

>> At first blush this sounds gimmicky, but I'll get Calvino's book and
>> take a look. Thanks for the pointer.

>It may be gimmicky, but it's great fun, especially if you love books.

Agreed! CBC Stereo's radio program Brave New Waves serialized the
book on-air many years ago, and I later picked it up. Quite a
fascinating book, though I wonder how it has been altered in
translation.

- Neil K.

Philip Jones

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Nov 8, 1994, 5:03:54 PM11/8/94
to

Sorry for this blatant hype, but Calvino is my all time favourite author.
My advice to you all is rush out and get everything he's ever written. This
guy was a total genius. He can write experimental post-modern metafiction
(IOAWNAT), science fiction (Cosmicomics), medaeval tragedy (The Cloven
Viscount, Barron in the Trees), a novel about pollution (Smog), another about
economics (A Venture into Real Estate), Romance (Difficult Loves), slipstream
(Invisible Cities) comic realism (Marcovaldo) and some which are several of
these at the same time (The Castle of Crossed Destinies, Mr. Palomar, Time and
the Hunter)

If you are at all interested in reading innovative, great writing check
these out.


philip

David Baggett

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Nov 4, 1994, 11:42:31 AM11/4/94
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In article <397onr$2...@lyra.csx.cam.ac.uk>,
Gareth Rees <gd...@cl.cam.ac.uk> wrote:

>Metafiction is fiction that is about fiction. For example, Jorge Borges
>wrote a story about a man who set out to write Don Quixote - not by
>copying from Cervantes, but by trying to live the same life, experience
>the same things and to write it *originally*.

Understood; fortunately I read _Labyrinths_ pretty recently. I don't quite
see why one would want to make a separate category for such things, though,
or why metafiction has anything to do with interactive fiction.

With repsect to the Borges story: why would we want to think of _Pierre


Menard, Author of the Quixote_ as a fundamentally different *kind* of

literature? Many of Borges' stories are novel -- my favorite in that
collection is _The Lottery in Babylon_, a brilliant example of Borges'
ability to write the "here I am, normal Joe Sixpack in my world, which
seems perfectly normal to me" story, where the world is *really* bent.

But is this class of stories large enough to warrant separate analysis? I
guess I don't see why that distinction would be useful; but then, I haven't
read any of these papers on metafiction. Are any available online? Does
anyone have a list of must-read papers in this field that they could post?
What journals are metafiction papers archived in?

>Most often, metafiction is about itself. Here it becomes subsumed into
>the category of "post-modern" fiction, by which is meant fiction that is
>aware that it is fiction, that does not try to "objectively" describe an
>external world, but plays with the boundary between fiction and reality.

OK, but again, people have been writing stories like that for a long time
(as you later point out); perhaps this is simply a matter of degree?

>Italo Calvino's classic metafictional novel "If on a winter's night a
>traveller" opens by explaining that you have just bouht Italo Calvino's
>new novel, "If on a winter's night a traveller", and are about to read
>it.

At first blush this sounds gimmicky, but I'll get Calvino's book and take a


look. Thanks for the pointer.

Dave Baggett

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