Crimes Against Mimesis, Part 4

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Roger Giner-Sorolla

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Apr 29, 1996, 3:00:00 AM4/29/96
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6. The Three Faces of "You" -- Player and Protagonists

Computerized interactive fiction is a discourse between the game program
and the game player, mediated by the player's character (PC). By
convention, the program addresses the player in second person declarative
as if he or she were the character ("You are standing in a field in front
of a white house"), while the player addresses the game program in a sort
of pidgin second person imperative, as if the program were the
character ("examine house";"go west").

The origins of both sides of this curious dialogue are plainly traceable.
The program's voice echoes a human referee in a role-playing game
informing the players of events in the imaginary world, while the player's
lines resemble commands in a text-based operating system ("copy file to
b:\","cd if-archive"), their choppiness dictated by the simplemindedness
of the parser.

Although bizarre by conventional literary standards, this convention has
proved surprisingly robust in IF games over the years. A few games have
experimented with third- or first-person narration, but none have inspired
a real tradition. Perhaps it's more satisfying, in an interactive nature
game, to have your situation narrated directly to you by the (Dungeon)
Master's voice, as opposed to the narrative detachment of first or third
person.

But the problem with second-person narrative, and perhaps a reason why
literary fiction writers generally avoid it, is this: it is easy to define
who is speaking in first person, or who is being spoken of in third
person, but it's not so easy to see who is being spoken to in second.
In effect, second person confounds the reader with the protagonist. What's
more, in a narrative that is at the same time a fiction and a game, the
protagonist's identity fractures even further, into three distinct
persons...

* The Reader/Player. This is you, the real human being sitting at your
computer playing the game. Your goal is to amass points, finish up, and
have a good time along the way. You command all the reality-warping
conveniences of the game program: save, restore, undo. You know when an
item is important, because it is described as a separate object rather
than as part of the scenery; you know when an action is important, because
you get points for doing it.

* The Game Protagonist. This is you, a nameless cipher of a person who
just loves picking up objects and toting them around, because you Never
Can Tell when they'll come in handy. Your goal is to fiddle around with
all these objects in any way you possibly can, so you can explore your
environment as thoroughly as possible and amass all the really important
objects, so you can get to the really important places. Strange urges
guide you -- whispered warnings from disastrous alternate universes your
player "undid", oracular impulses to pick up the can opener in the kitchen
because it's the only thing you really *feel* is important there.

* The Story Protagonist. This is you, Jane Doe, an unassuming college
sophomore who has stumbled upon a sinister plot to destroy the world. Or
maybe you're John Doe, a cigar-chomping private investigator with
calloused knuckles and a callous attitude, who has stumbled upon a
sinister plot to destroy the world. Or maybe you're Jhin-Dho, a
half-elven sorcerer's apprentice who has ... Anyway, your goal is to stop
the villains while staying alive, though it's a bit odd that you keep
picking up stray objects without knowing why, and they always prove to be
useful later on...

Early adventure games did not bother much with defining the story
protagonist. The result (at least in my experience) is an entertaining
kind of imaginative romp in which the blank hero takes on the identity of
the sweatshirted person at the keyboard, running around the dungeon in
tennis shoes, playing the game from within. In fact, the appearance of
the Zork games' Adventurer in the "Enchanter" series comes off as an
amusing surprise, precisely because most players never thought of Zork's
protagonist as a character in his own right.

Actually, the "hero-is-you" approach has an honorable precedent in
imaginative fiction. Ever since Mark Twain's Connecticut Yankee visited
King Arthur's court, everyday slobs have explored strange and fantastic
worlds. And what better way to encourage involvement than to write the
player in as the hero? But the limitations of the blank hero are equally
obvious, once you've played enough adventure games. Without any distinct
identity, the player has only the motivations of the game protagonist as
a guide, and "get the items, solve the puzzles, get the treasure" quickly
grows stale when repeated from game to game.

Recognizing this, game writers in the early 1980's began to present
stronger plots and identify their story protagonists more distinctively.
Sweatshirt and sneakers gave way to wizards' robes, detectives' fedoras,
18th century crinolines. But as the story protagonist took firmer shape,
the motives and behaviors of the game protagonist lingered on, like a
kleptomanic doppelganger. Even today, few IF games have managed to
present a protagonist whose actions are completely defined by his or her
own character, rather than by the objects-and-puzzles intrigues of the
game. (Exceptions tend to fall within the mystery genre; but then again,
linear mystery novels themselves have a long tradition of balancing
realistic characterization with the game-like rules of the whodunit.)

Writing up a blank protagonist is easy enough, and a sensitive writer
will try to avoid accidental assumptions such as "You wake up with a
stubbly chin" (not applicable to both genders) or "You turn white as a
sheet" (not applicable to all complexions).

A writer who wants to write a definite character, though, has to think in
entirely different terms. Will the character be given only an identity,
or a fully developed personality as well? Most IF games present the story
protagonist more in terms of social roles and motivations, than in terms
of strong personality traits. For example, in Christminster, you are
Christabel Spencer, a young, properly-brought-up British woman whose
brother, a college professor, has mysteriously vanished. Christminster
does an exceptionally job of outlining Christabel's role as a woman by
limiting her actions (she can't enter chapel bareheaded) and through the
NPCs' dialogue (the villains and the Master are condescending, while young
Edward sees her as a confidante).

Motivationally, too, Christabel's actions are clearly determined. She
needs to explore the college, so that she can complete her brother's
researches and eventually find out what happened to him. Even the one
necessary act of vandalism she commits as the beginning of the game can be
explained as an attempt to enter the college, although the text could
bring this out a bit more clearly.

Christabel's role in the fiction is much more clearly defined than her
personality. She is by turns stoic (when attempting to cry on demand) and
squeamish (at the sight of a skeleton), proper (when entering chapel) and
improper (when commiting various acts of theft, wiretapping and trespass).
Her constant traits are those inherited from the game protagonist:
inquisitiveness and acquisitiveness. The variety of her other traits,
too, can mostly be chalked up to the demands and necessary limitations of
a number of different puzzles.

But it's not clear to me that straitjacketing the story protagonist with
a definite personality is always a good idea. While the reader/player can
usually identify with a person of a different gender, ethnicity, social
role, or time period, it's harder to project one's self into an entirely
different set of personality traits. Such a protagonist would be
experienced more as a "he" or "she" than as an "I", robbing the
second-person narrative of its potency; and character identification would
suffer at the expense of character definition.

A basic tenet of social psychology -- the "fundamental attribution error"
-- can be stated thus: we are reluctant to accept our own actions as
indicative of our personality traits, and eager to attribute the actions
of others to their personality traits. In part, this is because we see
ourselves exercising many different traits in different situations. We are
deferent to superiors, authoritative to underlings; courageous in areas of
our expertise, hesitant in things we know little of; cheerfully unafraid
of spiders, but repelled by the sound of crinkling styrofoam. (Well, I
am, anyway.)

Christabel's apparent inconsistency of personality, then, may actually be
helpful in getting the player to identify with her. What's more important
to writing vivid story protagonists, in my view, is consistently bringing
out the character's role in relation to the external world, and setting
his or her actions up to reflect clearly defined motivations.

I'll close by covering two special problems, and offering partial
solutions: one in which the player's task can result in a less believable
story protagonist, and one in which the game protagonist's task can also
undermine the story.

* Save, Restore, Undo. Some might argue that an IF game is made more
"realistic" by disallowing the ability to restore games or undo moves, but
I disagree. The ability to undo is no less realistic than the ability to
restart the game, and a good deal more convenient. Given that a
restartable game can always be played with knowledge from a previous,
failed "incarnation," the task of the player is not literally to live or
die as the protagonist would, but to maneuver the protagonist so as to
"write" the optimal narrative that the game author has hidden within the
program, in which the protagonist does everything right and achieves a
happy ending.

(This process brings to mind a toy from my childhood called "Chip-Away" --
a rather literal-minded take on Michelangelo's famous dictum that the
statue is hidden within the block of marble. The makers of "Chip-Away"
embedded a white plastic statue within a block of white soap, and the
young "sculptor" was provided with hammer and chisel...)

All the same, the finished account of the protagonist's efforts will look
odd if it shows signs of having been produced this way. Practically
speaking, this means that the player should in theory be able to complete
the story without using any information gained from fatal dead-ends. An
obvious violation: hiding a magic word at the bottom of a (full) well so
that you see it just before you drown, and pass it on to your next
game-incarnation.

A less obvious violation: the fatal trial-and-error puzzle. Consider four
identical doors, one leading onwards, one concealing a lethal explosive.
In the story that would result from solving this puzzle, it would be much
more satisfying to the story reader and the game player if there was some
way to tell which door hides the ticking bomb, rather than having success
come only from a lucky guess. The clue may be difficult enough so that
the player opts for the brute-force, save-restore-undo method (who would
think to "listen to north door"?), but at least it is there to explain the
story protagonist's actions in a fictionally satisfying way. Even though
real-life survival may often depend on dumb luck, fiction can only get
away with so many strokes of fortune before suspicion sets in.

* Examine All. Get All. In the same way that save/restore/undo can lead a
story protagonist to act in strange ways, the demands of the game
protagonist can often intrude into the story. Most jarringly, the game
protagonist finds it useful to pick up all objects that the program
indicates can be picked up, when the story protagonist might have no real
reason to, say, take an apple peeler out of someone's kitchen.

Let's look at the two ends of this problem. On the picking-up end, there
is the cue that the game author sends the game protagonist when presenting
a room with a usable object in it:

This is a well-stocked, modern and efficient kitchen, done up in an
avocado-green color scheme.
On the table you see a battery-powered flashlight. An apple peeler is
lying on the counter.

The well-trained game protagonist will, of course, pick up both these
objects and take them along. But the story protagonist? If he or she is
anticipating doing some exploring, it would make sense to pick up the
flashlight -- but why the apple peeler? And in terms of the story, what
is so darned attractive about the apple peeler, as opposed to all the
other objects subsumed in the description of the "well-stocked kitchen":
the pots, pans, knives, can opener, oven gloves, and so forth?

On the putting-things-down end, there is the recent trend towards
allowing near-infinite carrying capacity via a container -- rucksack,
purse, or what have you. Understandably so, since realistic constraints
on inventory make for an annoying game where much of the action consists
of running about trying to remember where you dropped that screwdriver.
And yet, the person who is reading the story has to wonder occasionally at
the verisimilitude of a character who casually totes around a portable
yard-sale of forty-odd objects, as happens at the end of "Jigsaw."

(What's even more annoying about "Jigsaw"'s cluttered rucksack, only one
or two of these objects have any use outside the episode in which they
were found. Yet the faithful game-protagonist hangs on to the green
cloth cap, the stale piece of corn bread, the mandolin because "you never
know..." A shame, because the time-travel theme could easily have
provided some cosmological excuse to prevent the export of objects from
their own time period. The challenge then could have been to find some way
of getting around this rule in order to solve the later puzzles, as in the
later stages of _Uncle Zebulon's Will_ where the protagonist has to
smuggle objects past the watchful demon...)

These challenges to the fictional integrity of the protagonist's actions
may not have an easy answer, and I don't think they should necessarily be
answered at the expense of anyone's convenience. In the kitchen, for
example, I don't think the answer is to code up a whole lot of useless
pots and pans. Hiding the apple peeler is also futile, since the good game
protagonist knows to search every nook and cranny before moving on.

The action to be simulated here is the protagonist coming across a Very
Important Unpeeled Apple in the course of the adventure and thinking,
"Oooh ... there might be an apple peeler back in the kitchen!" Cuing
reminiscences explicitly would give away the solution to the puzzle, of
course. It might be possible to force the player to go back to the kitchen
and explicitly type "look for peeler" in order for the apple peeler to
appear. Or, to forbid that the apple peeler be taken until the apple has
been encountered, with messages to the effect of "What on earth do you
need that thing for?"

I suspect, though, that clever game players will figure their own way
around these devices, commanding protagonists to search for every likely
object in a location, and looking for hints to a new puzzle by going back
and trying to pick up every "forbidden" object they've encountered.
Perhaps a workable compromise would be to design games so that most of
what you need to solve a given problem is available relatively nearby,
apart from obviously useful tools or strange artifacts that can be taken
from scene to scene.

Alternatively, you could place very realistic limits on what can be
carried around, but automate the process of remembering where objects are,
as with the "objects" command in Inform. Even the process of going back
and getting them could be automated, possibly with a "walk-to" routine
that checks to see if there is a free path from the current location to
the known object's location, and expending the requisite number of game
turns to get the object, while taking only a second of the player's time.

Roger Giner-Sorolla New York University, New York, NY
gi...@xp.psych.nyu.edu Dept. of Psychology (Social/Personality)
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"The F.B.I. has said that it believes he was a student of the history of
science, but on the evidence here he was a social psychology major with a
minor in sociology, and he shows all the distressing hallmarks of the
worst of that academic breed." -- Kirkpatrick Sale on the Unabomber, 9/95


Andrew C. Plotkin

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Apr 30, 1996, 3:00:00 AM4/30/96
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Roger Giner-Sorolla <gi...@xp.psych.nyu.edu> writes:
> A less obvious violation: the fatal trial-and-error puzzle. Consider four
> identical doors, one leading onwards, one concealing a lethal explosive.
> In the story that would result from solving this puzzle, it would be much
> more satisfying to the story reader and the game player if there was some
> way to tell which door hides the ticking bomb, rather than having success
> come only from a lucky guess. The clue may be difficult enough so that
> the player opts for the brute-force, save-restore-undo method (who would
> think to "listen to north door"?), but at least it is there to explain the
> story protagonist's actions in a fictionally satisfying way. Even though
> real-life survival may often depend on dumb luck, fiction can only get
> away with so many strokes of fortune before suspicion sets in.

Problem: if the player never discovers the "listen" command, the
puzzle is exactly as bad (to the player) as if there was no "listen"
command. The emerging narrative contains only the stroke of dumb luck.

Furthermore, I at least tend to be very conservative in finding
solutions. If brute force will obviously work, I'll just hammer
through it, thinking "Blah, this is a badly designed puzzle." (Not to
the tune of hundreds of trials, but certainly four or six.)

The common solution (we all know this, but I'll bring it up for
completeness) is to explicitly exclude trial and error; *no* door is
the correct door, until you listen at it. Actually this isn't
applicable to your example. You can't plausibly suggest that every
attempt at a 1/4th chance of death will fail. If there were seven
bombs behind eight doors, you could do it, although it's always polite
have game text like "Lacking any idea which door to choose, you open
the <n>th. Boom."

This both steers the player away from a dull trial-and-error
experience, and ensures that the emerging narrative contains a scene
of cleverness instead of a dumb stroke of luck. (Thanks, by the way,
for getting me to realize that these are two separate advantages. I'm
enjoying your articles a lot.)

--Z

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

Phil Goetz

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May 1, 1996, 3:00:00 AM5/1/96
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In article <Pine.SUN.3.91.96042...@xp.psych.nyu.edu>,
Roger Giner-Sorolla <gi...@xp.psych.nyu.edu> wrote:

> All the same, the finished account of the protagonist's efforts will look
>odd if it shows signs of having been produced this way. Practically
>speaking, this means that the player should in theory be able to complete
>the story without using any information gained from fatal dead-ends. An
>obvious violation: hiding a magic word at the bottom of a (full) well so
>that you see it just before you drown, and pass it on to your next
>game-incarnation.

Algis Budrys wrote a famous short story called "Rogue Moon". An alien
race had left an artifact -- a building of some kind -- on the moon.
Everyone who entered died. There was a set of rules inside the
object, but they seemed random to human minds.
The story's protagonist, through a sort of reincarnation, solved
the puzzle by going through the artifact again and again, littering
it with his dead corpses, until he emerged alive out the other end,
having learnt the rules by dying many times without learning anything
about why the place worked as it did. Avoid Rogue Moon IF.

> This is a well-stocked, modern and efficient kitchen, done up in an
> avocado-green color scheme.
> On the table you see a battery-powered flashlight. An apple peeler is
> lying on the counter.
>
> The well-trained game protagonist will, of course, pick up both these
>objects and take them along. But the story protagonist? If he or she is
>anticipating doing some exploring, it would make sense to pick up the
>flashlight -- but why the apple peeler? And in terms of the story, what
>is so darned attractive about the apple peeler, as opposed to all the
>other objects subsumed in the description of the "well-stocked kitchen":
>the pots, pans, knives, can opener, oven gloves, and so forth?
>

> These challenges to the fictional integrity of the protagonist's actions
>may not have an easy answer, and I don't think they should necessarily be
>answered at the expense of anyone's convenience. In the kitchen, for
>example, I don't think the answer is to code up a whole lot of useless
>pots and pans.

I do think that's the answer. Code up more "red herrings" than the
player can grab.

> The action to be simulated here is the protagonist coming across a Very
>Important Unpeeled Apple in the course of the adventure and thinking,
>"Oooh ... there might be an apple peeler back in the kitchen!"

Exactly.

Phil Go...@cs.buffalo.edu

Trevor Barrie

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May 2, 1996, 3:00:00 AM5/2/96
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Roger Giner-Sorolla <gi...@xp.psych.nyu.edu> wrote:

>* The Reader/Player. This is you, the real human being sitting at your
>computer playing the game. Your goal is to amass points, finish up, and
>have a good time along the way. You command all the reality-warping
>conveniences of the game program: save, restore, undo. You know when an
>item is important, because it is described as a separate object rather
>than as part of the scenery;

Of course, this may tell you more about the design philosophy of the
authour than the importance of the object.

> I suspect, though, that clever game players will figure their own way
>around these devices, commanding protagonists to search for every likely
>object in a location, and looking for hints to a new puzzle by going back
>and trying to pick up every "forbidden" object they've encountered.

I suspect you're confusing "clever" and "stubborn".:) This is akin to
they "trying random verbs" technique, and like it, if the player
starts doing this the game has already failed.


BTW, I missed part 3. Could you perhaps e-mail it to me?


Jorn Barger

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May 2, 1996, 3:00:00 AM5/2/96
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In article <Pine.SUN.3.91.96042...@xp.psych.nyu.edu>,
Roger Giner-Sorolla <gi...@xp.psych.nyu.edu> wrote:
>* The Game Protagonist. This is you, a nameless cipher of a person who
>just loves picking up objects and toting them around, because you Never
>Can Tell when they'll come in handy. Your goal is to fiddle around with
>all these objects in any way you possibly can, so you can explore your
>environment as thoroughly as possible and amass all the really important
>objects, so you can get to the really important places. Strange urges
>guide you -- whispered warnings from disastrous alternate universes your
>player "undid", oracular impulses to pick up the can opener in the kitchen
>because it's the only thing you really *feel* is important there.
>
>* The Story Protagonist. This is you, Jane Doe, an unassuming college
>sophomore who has stumbled upon a sinister plot to destroy the world. Or
>maybe you're John Doe, a cigar-chomping private investigator with
>calloused knuckles and a callous attitude, who has stumbled upon a
>sinister plot to destroy the world. Or maybe you're Jhin-Dho, a
>half-elven sorcerer's apprentice who has ... Anyway, your goal is to stop
>the villains while staying alive, though it's a bit odd that you keep
>picking up stray objects without knowing why, and they always prove to be
>useful later on...

My first reaction was that these two are identical, but after some
further thought I agree there's an interesting distinction to be drawn.

[...]


>"The F.B.I. has said that it believes he was a student of the history of
>science, but on the evidence here he was a social psychology major with a
>minor in sociology, and he shows all the distressing hallmarks of the
>worst of that academic breed." -- Kirkpatrick Sale on the Unabomber, 9/95

I think the Unabom manifesto is a pretty impressive piece of work, and
have hypertexted it at <URL:http://www.mcs.net/~jorn/html/fc/fc.html>

The toplevel abstract:

People need to feel real control over their lives, but instead
technology is enslaving us. We're on the brink of being completely,
irreversibly consumed by it. It can't be fixed, so we simply have to
destroy it before it's too late. Getting this message out to
intelligent people is the highest priority. (And beware the standard
leftist approaches, because they're hopelessly poisoned.)

j

-==---
... i loved you, so i drew these tides of men into my hands... _+m"m+_"+_
lynx http://www.mcs.net/~jorn/ ! Jp Jp qh qh
best-of news:alt.music.category-freak ! O O O O
ftp://ftp.mcs.com/mcsnet.users/jorn/ Yb Yb dY dY
...and wrote my will across the sky in stars. --R.Graves "Y_ "Y5m2Y" "


Thomas Nilsson

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May 2, 1996, 3:00:00 AM5/2/96
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Trevor Barrie wrote:
>
> Roger Giner-Sorolla <gi...@xp.psych.nyu.edu> wrote:
>
<snip>

>
> BTW, I missed part 3. Could you perhaps e-mail it to me?

Or, better still, compile the whole series (after pt. 19, that is ;-)

I am enjoying and learning immensely,


Thomas

--
"Little languages go a long way..."
(ThoNi of ThoNi&GorFo Adventure Factories in 1985)
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Thomas Nilsson Phone Int.: (+46) 13 12 11 67
Stenbrötsgatan 57 Phone Nat.: 013 - 12 11 67
S-582 47 LINKÖPING Email: th...@softlab.se
SWEDEN alan-r...@softlab.se for info
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Christopher E. Forman

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May 2, 1996, 3:00:00 AM5/2/96
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Phil Goetz (go...@cs.buffalo.edu) wrote:
: > These challenges to the fictional integrity of the protagonist's actions

: >may not have an easy answer, and I don't think they should necessarily be
: >answered at the expense of anyone's convenience. In the kitchen, for
: >example, I don't think the answer is to code up a whole lot of useless
: >pots and pans.
:
: I do think that's the answer. Code up more "red herrings" than the
: player can grab.

The problem with this is that those red herrings have to work to some
extent, or they'll reveal themselves as what they are.

In the "pots and pans" example, players are going to try to take the pans,
carry things in them, and, if there's a stove in the game (which would
make another logical choice of a red herring), they will try to cook
things. If the game doesn't allow this, the stove and pans are revealed
as a red herring. If the game _does_ allow this, but the player doesn't
get anything out of, then it's more or less a waste of code and effort.

--
C.E. Forman cef...@rs6000.cmp.ilstu.edu
Read the I-F e-zine XYZZYnews, at ftp.gmd.de:/if-archive/magazines/xyzzynews,
or on the Web at http://www.interport.net/~eileen/design/xyzzynews.html
Vote I-F in 1996! Visit http://www.xs4all.nl/~jojo/pcgames.html for info!

Matthew Amster-Burton

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May 2, 1996, 3:00:00 AM5/2/96
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jo...@MCS.COM (Jorn Barger) wrote:

>I think the Unabom manifesto is a pretty impressive piece of work, and
>have hypertexted it at <URL:http://www.mcs.net/~jorn/html/fc/fc.html>

This is off-topic, I know, but I feel the need to respond. Followups
are set to poster.

What exactly did you find "impressive" about the Unabomber's
manifesto? Was it his hateful ramblings about "leftists" and gays?
His semi-competent use of the English language? Or the fact that,
given an impressive American Luddite tradition to build on, the bomber
instead chose to "roll his own" and restate--poorly--what other,
non-murderous, folk have been saying for years?

The Unabomber's document is no more impressive than his cowardly acts
of violence. Naturally, I'm in total support of your right to display
his ugly words on the Web. Like all hate speech, it should be
prominently displayed so the world can be repelled by its sick nature.
I'd strongly urge you to reconsider your sympathies, however. The
writer of that document is no scholar, but he is clearly three things:
(1) a murderer, (2) a political tyro, and (3) mentally ill.

If you're interested in Luddism, check out Kirkpatrick Sale's book
"Rebels Against the Future"--it covers, in far more coherent terms,
themes similar to the Unabomber's, while retaining a humanist focus.

Matthew

---
Matthew Amster-Burton .sig revision 0, 5/1/96
I speak for myself, not for UW


Jacob Solomon Weinstein

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May 3, 1996, 3:00:00 AM5/3/96
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card...@earthlink.net (Cardinal Teulbachs) writes:


>but it seems to me that the essential problem with second-person
>fiction, and the reason "serious" writers steer clear of it, is that
>it's an entirely presumptuous and impossible stand for an author to
>take with respect to his reader (or, in this instance, player). What
>reader can take seriously for long such admonitions as "You feel sad"
>or "You're totally overjoyed" when he or she doesn't, in fact, feel
>that way at all?

This is a very good point, and I think it's worth considering the old
"show, don't tell" cliche. An artful IF writer can persuade the player
the he feels certain things, instead of merely telling him. At no point
in Christminster, for example, is the player told, "You feel affection
towards Professor Wilderspin"--yet I think most players of the game do
indeed end up feeling it.

-Jacob

Cardinal Teulbachs

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May 4, 1996, 3:00:00 AM5/4/96
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Roger Giner-Sorolla <gi...@xp.psych.nyu.edu> wrote:
>...lotsa good stuff...

but it seems to me that the essential problem with second-person
fiction, and the reason "serious" writers steer clear of it, is that
it's an entirely presumptuous and impossible stand for an author to
take with respect to his reader (or, in this instance, player). What
reader can take seriously for long such admonitions as "You feel sad"
or "You're totally overjoyed" when he or she doesn't, in fact, feel

that way at all? If the suspension of disbelief can be difficult to
maintain in the case of first- and third-person narratives, where the
reader usually has little reason to doubt that there might exist at
some time and in some place just such a character as is being
described, or on the other hand is amazed and intrigued by the thought
of it, it is unmasked as a wholly artificial and contrived sort of
cooperation to the reader who considers just how ridiculous it is for
the author to be telling him or her what's in his or her mind at any
given point in a second-person story. "What does he mean I run away in
terror? That's not at all what I'd do" is just the sort of natural
reaction that must be forcibly suppressed and fought against
constantly if one is to "participate" at all in a second-person
narrative. Hence why I say that the second-person voice is ill-suited
to storytelling and will always remain an inferior and, really,
illegitimate mode for fiction.

But someone will object that there seem to be some second-person
stories--that is to say, games--which don't suffer this defect. For
instance, DOOM, which is in some sense a story told by the game
authors to the player about the player, is an enormously popular and
remarkably absorbing experience. But in DOOM, the player isn't being
told what's going on inside himself; he only has to believe what's
going on outside him, and is free to react to events in whatever way
is natural and appropriate to his person. Some players jump and run
when an Imp sneaks up behind; others whirl and shoot. Some are afraid;
others laugh in the face of death. The player is simply in a
Situation, and is more or less free to handle it in whatever way he
chooses. Not so a narrative, in which certain things must happen and
certain things not. In a narrative the reader/player will at some
point be told what to do (or, rather, he'll be told what has already
been done for him) and this is a cause of that frustration which
destroys the happy illusion that these are real events happening to a
real person--in this case the player himself, who knows better.

--Cardinal T


Roger Giner-Sorolla

unread,
May 4, 1996, 3:00:00 AM5/4/96
to

On Thu, 2 May 1996, Thomas Nilsson wrote:

> Or, better still, compile the whole series (after pt. 19, that is ;-)

Actually, there should be only one more "part" to go, then I'll have to
go back and revise everything in light of the feedback from all you kind
folks!

I'm less inclined to lean on Auerbach's definition of literature as a
striving after "mimesis", having seen in the course of thrashing these
essays out just how structured most fiction is. I've been re-reading
Umberto Eco's literary criticism, and I like his quasi-deconstructionist
approach better -- he sees fiction as a device whereby the author
"produces" the Model Reader (hence my use of that term in the essays)
within the context of conventional rules of fiction. Instead of "Crimes
against Mimesis", maybe the unified essay will be titled "Crimes Against A
Fictionally-Structured Pseudo-Mimesis?"

JUST KIDDING

Anyway, I'll be more active once my dissertation is handed in, sometime
next week.

Vale,

Roger Giner-Sorolla New York University, New York, NY
gi...@xp.psych.nyu.edu Dept. of Psychology (Social/Personality)
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This scholar, rake, Christian, dupe, gamester, and poet.
David Garrick, "Jupiter and Mercury"


Jon Conrad

unread,
May 6, 1996, 3:00:00 AM5/6/96
to

I've been making myself be patient, knowing how things can get out of
order, but Parts 3 and 4 have yet to show up at my location, and I know
it's been over a week for 3 at least. Can some kind soul forward them
to con...@udel.edu? Thanks.

Jon

Jon Conrad

unread,
May 6, 1996, 3:00:00 AM5/6/96
to

Thanks, I've now been sent parts 3 and 4.

Jon

John Wood

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May 7, 1996, 3:00:00 AM5/7/96
to

con...@copland.udel.edu (Jon Conrad) writes:
>
> Thanks, I've now been sent parts 3 and 4.

Well, if this gets to the newsgroup I have news again - with a rather
large backlog of messages to read...

Could some kind soul please send me part 2? I now have 3 and 4, but 2
must have got lost in the shuffle. I've thoroughly enjoyed what I've
read so far, and hopefully I'll be able to join in the discussion on the
final part.

Thanks!

John


Phil Goetz

unread,
May 8, 1996, 3:00:00 AM5/8/96
to

In article <Pine.SUN.3.91.96050...@xp.psych.nyu.edu>,

Roger Giner-Sorolla <gi...@xp.psych.nyu.edu> wrote:
>
> I'm less inclined to lean on Auerbach's definition of literature as a
>striving after "mimesis", having seen in the course of thrashing these
>essays out just how structured most fiction is. I've been re-reading
>Umberto Eco's literary criticism, and I like his quasi-deconstructionist
>approach better -- he sees fiction as a device whereby the author
>"produces" the Model Reader (hence my use of that term in the essays)
>within the context of conventional rules of fiction.

What does that mean? How do I relate that to something that's fun to read?

"Producing" the reader sounds like authorial control to me.
Maybe reader control will give you something that doesn't fit Eco's ideas.

Phil Go...@cs.buffalo.edu

Phil Goetz

unread,
May 8, 1996, 3:00:00 AM5/8/96
to

In article <4mad9t$d...@Venus.mcs.com>, Jorn Barger <jo...@MCS.COM> wrote:
>I think the Unabom manifesto is a pretty impressive piece of work, and
>have hypertexted it at <URL:http://www.mcs.net/~jorn/html/fc/fc.html>

I think the Unabomber is a conceited fool, because he killed people
without understanding what they were doing. Take, for example,
David Gelernter. The bomber tried to kill him because he was a
computer scientist. David Gelernter's research (described in his
book "Mirror Worlds") is to try to find ways to give people more
control over and access to information, to alleviate the alienation
and frustration that the Unabomber felt. But the Unabomber was too
fascinated with his own ideas and his own mental world to see past
the word "computer".

Or take Thomas Mosser, a 50-year-old advertising executive killed
because a company he used to work for had once done some work for
Exxon. Does that make any sense? Wouldn't it make more sense to
target someone who had actually /worked/ on the Exxon account, or
someone who worked for Exxon?

Or Psychology Professor James McConnell of the University of Michigan?
A psychology professor? Huh? Did he give him a C- once or something?

I suspect he mailed bombs because his following quote about "leftists"
really describes himself:

"They are deeply involved emotionally in their attack on truth and
reality. They attack these concepts because of their own psychological
needs. For one thing, their attack is an outlet for hostility, and, to
the extent that it is successful, it satisfies the drive for power."


Phil Go...@cs.buffalo.edu

Steve Budrys

unread,
May 9, 1996, 3:00:00 AM5/9/96
to

In article <4m8ebu$m...@azure.acsu.buffalo.edu>, go...@cs.buffalo.edu (Phil
Goetz) wrote:

> Algis Budrys wrote a famous short story called "Rogue Moon". An alien
> race had left an artifact -- a building of some kind -- on the moon.
> Everyone who entered died. There was a set of rules inside the
> object, but they seemed random to human minds.
> The story's protagonist, through a sort of reincarnation, solved
> the puzzle by going through the artifact again and again, littering
> it with his dead corpses, until he emerged alive out the other end,
> having learnt the rules by dying many times without learning anything
> about why the place worked as it did. Avoid Rogue Moon IF.

Years ago, when I began programming computers, my father and I discussed
creating a game based on Rogue Moon.
I believe we even had an interested publisher. The project never got much
beyond the discussion stage, perhaps in part
because it didn't translate nearly as well as it seemed it should.

--
Steve Budrys
Dynamix Trading

Jorn Barger

unread,
May 10, 1996, 3:00:00 AM5/10/96
to

[followup to alt.fan.unabomber, please-- that won't imply you're a fan.]

Phil Goetz <go...@cs.buffalo.edu> wrote:
>In article <4mad9t$d...@Venus.mcs.com>, Jorn Barger <jo...@MCS.COM> wrote:
>>I think the Unabom manifesto is a pretty impressive piece of work, and
>>have hypertexted it at <URL:http://www.mcs.net/~jorn/html/fc/fc.html>
>
>I think the Unabomber is a conceited fool, because he killed people

>without understanding what they were doing. [...]


Therefore, you reject his writings without knowing what he said?

j

John Wood

unread,
May 10, 1996, 3:00:00 AM5/10/96
to

Thanks, I've now got part 2.

John


Roger Giner-Sorolla

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May 10, 1996, 3:00:00 AM5/10/96
to

On 8 May 1996, Phil Goetz wrote:

> > I've been re-reading
> >Umberto Eco's literary criticism, and I like his quasi-deconstructionist
> >approach better -- he sees fiction as a device whereby the author
> >"produces" the Model Reader (hence my use of that term in the essays)
> >within the context of conventional rules of fiction.
>
> What does that mean? How do I relate that to something that's fun to read?
>
> "Producing" the reader sounds like authorial control to me.
> Maybe reader control will give you something that doesn't fit Eco's ideas.

I think it's just Eco's exaggerated way of saying that the author and
the reader work within a shared context of conventional rules --
fictional structures, genre expectations, and the like. And that the
author can set things up so that the reader applies one set or the other
of expectations to the narrative.

He gives the example of Spielberg's film Raiders of the Lost Ark,

[INDIANA JONES SPOILERS]

which on the surface appears to be a tribute to the old Saturday
cliffhanger serial genre, evoking the appropriate Model "Reader" (viewer?)
who willingly plays along with all the tricks of suspense and suspensions
of disbelief. But Eco cites the scene in the film where an Arab giant
attacks Indy, and the viewer is set up to expect a knock-down fistfight
according to all the traditions of the genre. Instead, Indy just pulls
his pistol and shoots him. To Eco, this scene is key because it
indicates that Spielberg wants to create a very different "Model Reader"
-- a viewer who is aware that all the old conventions of adventure movies
are just conventions, and so can laugh at the sophisticated irony in
Indy killing the giant the "easy way."

(I don't think anyone who's seen 'Schindler's List' will be able to
forget the scene in which this typical Spielberg touch meets the horrors
of Auschwitz.)

Of course, the Model Reader can't be pulled out of nowhere. If someone
isn't aware of the genre conventions, but just unthinkingly enjoys a good
genre movie, they'll probably be puzzled or disappointed at the ironic
touches -- and Eco realizes this. I think the idea of "creating" a
reader, even figuratively, only makes sense when the audience has more
than one possible way of relating to a text or film.

Relating this to IF games, there are countless puzzles, even in 300
point Adventure, that rely on outfoxing the Model Player's expectations
about the game up to that point -- the Ming vase, killing the dragon ...
In effect, creating a smarter "Model Player" who ultimately learns to obey
the two commandments, "Get, open, pull and try everything" and "Assume
nothing."

Norman Ramsey

unread,
May 12, 1996, 3:00:00 AM5/12/96
to

In article <Pine.SUN.3.91.960508...@xp.psych.nyu.edu>,
Roger Giner-Sorolla <gi...@xp.psych.nyu.edu> wrote:
>[INDIANA JONES SPOILERS]


> But Eco cites the scene in the film where an Arab giant
>attacks Indy, and the viewer is set up to expect a knock-down fistfight
>according to all the traditions of the genre. Instead, Indy just pulls
>his pistol and shoots him. To Eco, this scene is key because it
>indicates that Spielberg wants to create a very different "Model Reader"
>-- a viewer who is aware that all the old conventions of adventure movies
>are just conventions, and so can laugh at the sophisticated irony in
>Indy killing the giant the "easy way."

I read in an article about the movie that the original script had a
fistfight in it. But Harrison Ford had a cold the day they were
shooting that scene, so he improvised... and the result was so good
the director left it in.

I hate literary critics who think they know everything about what the
author was doing...

N
--
Norman Ramsey
http://www.cs.purdue.edu/homes/nr

espen....@hf.uib.no

unread,
May 13, 1996, 3:00:00 AM5/13/96
to

In article <4n60bj$f...@labrador.cs.purdue.edu>, n...@cs.purdue.edu (Norman
Ramsey) wrote:

[discussion about Eco's analysis of Indiana Jones deleted]

> I hate literary critics who think they know everything about what the
> author was doing...

And especially when they misapply aesthetic theory from one medium
(literature) on to another (film). A movie is not the work of an author
(or any other kind of single person) but follows different rules of
intentional creation.

A similar problem occurs when "critics" uncritically discuss adventure
games in narratological terms.


_____________________________________________________________________
espen aarseth aar...@uib.no

Paul David Doherty

unread,
May 21, 1996, 3:00:00 AM5/21/96
to

In article <4n60bj$f...@labrador.cs.purdue.edu>,

Norman Ramsey <n...@cs.purdue.edu> wrote:
>In article <Pine.SUN.3.91.960508...@xp.psych.nyu.edu>,
>Roger Giner-Sorolla <gi...@xp.psych.nyu.edu> wrote:
>>[INDIANA JONES SPOILERS]

>> But Eco cites the scene in the film where an Arab giant
>>attacks Indy, and the viewer is set up to expect a knock-down fistfight
>>according to all the traditions of the genre. Instead, Indy just pulls
>>his pistol and shoots him. To Eco, this scene is key because it
>>indicates that Spielberg wants to create a very different "Model Reader"
>>-- a viewer who is aware that all the old conventions of adventure movies
>>are just conventions, and so can laugh at the sophisticated irony in
>>Indy killing the giant the "easy way."
>
>I read in an article about the movie that the original script had a
>fistfight in it. But Harrison Ford had a cold the day they were
>shooting that scene, so he improvised... and the result was so good
>the director left it in.
>
>I hate literary critics who think they know everything about what the
>author was doing...

Most modern literary critics don't care about the author at all. The
work is all that counts. If 1000 monkeys type for 1000 years and
something as good as 'Hamlet' is the result, so shall it be. The
'intentions' of the author are unimportant.

-- Dave


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