Comics, IF, and Defensiveness

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Jun 27, 2007, 9:29:27 AM6/27/07
I've been reading an article in Salon about comics culture (http://
It's effectively a rant about the behaviour of comics fans: insular,
snobbish, and so forth. But it makes some really interesting comments
both about the defensiveness of comics culture--its continuing need to
justify itself even in a literary world that now gives prominent
prizes to comics--and the use of that strange term "graphic novel".

It struck me that there are some parallels with IF--it too is a
"marginalised" medium that raises eyebrows (when I say I'm writing an
"interactive fiction--you know a text adventure--you know, pick up
axe, throw axe at dwarf, kill dragon!", people just stare), it too
tries hard to break into popular recognition with genre-defying works
and friendly accessibility, and it too has its own choice class split
through the use of "interactive fiction" instead of "text adventure".

IF's smaller than comics, of course, and, so far, has more reason to
be defensive due to its lack of recognition. But might it already be
exhibiting signs of an over-defensive culture? Could a different
approach be taken to expanding its boundaries than creating a chasm
between fictioneers and adventurers?


Jeff Nyman

Jun 27, 2007, 9:55:45 AM6/27/07
On Jun 27, 8:29 am, Lodestone <> wrote:

> IF's smaller than comics, of course, and, so far, has more reason to
> be defensive due to its lack of recognition. But might it already be
> exhibiting signs of an over-defensive culture? Could a different
> approach be taken to expanding its boundaries than creating a chasm
> between fictioneers and adventurers?

My personal feeling is that I've seen some examples of this over-
defensive culture, particularly when you question how things have been
done in the past. But, then again, I see that same defensiveness in a
lot of area. You mention comics, of course, and another, I would
argue, is often the testing discipline within quality assurance. (It's
a group that, collectivelly, often feels marginalized even when that's
not necessarily the case.) Such defensiveness *can* be good.
Sometimes, however, it serves to prop up an underdeveloped

Regarding your "different approach" and "expanding boundaries," that's
something I've been looking at quite a bit. My current focus is that
text-based IF has appealed mainly to just one type of audience, rather
than attempting to structure itself to reach out to related audiences
that might find some interest. Note here that I'm not personalizing
this to any one person or even group. I'm generalizing with all the
caveats that this entails.

I do think a chasm of sorts has been created because text-based IF
tried to keep "competing" (for lack of a better word) solely in the
game realm without (from what I can tell) an emphasis on getting its
practitioners to think about competing more in the fiction world. My
feeling is that text-based IF sort of just painted itself into the
"nostalgia gaming" corner, more by default than fiat.

- Jeff

David Doty

Jun 27, 2007, 11:40:43 AM6/27/07
I don't think it's as much of an issue, in part because of public
perception. If the general public is aware of IF at all, I think they're
probably just bored with a lack of graphics, rather than having the
perception of comics that they're just kid's stuff. It's a perception that
continues about comics. Certain types of cheesy movies are still referred
to as "comic-book" movies even if they're not based on comics, but the
better comic-based stuff probably isn't even known to be a comic by most
viewers. I doubt the average viewer even knows 300 or Road to Perdition
were based on comics, for example.

IF has to overcome apathy, rather than an actively perjorative public
perception. Even though it's lessened, I think many of us still remember
quite strongly the smug dismissiveness of various people when they
discovered we were comics fans. I would imagine that at most, people wish
IF fans would just stop talking about their boring hobby.

Also, the comics community is MUCH, MUCH more negative and venomous than
the IF community. Virtually every major comics released these days is
released to a torrent of hatred and personal attacks on the creators.
While IF has its share of negative nabobs, and while no work can please
everyone, and some releases please no one, on the whole the IF community
spends much less time sharpening its knives and looking for the downside in
every new development, so I'd say the IF community is much healthier and
more balanced.



Jun 28, 2007, 2:42:41 AM6/28/07

I dunno about culture or expanding boundaries. I just hang out here
on an irregular basis. I wonder if this is going to turn into a long
pointless discussion on the IF community which has no meaning, because
we're not really a cohesive bunch and you can't really make any
defining statements about us as a group, because we're all pretty

I only know one person in "real life" who has ever heard of xyzzy, and
that's the guy who introduced me to IF. Even he doesn't show that
much interest in IF any more. I tried to get a couple of friends into
it, but they generally weren't buying it (so to speak ...) I've seen
examples of text games in surprising places, such as being used to
promote a movie, but I think overall they're not catching on. Too

Every toy and game I've ever seen requires people to think or react in
new ways: for example, adapting to a new rule system or creating a new
strategy. But for a toy to work, it's a race between the learning
curve and the novelty or fun-factor of the item. A toy or game with a
steep learning curve will not work because people will get bored and
quit playing with it before they experience its full capabilities ...
but if the toy is interesting and stimulating enough, it'll take
longer for users to get bored and thus they'll have a better chance of
sticking around and playing more to learn what the toy can do. If the
toy is not novel/fun at all, then no matter how easy it is to learn to
use, people will not play with it.

Speaking of comics ... I think of a Garfield comic strip I saw
once ... Jon presents Garfield the cat with a ball of yarn to play
with, and Garfield's response is, "How do you turn it on?"

IF is not only somewhat difficult to learn, it is also very much
lacking in glitz. Which is part of its charm for fans, but it does
make it hard for newcomers to appreciate. The rules of IF are no
harder to understand than, say, the magic system of any RPG, but
people give it a shorter chance because it doesn't *look* like much
fun at first. That's my opinion, anyway.

Clearly, different people have different requirements for fun/novelty
and for learning curve. Some people find chess exciting and some
people find it too hard or boring. Some people enjoy a colorful peg/
socket toddler toy and some people prefer Rubik's cubes.

The comic-book community is very different in that it's far easier to
get into, much bigger, much more lucrative, more varied (thousands of
IF games vs. millions of comic books, action figures, lunchboxes) ...
those are the differences I see. Also, the IF community likely has a
higher percentage of white-collar professionals, especially those in
computer-based jobs, than the comic-book world does. (A lot of comic-
book lovers are kids or teenagers, too, and I'm guessing most IF
hobbyists are a lot older than that.) But since there are gazillions
of comic-book lovers and only a small number of IF fans, I think it is
apples and oranges.

Andrew Owen

Jun 28, 2007, 2:28:39 PM6/28/07
As a writer I'm drawn to IF because of the unique challenges it
presents. To make life harder for myself I'm writing a romance, which
is not a genre I would normally choose to write in. I hope that the
result of my efforts will reach out beyond the current audience for IF
without excluding it either.

I feel strongly that computer games in general cater for a narrow
audience, and IF has great untapped potential. However, MMORPGs also
have appeal beyond the normal audience for computer games and it's
difficult to tell if IF will be able to compete with their challenge.
Right now MMORPGs are not delivering compelling stories though so, in
my view, IF still has the upper hand.

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