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Interactive Fiction as Literature

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J A Stephen Viggiano

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Mar 26, 1993, 11:29:06 AM3/26/93
to
I was interested in a discussion on Interactive Fiction as literature. Look
at all the elements of literature in some of the games: there's a lore
surrounding certain things, even the games themselves (but that's beside the
point for now); places and events in real life are often used, kind of like
Michener does; there are themes, characters, places, etc., etc., etc.

I am cross-posting this to both rec.games.int-fiction and rec.arts.int-fiction;
please pardon me if this is not appropriate, and please set the followup as
you feel appropriate.

Anyone interested?

John

Mark Woodward

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Mar 27, 1993, 6:37:21 AM3/27/93
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In article <1993Mar26.1...@ultb.isc.rit.edu> js...@rc.rit.edu (J A Stephen Viggiano) writes:
>I was interested in a discussion on Interactive Fiction as literature. Look
>at all the elements of literature in some of the games: there's a lore
>surrounding certain things, even the games themselves (but that's beside the

John, I am interested, but perhaps unable. What I know about IF, I have
learned right here on rec.. It was my first exposure, and I was
immediately drawn to it, but I have no affinity for the 'game' part of things.

I have planned out a training game, but as yet been negligent about
implementation. My first impression was that as a medium it had real
promise, but it seems hard to break the 'game' mode.

Let me know what you think,
Mark Woodward


Christopher Schweda

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Mar 27, 1993, 11:50:21 AM3/27/93
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At first, this was my impression, too.
But I read Robert Graves's White Goddess and changed my mind.

I was drawn to IF several years ago
after reading Joseph Campbell's _Hero With A Thousand Faces_; I realized
quite quickly that Infocom's fantasy/sorcery games possess many of the same
mythological elememts of which Campbell frequently wrote about -- the idea
of the lone hero beginning a quest, deciding whether or not to continue
the quest, receiving help, etc. etc. In other words, I think IF -- if it's
well-written and well-implemeted (Infocom's early games, the Unnkuulian
Series, etc.) are quite literate and, IMHO, a definite subset of any
so-called "literary" genre.

My only gripe with IF is that -- on occasion -- it chooses "cutesy" humour
over good writing. But I wonder, in fact, if the humour -- I'm thinking
here of the cleverness of the Unnkuulian World -- I wonder if the humour
is actually necessary. I mean, would a literate IF game be almost
unplayable if its aim were more highbrow and more (strictly speaking)
"literate?"

I realize humor is a necessary part of any mythological world -- and I'm
not advocating an absolute abolishment of humor. But I wonder if the
"game" aspect that turns off certain readers may actually be another
way of griping about the occasional over-abundance of cleverness. BTW,
this is in no way to denigrate what ADVENTIONS has done with the
Unnkuulian Series. I've played I,II, 1/2 and loved each one of them.
I'm merely wondering about certain aspects of the games -- both Unnkuulian
and the original Zork Trilogy -- that have, at times, taken me out of their
otherwise flawless (IMHO) fictional fantasy worlds.

Any other opinions?


Chris Schweda
--

Jorn Barger

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Mar 28, 1993, 1:14:13 AM3/28/93
to
Chris Schweda writes:
>[Mark Woodward writes:]
>> [...] My first impression was that as a medium it had real

>>promise, but it seems hard to break the 'game' mode.
>
>At first, this was my impression, too.
>But I read Robert Graves's White Goddess and changed my mind.

Hmmmm... a videogame about a culture centered around poetic values, co-opted
by violent patriarchy? (Tell me more! ;^)

>I was drawn to IF several years ago
>after reading Joseph Campbell's _Hero With A Thousand Faces_; I realized
>quite quickly that Infocom's fantasy/sorcery games possess many of the same
>mythological elememts of which Campbell frequently wrote about -- the idea
>of the lone hero beginning a quest, deciding whether or not to continue

>the quest, receiving help, etc. etc. [...] would a literate IF game be almost


>unplayable if its aim were more highbrow and more (strictly speaking)
>"literate?"

So long as the puzzles are all 'materialistic' (arrange physical items in
a certain way), the mythology will necessarily be painted on... But if
you can add enough psychological simulation that *solving the puzzles*
demands 'simulated virtue'... then I think you begin to tap deeper emotional
responses.

Courage, humility, honesty, self-restraint, justice, charity, optimism...

Some role-playing games give points for virtuous acts, don't they?

jo...@chinet.chi.il.us

Christopher Schweda

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Mar 28, 1993, 8:26:29 AM3/28/93
to

But, John, this seems to be the catch: the idea of "points" for a "game."
This is exactly, I think, what the previous poster was griping about when
he said that IF seemed to smack a little too strongly of the "game" aspect.
I guess the question is: how to create an authentic world, create a
"simulated virtue," yet steer clear of a strictly clever, point-oriented
quest. Obviously, this seems less like an IF adventure than it does a
more normal, literate epic.

I mean, as Telemachas began his quest for his father, he wasn't in search
of "points." So I wonder if the goal in IF was less point-oriented and more
virtue oriented -- would this seem more "literary?"

In every IF game I've played, the issue of whether or not the quest has
succeeded is always based upon points. "Where's the last two points I
need to finished this adventure?" "Did you stick the torch in the trophy
case?" "Oh yeah. Okay. Now I'm finished." This is fun, sure -- but where's
the virtue (real or simulated) here?


Chris Schweda
--


>jo...@chinet.chi.il.us

Chris D. Nebel

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Mar 28, 1993, 9:57:51 AM3/28/93
to
>In every IF game I've played, the issue of whether or not the quest has
>succeeded is always based upon points. "Where's the last two points I
>need to finished this adventure?" "Did you stick the torch in the trophy
>case?" "Oh yeah. Okay. Now I'm finished." This is fun, sure -- but where's
>the virtue (real or simulated) here?

Having points in an IF game doesn't imply a lack of literariness. It sounds
like you're referring to pure "treasure hunt" games a la Zork I or the original
Adventure, which, as you say, are fun to play but lack "virtue" -- you get
points for putting stuff in the trophy case: haven't got all the points? There
must be something left to grab! In the extreme cases, there's no plot at all,
and you're just playing to get the maximum number of points.

In more plot-oriented games, however, the score is more a way of telling (a)
that you're making progress and (b) how much further you've got to go. In a
fully "literary" game, the "score" would be more a courtesy to the player
than anything else -- something like page numbers in a book. ("Ah, I've got
half the points left to go! Must be some more plot twists ahead!") So, no,
you don't _need_ to have a score, but having one doesn't automatically make
your adventure a soulless piece of drivel.

(BTW, does anyone archive this group? There was a huge thread on the "score/
no score/alternate scoring" topic that touched on a lot of the same points as
this thread a couple of months back, as I recall. Could be food for folks'
thoughts.)


Chris Nebel

Jorn Barger

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Mar 28, 1993, 5:17:03 PM3/28/93
to
I wrote:
> >So long as the puzzles are all 'materialistic' (arrange physical items in
> >a certain way), the mythology will necessarily be painted on... But if
> >you can add enough psychological simulation that *solving the puzzles*
> >demands 'simulated virtue'... then I think you begin to tap deeper
> >emotional responses.
> >Courage, humility, honesty, self-restraint, justice, charity, optimism...
> >Some role-playing games give points for virtuous acts, don't they?

Chris Schweda replies:


> I guess the question is: how to create an authentic world, create a
> "simulated virtue," yet steer clear of a strictly clever, point-oriented
> quest. Obviously, this seems less like an IF adventure than it does a
> more normal, literate epic.

> I mean, as Telemachus began his quest for his father, he wasn't in search


> of "points." So I wonder if the goal in IF was less point-oriented and more
> virtue oriented -- would this seem more "literary?"
> In every IF game I've played, the issue of whether or not the quest has
> succeeded is always based upon points. "Where's the last two points I
> need to finished this adventure?" "Did you stick the torch in the trophy
> case?" "Oh yeah. Okay. Now I'm finished." This is fun, sure -- but where's
> the virtue (real or simulated) here?

I'm not very conversant with the traditions of adventure-gaming or RPGs, so
I'm seriously interested to know what's been done here, beyond 'inventory-
puzzles'. I've heard of people "meditating" or doing kind acts to gain
'virtue-points', and I remember someone saying they knew a game where stealing
from shopkeepers secretly reduced your karmic luck levels.

So some of this can be modelled *extremely* easily, and the challenge is to
take it farther and farther.

Humility? You'll have to have the *ability* to brag, first. Jerks who lie
about their occupation, say, is a simple example.

Justice, in a romance setting? Not stealing the good guy from his current
flame? Not seducing a woman you don't intend to marry?

"It is improper to love a woman whom one would be ashamed to desire in
marriage."
12th C. Code of Love

Feeling compassion for jerks' feelings?

"...in a moment she would have to humiliate a man she was fond of. And
humiliate him cruelly..."
Tolstoy [AK 62]

under her heel
the crunch of breaking glass


I had asked, but didn't hear back about:


> >Hmmmm... a videogame about a culture centered around poetic values,
> >co-opted by violent patriarchy? (Tell me more! ;^)
>

(What did Graves suggest to you? I really am interested :^)

Chris D. Nebel:


> (BTW, does anyone archive this group?

FAQ:
If you can't find what you want on a local archive, try ftp.gmd.de in Bonn,
Germany. Under /if-archive you can find IF languages, completed games, and
archives of discussions on rec.arts.int-fiction and rec.games.int-fiction.
They accept contributions in /tmp/if-uploads; if you do, notify bla...@gmd.de
explaining what it is and what it runs on.

The ftp.gmd.de if-archive has recently become mirrored in the US, at
wuarchive.wustl.edu, in /doc/misc/if-archive.

David Baggett

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Mar 28, 1993, 11:41:43 PM3/28/93
to
In article <schweda....@vincent1.iastate.edu> sch...@iastate.edu (Christopher Schweda) writes:
>My only gripe with IF is that -- on occasion -- it chooses "cutesy" humour
>over good writing. But I wonder, in fact, if the humour -- I'm thinking
>here of the cleverness of the Unnkuulian World -- I wonder if the humour
>is actually necessary.

The somewhat brutal answer is, I think, "ya gotta sell copies." Even
considering shareware alone (i.e., ignoring commercial ventures for the
moment), two goals -- making a popular game, and making a literarily
"interesting" game -- tend to be at odds with each other.

On the one hand, I would hope to do something exciting -- something
revolutionary; an achievement that will be thought of as visionary and
seminal to the genre. On the other hand, I also want people to *like*
the blasted thing enough to register it, buy it, talk about it, and
otherwise give it the kind of attention that identifies a product as
successful. You probably won't go on writing novel-length works with
no positive feedback, after all.

And the fact is that the IF world (including graphic-based shops like
Sierra and Lucasfilms) have almost unanimously come to the conclusion
that "heavy" doesn't do nearly as well as goofy, sexy, and (sometimes)
gory -- the 90's trend of taking what is essentially 1980's text-based
IF and slapping on pretty pictures is evidence enough of that.

Consider Steve Meretsky. Here's a guy who's written some of the best
interactive fiction ever -- prose we (readers of this group) cut our
80's IF teeth on. Meretsky, of Floyd fame, now shamelessly cranks out
game after game following a (to me) now-tedious formula: lots of
overendowed swimsuit-clad "women," bathroom humor, and general
adolescent goofiness. We have come from "the Death of Floyd" to "the
Island of Horny Women" and it hasn't exactly been Mr. Toad's Wild Ride,
if you ask me.

Enough lamentation. We (ADVENTIONS, that is) wouldn't be expending the
kind of energy we have been on text-based games unless there was
potential for real innovation in the genre and unless we thought we
could make a difference there. (Financially speaking, we should
probably set to work on the "ADVENTIONS Intimate Moments" line,
complete with GRASP animations and digitzed sound effects.)

The point is that despite wanting to create the Great American
Interactive Novel, you still have to write some things that are
interesting and fun to those with less high-brow interests. I mean,
John and Mary Gameplayer chosing any game with a nontrivial plot is
already unlikely in today's game market. You need to have plenty of
"lite" titles for every 3000-calorie rich-enough-to-make-ya-hurl
slice of "literary" IF.

The point is that many people who like IF seem to like things that are
wacky and (this is perhaps unrelated) hero-oriented. Eric the Unready
is, in a sense, the epitome of this, and from what I hear it's doing
quite well. (Shouldn't have ripped off Monty Python and put it on the
back of the box, though, in my opinion. Looks pretty sad.)

Keep in mind, too, that Unnkulians 1 and 2 are two years old now. They
were somewhat experimental for us, and were never really intended to be
"Trinities." When we wrote those, there was no TADS 2, and we were in
general writing with less than ideal tools -- slow (8 Mhz) machines
with limited memory and a tc with a parser that tended to go into
infinite loops when it hit certain tokens at certain (incomprenesible)
times.

Similarly, One-Half is meant to be easy, fun, and pretty short. I
think the vast amount of work that Leary's put into Zero shows, though,
in its size, complexity, and (as usual) cleverness. Certainly "The
Horror of Rylvania" (now ready for beta-testing) will shatter any
theories that he's only capable of writing silly stuff. But we'll have
to see how Horror does relative to the Unnkulians' success to know what
the IF public really likes best!

Finally, it takes a lot longer to write a good-sized game that's a
literary masterpiece than it does to crank out a silly little romp.
_The Legend Lives!_ has taken me over a year already, and the going is
very slow. There is a lot of pressure, especially in the current
market, to just get something good out there.

And, as my father always told me, "best is good's worst enemy."

Dave Baggett
__
d...@ai.mit.edu Natural Language Processing MIT AI Lab
ADVENTIONS: We make Kuul text adventures! Ask about Unnkulian 1, 2, 0, 1/2
PO Box 851 Columbia, MD 21044 USA / CIS: 76440,2671 / GEnie: ADVENTIONS

David Baggett

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Mar 28, 1993, 11:47:53 PM3/28/93
to
In article <1993Mar28....@wam.umd.edu> ne...@wam.umd.edu (Chris D. Nebel) writes:
>(BTW, does anyone archive this group? There was a huge thread on the "score/
>no score/alternate scoring" topic that touched on a lot of the same points as
>this thread a couple of months back, as I recall.

Yes, messages are now archived on ftp.gmd.de thanks to the generosity
of the sysadmins there. The discussion about scoring took place before
that mechanism was in place, however. Fortunately, much of that
particular discussion is in if-archive/programming/general-discussion/scoring.
It's well worth a second look, by the way. Lots of good ideas there.

MATTHEW C ROBINSON

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Mar 29, 1993, 10:36:54 AM3/29/93
to

In article <schweda....@vincent1.iastate.edu>, sch...@iastate.edu (Christopher Schweda) writes:
>> In <1993Mar27.1...@mnemosyne.cs.du.edu> mwoo...@nyx.cs.du.edu (Mark Woodward) writes:
>>
>> >In article <1993Mar26.1...@ultb.isc.rit.edu> js...@rc.rit.edu (J A Stephen Viggiano) writes:
>> >>I was interested in a discussion on Interactive Fiction as literature. Look
>> >>at all the elements of literature in some of the games: there's a lore
>> >>surrounding certain things, even the games themselves (but that's beside the
>>
>> >John, I am interested, but perhaps unable. What I know about IF, I have
>> >learned right here on rec.. It was my first exposure, and I was
>> >immediately drawn to it, but I have no affinity for the 'game' part of things.
>>
>> >I have planned out a training game, but as yet been negligent about
>> >implementation. My first impression was that as a medium it had real
>> >promise, but it seems hard to break the 'game' mode.
>>
>> At first, this was my impression, too.
>> But I read Robert Graves's White Goddess and changed my mind.
[deleted]

>> I realize humor is a necessary part of any mythological world -- and I'm
>> not advocating an absolute abolishment of humor. But I wonder if the
>> "game" aspect that turns off certain readers may actually be another
>> way of griping about the occasional over-abundance of cleverness. BTW,
>> this is in no way to denigrate what ADVENTIONS has done with the
>> Unnkuulian Series. I've played I,II, 1/2 and loved each one of them.
>> I'm merely wondering about certain aspects of the games -- both Unnkuulian
>> and the original Zork Trilogy -- that have, at times, taken me out of their
>> otherwise flawless (IMHO) fictional fantasy worlds.
>>
>> Any other opinions?

In designing my current project (tentatively called Golden Brown Era -
hopefully ready by the end of the summer) I wanted to strive for something
a little more literate, and ended up in a horrendously complex situation
(the map currently covers the bulk of a wall). In the end, I decided to
write most of the story first, then inserted the puzzles where I found
them to logically fall.

As much as I have loved the Infocom games, the "collect the treasures"
formula of Zork I wasn't as fun as the others to me. I found I wanted
a more definite goal, such as defeating this beast, or saving the world,
or making a sandwhich - something other than to accumulate the treasures.
Thus (in my own project) I decided not to inform the player directly of
his/her quest (i.e. "You must kill, maim, and plunder etc..."), but it
does become very clear towards the beginning of the game. As well, I
made the penultimate problems almost purely intellectual, such that the
answer only comes from considering the situation rather than just
collecting the right item.

However, I ran into 2 major pitfalls:

1) In trying to be "literate" I occasionally get very "wordy". In wanting
to describe things and enhance the world of the player I ended up having
pages and pages of text scrolling by at any given moment.
2) I also ended up with a virtually linear plot, in which the player had little
choice as to what to do next. (I believe this topic has already been touched
on in this group.)

In the end, I decided to violate the sanctity of this new reality, and
ended up making the player very aware that they were in an adventure game
after all. Sometimes the "cutesy" humour works quite well.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------
Matt Robinson robi...@cs.yorku.ca
Computer Science cs91...@ariel.yorku.ca
York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
--------------------------------------------------------------------------

Tom Almy

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Mar 29, 1993, 11:24:27 AM3/29/93
to
In article <1993Mar28....@wam.umd.edu> ne...@wam.umd.edu (Chris D. Nebel) writes:
>>In every IF game I've played, the issue of whether or not the quest has
>>succeeded is always based upon points. "Where's the last two points I
>>need to finished this adventure?" "Did you stick the torch in the trophy
>>case?" "Oh yeah. Okay. Now I'm finished." This is fun, sure -- but where's
>>the virtue (real or simulated) here?

>In more plot-oriented games, however, the score is more a way of telling (a)


>that you're making progress and (b) how much further you've got to go. In a
>fully "literary" game, the "score" would be more a courtesy to the player
>than anything else -- something like page numbers in a book. ("Ah, I've got
>half the points left to go! Must be some more plot twists ahead!") So, no,
>you don't _need_ to have a score, but having one doesn't automatically make
>your adventure a soulless piece of drivel.

Well in "real life", you don't get to see the "score". In your life, how do
you know you are making progress? How much further do *you* have to go?

I believe IF is more exciting if you don't know the score. I think that a
book would be more exciting if you didn't know how many pages were left.
If things are exciting in the book and you see there are only 20 pages left
then you know things will be wound up real soon. If there are 1000, then
the adventure has just begun!

I wrote an IF story several years ago that, while it had puzzles to solve
and objects to find, had no score. You gained knowledge as you progressed.
(Is knowledge a virtue? I think so!) You could quit the game and start it
later, not having to go through things you had done before. I think that
is far more realistic.

In fact, I'll see about sending the game to an archive site. No reason
not to distribute it.

Tom

--
Tom Almy
tom....@tek.com
Standard Disclaimers Apply

Tom Almy

unread,
Mar 29, 1993, 11:30:49 AM3/29/93
to

>The somewhat brutal answer is, I think, "ya gotta sell copies." Even
>considering shareware alone (i.e., ignoring commercial ventures for the
>moment), two goals -- making a popular game, and making a literarily
>"interesting" game -- tend to be at odds with each other.

No different than in books -- the titles that sell are rarely works of
genius. Great authors tend to die in poverty, it's the hacks that get
rich.

Habia Khet

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