In fact, IF is such a quickly developing form that it would be
difficult (or at least it would take a considerable while) to produce
a really adequate description of modern IF.
The very basics of the "ancient" form remain: imperative command
parser; turn-based player input; locations and manipulable objects;
text-centricity -- and such a short list as this is near-complete! Yet
with exciting frequency, much of what once seemed not only standard
but formally inevitable has been successfully challenged. There is a
strong spirit against submission to formal constraints -- and what
else would one expect from writers who have in the first place adopted
such a marginal and progressive literary field as IF!
I would like to suggest, however, that the less formally progressive
IF can nevertheless be the best. For example, I would single out a
very recent work, Mike Roberts' "Return to Ditch Day" as an example of
formally conservative, indeed (neo-)classical style IF, which
nevertheless ranks among the best works of interactive fiction to
I'd like to clarify very quickly what I mean by (neo-)classical IF,
without going over with too fine a comb what everyone already knows:
we're talking about a win-seeking puzzle-solving protagonist, where
all the elements of the game satisfy very closely the expectations of
people familiar with IF. (If this is too brief or unfair, elaborations
will come in followup.)
Great works of Neo-Classical IF are a reminder that we need not
challenge the conventional form(s) of IF in order to write great
Indeed, though a few first-prizes have been awarded to progressive,
and indeed at times avant-garde works, the annual IF Competition sees
a majority of neo-classical entries, almost all of which are engaging.
And great worlds of modernist IF are the reminder to everyone what the
conventions of the form *are*. :)
(I meant to type "great works..." but I like the typo!)
"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the borogoves..."
* Make your vote count. Get your vote counted.
> > Great works of Neo-Classical IF are a reminder that we need not
> > challenge the conventional form(s) of IF in order to write great
> > works.
> And great worlds [or works] of modernist IF are the reminder to everyone what
> the conventions of the form *are*. :)
I think you're saying that the conventions of the form are informed by
the writers' development (and perhaps sometimes their transgression)
of the bounds of the received form. And indeed this is how aesthetic
forms develop in general.
I'm pointing out that a brilliant success in modernist IF can be a
reaffirmation of the convention, rather than a development thereof.
I am also pointing out that despite the admirable genre-breaking and
genre-stretching that's gone on in recent years, there's still an
easily identifiable "conservative" -- or perhaps better,
"neo-classical" -- form, which focuses on certain basics such as I
very briefly enumerated. (Indeed, a thoroughgoing Aristotelian anatomy
of the "conventional form" of IF would be worthwhile.)
That said, I would agree that the conventions of the form are indeed
informed by (and even sometimes developed by) contemporary work, but
of course avant-garde works don't determine the convention; rather the
other way round: the convention determines what's avant garde.
I do not mean, however, to say simply that such recent masterpieces of
conventional IF as "Return to Ditch Day" are a pleasant return to
I didn't get into this initially, but I chose the term "neo-classical"
quite intentionally, for the term implies, as always has, that a
return to the classical form is insufficient, and ultimately leads to
stagnation, at least insofar as we're talking about art in addition to
games and entertainment.
Indeed, a concept of "neo-classical" IF demands a development of some
kind. Indeed things will develop, as Andrew Plotkin describes.
> I think variety is the life blood of not only IF, but of any art
No, certainly that is true. But it is not only variety: you can have
dumb/bad variety or good/intelligent variety.
Generally, the quality of the variety can be judged by carefully
examining what the game/art-work is varying from, and how. One might
say rather more simply that intentional variety (is the writer
intentionally varying from this or that norm) is good.
But then if the game is too "far out," it becomes problematic also,
despite the writer's intention to be "far out"; then, again, if the
writer is attempting to write something "difficult to play," is that
nevertheless a good work? Is "good variety" limited in some ways by
This harkens back to the implicit argument of Duchamp's toilet; by
this point, the argument has gone beyond an assertion to the absolute
value of variety.
I once had a girl-friend who used the phrase "it's not you; it's me" when
she broke up with me. Seeing that she is a writer, I cautioned her (perhaps
it was stupid, but I did) on the use of cliche. Her response has stuck with
"The reason things become cliches is because they are true."
Sometimes "true" does not apply to the context, but usually one of "true",
"comfortable" or "apt" do. There are cliches like "it's not you; it's me"
which are true.
But I'm thinking about comfort and aptness. The conventions are useful
because we are comfortable with them, and because they are apt uses of
our medium. But sometimes we need to be shaken from our comfort, and
that is where avant-garde comes in.
We need both pioneers and traditionalists. Ideally, each author has some
combination of the two.
The problem with cliches are not that they aren't true. Indeed, the
reason they became cliches are because they are true. The problem with
cliches is that they are a lazy way of thinking. It is the use of
somebody else's words of ideas instead of using your own. Your writer
friend's excuse is very weak, especially for a writer. It may be true,
but is not intelligent. Think about good prose writing, it isn't
satisfied with the way something has been described before. I think
this always applies to IF.
Sorry to hitting you over the head with this. I write for a newspaper
though, and I get lectures on this all the time from my editor (or
did, until I started listening to him). The temptation to use a
"newspaper" expression to convey a concept instead of inventing your
own is very tempting (especially when you have to write a lot in a
short period of time).
What I find a little disturbing is that that phrase, as well, has become a
And it's true, too.