The Use of Second-Person

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Jeff Nyman

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Jun 13, 2007, 9:11:11 AM6/13/07
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In the thread called "Explaining Inform 7" and on Emily's blog, an
issue I keep bringing up, somewhat peripherally, is the idea of second-
person narration which, to me, is one of the odder aspects of text-
based interactive fiction.

I'd like to go over why I say that and I'd like to solicit any and all
opinions if people have time.

= = = = =

The idea of interaction+story is what Emily and I had been chatting
about. Now, to me, the level of interaction allowed by an author, in
one sense, means that the author has to create a protagonist that the
reader/player can identify with and see as distinct.

Logic creates believable motivation. Understandable motivation creates
symphathetic emotion. Bam. You have a protagonist that a player/reader
can care about. Understanding a character is how we identify with
them; not by being told we *are* them, but by showing us how they have
some similar feelings to ourselves and how they show those feelings by
what they do or how they react.

However, when you say that the reader *is* the protagonist (second-
person), you can't really do that. In fact, to me second-person is
more mimesis-breaking than first- or third-person because I'm
constantly reminded that "you" (meaning "I") feel a certain way or see
a certain thing or won't do a certain thing. Well, maybe that's not
true. Maybe that protagonist is nothing like me. Yeah, actually, *I*
would do that, but clearly my *protagonist* won't. Okay, so I'm in
dialogue with my protagonist. *That* to me is the key point of the
interaction that text-based IF allows.

Instead of just vicariously stepping into the shoes of a protagonist
and reading about their adventures, you get to more actively
participate in helping them through those adventures. However, as in
all good stories, conflict arises: the protagonist may have some
tension with what you want to do. After all, they're not you. You're
not them. So you can't expect everything to go just as you say. You
have to explore the world with your protagonist; find not only the
boundaries of your world, but the boundaries of your protagonist and
what they can do, what they can't do, and what you might have to coax
them to do (against their better wishes).

(It's sort of like "The Sixth Sense" for me. Cole knew what the
situation with Malcolm was. Malcolm couldn't see it. Cole knew he had
to direct Malcolm to the truth but he had to do so in a way that was
consonant with how Malcolm thought and behaved, otherwise Malcolm
would just never get there. Likewise, Malcolm had to do something
similar for Cole. They were both each other's protagonist in a story
that was being told and both, ultimately, had the same end goal. It's
a masterful bit of storytelling, if you ask me.)

My belief is that the use of second-person has held up the development
of works of text-based IF because of a failure to recognize that the
"player-character" is just another character. To that end, character
development doesn't get considered because, after all, you can't
change the real player; they can't necessarily evolve in their
thinking (or, at least, you as an author have no way of knowing if
they did so). But you *can* evolve the protagonist, and take the
player along for the ride as they come to interact with the
protagonist and learn how to get the protagonist to do what *the
player wants* and what the *protagonist needs to do* in order to get
through the adventure, to reach the final goal. Likewise, the
protagonist can help the player along by telling them what does and
doesn't work; what will and will not be attempted; etc.

*That* sort of dialogue, to me, increases tension. Further, *that*
sort of dual relationship is where text-based IF can be powerful
medium for telling stories because you take the inherent interaction
of a reader of a story and you ramp it up by allowing the reader to
more thoroughly participate in the actions and reactions of the
protagonist.

= = = = =

So, with that bit out of the way, I'd like to solicit opinions and
thoughts.

(1) Do you feel second-person is more effective than first- or third-
in text-based IF?

(2) If the answer to (1) above was "yes", why is that?

(3) Do you feel that first- or third- person is *not* effective in
text-based IF?

(4) If the answer to (3) above was "yes", why is that?

What I'm really trying to find out is what interaction possibilities
people feel second-person affords that other viewpoints do not. (Or,
perhaps, what interaction possibilities do people feel that first- and
third- person remove, making second-person the more viable choice.)

- Jeff

alex....@gmail.com

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Jun 13, 2007, 9:49:02 AM6/13/07
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I've played third-person IF. Frankly, it felt more distancing to me,
as if the main character was just a puppet on a string instead of a
role that I'm playing. It made it much more difficult for me to
connect with the in-game avatar. I don't mind a game telling me what
the PC thinks and feels, because the character isn't me, it's a role
that I'm playing.

Jeff Nyman

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Jun 13, 2007, 10:10:58 AM6/13/07
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Thanks for responding.

On Jun 13, 8:49 am, alex.be...@gmail.com wrote:
> I've played third-person IF. Frankly, it felt more distancing to me,

Okay. Now, do you feel this was because of the way the story was told
or do you feel this was an inherent aspect of the third-person
narration? (In other words, I'm trying to determine if you just hit a
poorly written game that would have been poor regardless of narration
or if this is something you've noticed in multiple third-person IF
games that you've played.)

> It made it much more difficult for me to
> connect with the in-game avatar.

What kind of connection did you feel was lacking? For example, compare
it to a second-person text-based IF game you played. What connection
did you feel you *were* getting with the second-person that you
weren't with the third-person? Do you think something could have been
done to enable that connection with third-person?

> I don't mind a game telling me what
> the PC thinks and feels, because the character isn't me, it's a role
> that I'm playing.

So, in these third-person games you played, was the game not telling
you what the player-character thought and felt? Could that have been
why it was distancing, rather than the fact that it was third-person
narration?

Your comment, however, is interesting to me and it may be the area
that I'm having my own conceptual trouble with. I don't mind when a
game tells me what a player-character is feeling; I don't like it when
a game tells me what *I'm* feeling. The game doesn't know. Neither
does the author. And when the author assumes they do know, for me the
mood is shattered. (I want to be *shown* why I should be scared on
behalf of the protagonist; not told that I am scared.) That's where
the conflation of the player-character and the player to me somehow
rings hollow. To me, that's more distancing because it calls out the
distance every time.

So that's interesting: we both come to one conclusion (distancing) but
for different reasons based on the point-of-view of the narration.

- Jeff

Jim Aikin

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Jun 13, 2007, 11:57:18 AM6/13/07
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There may be no ideal answer to this dilemma. Personally, I feel 2nd
person is the best of the less-than-perfect options. If you go to either
1st or 3rd person, the effect is that the player is sitting outside the
game world and directing a puppet. This inhibits the player's
identification with the character. It creates a sort of mechanical feeling.

2nd person puts the player, at least tenuously, within the game world.

I would respectfully suggest that your problem with games telling you
how you feel is at least partially a personal issue. I don't find this
type of input intrusive at all, because I have no trouble understanding
that the "you" being discussed isn't _me_, it's the character I'm playing.

I may or may not agree with the author that that's how the character
would be feeling at that moment, but that's a very different issue.

--Jim Aikin

travel2light

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Jun 13, 2007, 12:14:23 PM6/13/07
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> that I'm having my own conceptual trouble with. I don't mind when a
> game tells me what a player-character is feeling; I don't like it when
> a game tells me what *I'm* feeling. The game doesn't know. Neither
> does the author.

I agree with this. I don't think a game should be telling the he or
she should feel. But I think it is okay in a second person game if the
game itself reveals how the protagonist is feeling in subtle ways. For
example through the use of the surroundings, or what a npc says to
him, or through a memory etc. In these situations the player can get
an idea about the personality and history of the protagonist without
having to feel the same way. Also, maybe the player can more easily
slip into a feeling of empathy with the character. e.g. "You find
yourself back in your office. How many times have you sat behind that
very desk feeling as if as if life is passing you by?" To me this is
like what you are saying about developing a relationship with the
protagonist. I know the protagonist is not me, but I feel like I have
been put into his shoes. To me this strengthens the feeling of
identification and empathy with the character.

What I find more difficult is when I am told I can't do something
because the character doesn't want to for varies reasons. e.g. ">get
the china cup" and the response is "Mrs. Jenkins would not appreciate
you interfering with her prized china collection!". This can be quite
annoying, because I personally might not care that much about Mrs.
Jenkins possessions (depending on the circumstances of course). But in
these kinds of situations I tend to put it more down to the boundaries
of the game. It does feel like a chastisement -- and I do feel like I
am braver than the protagonist. But I realise I just have to be
patient and use the situation as a way to better understand him.

Michael

Jeff Nyman

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Jun 13, 2007, 1:08:20 PM6/13/07
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Thanks for the response, Jim.

On Jun 13, 10:57 am, Jim Aikin <midigur...@sbcglobal.net> wrote:
> There may be no ideal answer to this dilemma. Personally, I feel 2nd
> person is the best of the less-than-perfect options. If you go to either
> 1st or 3rd person, the effect is that the player is sitting outside the
> game world and directing a puppet.

Okay, I guess I get that. But you always are outside the game world,
directing a puppet. So I don't think that feeling comes about only "if
you go to either 1st or 3rd person." I see your point, I just don't
see how it distinguishes between any point-of-view narration.

> This inhibits the player's
> identification with the character.

But there is no character. (Or is there?) The character is "you": the
player. That's what I don't really get. When people say they can
"identify with the character" what they mean is they can identify
with ... what? Themselves? That's what second-person is asking them to
do.

> 2nd person puts the player, at least tenuously, within the game world.

Okay, and this I can understand. What I can't understand though is why
the feeling is that first- or third-person can't do this as well. It
works for every other media that I can think of (including just about
every other game format beyond text-based IF). So if this viewpoint is
what people feel, and it does seem to be, I'm curious why text-based
IF stands alone. Is it solely because it's a textual game realm?

> I would respectfully suggest that your problem with games telling you
> how you feel is at least partially a personal issue. I don't find this
> type of input intrusive at all, because I have no trouble understanding
> that the "you" being discussed isn't _me_, it's the character I'm playing.

Understood. I'm not trying to suggest that I literally can't separate
myself from the protagonist. I'm more talking about the writing style
as it is presented. I feel the "player character" is really nothing
except 'me' as a surrogate and that then puts all the emphasis on the
puzzles because ... what's really going to develop? The player
character is me and since the author didn't know me, they can't
possibly have tried to utilize emotional or even intellectual
attachment so that I actually care about the situation the player (me)
finds myself in.

So I just go through the motions: pick up everything I can (because it
might be useful), roam around, try a few standard ask/tell/show
commands for any NPC that wanders my way, etc.

You might very well be right: the personal issue may be that I've come
to a point where I appreciate writing (and storytelling) in such a way
that I really can't enjoy text-based IF. And I don't say that in some
sense where I'm right and others are wrong. I just mean it for what it
is: maybe it's just not my cup of tea, as it were.

> I may or may not agree with the author that that's how the character
> would be feeling at that moment, but that's a very different issue.

Right -- and that, to me, is part of the fun of fiction. When you try
to place yourself in the role of the protagonist, you think: "Okay, if
I was in that situation, with their background, what would I do?" Now
in text-based IF that's exactly what you can do! Except that current
text-based IF usually has you as the protagonist and then has to make
up reasons why you won't do something; or it has to simply tell you
how you feel, rather than showing you as a direct result of action/
reaction. Or consider protagonists that have backgrounds that prevent
them from solving their problems easily. That's the whole basis of
fiction writing: creating protagonists that grow into the situation. I
could see this being useful in text-based IF because you, as the
player, have to understand what it is about the protagonist that they
need to do in order to be able to solve this game, while the
protagonist themselves are (possibly) unaware. So your job, as player,
is not just to solve puzzles but to come to some deeper understanding
of how the player character can interact with this world in order to
make his/her way through it.

Everything seems to focus on the NPCs while, to me, one of the most
interesting characters could be the protagonist.

- Jeff

Jeff Nyman

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Jun 13, 2007, 1:37:37 PM6/13/07
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Thanks, I appreciate what you say here as it does get into some
practical examples, perhaps.

On Jun 13, 11:14 am, travel2light <everything2li...@yahoo.co.uk>
wrote:

> she should feel. But I think it is okay in a second person game if the
> game itself reveals how the protagonist is feeling in subtle ways.

Right, and I agree. I'm just not how subtle you can be with second-
person because you're not asking the player to accept that the
protagonist feels this way; you're saying the player feels this way.
Or, at least, you're asking them to accept it, usually without any
understanding of why, except that you are told it.

Now, I know: the player, as a smart human being, knows they are not
*actually* the player character and knows that they don't *actually*
feel that way. I get that.

But, what I'm talking about is how the story is told, which is what
you suggest when you say:

> example through the use of the surroundings, or what a npc says to
> him, or through a memory etc. In these situations the player can get
> an idea about the personality and history of the protagonist without
> having to feel the same way.

Agreed. However, I guess for me when the protagonist is referred to in
the second-person, it's more distancing to me because I'm supposed to
think of the protagonist as a separate person to understand even
though, really, in the game world they are me. They are just an
extension of my actions, rather than as an actual being that I try to
influence with my actions. No real thought is required to get "into
the head" of this protagonist or to understand where they are coming
from.

I don't think that's an inherent problem with second-person
necessarily because I agree that better writing could draw you in,
regardless of the point-of-view. That said, I think the reliance on a
second-person point-of-view tends to make many authors give very
little consideration to the protagonist of the story. Player = Player-
Character rather than Player-Character = Blake (a guy who fears
settling down to anything because he always thinks the next best thing
is over the horizon; this leads him to make impulsive decisions but
also arbitrary ones). With that, now if Blake refuses to do something
in the game world, I can at least understand that it's a result of who
he is and what makes him tick. Can that be done with second-person?
Perhaps. I haven't really seen it but maybe I'm not getting it or not
looking at the right works.

> slip into a feeling of empathy with the character. e.g. "You find
> yourself back in your office. How many times have you sat behind that
> very desk feeling as if as if life is passing you by?" To me this is
> like what you are saying about developing a relationship with the
> protagonist.

Okay, now if I say this:

First person: "I found myself back in my office. I can't tell you how
many times I've sat behind that very desk, feeling as if life was
passing me by. You ever get that? Where you feel you have to run full
speed just to keep up? Well, that's how I felt in that office."

Third person: "Blake found himself back in the office. He often found
himself here, sitting behind this very desk, with the sinking feeling
that life was passing him by. If he sat here too long, he'd literally
have to forced to take any sort of action at all."

For me, I can start getting more into a relationship with the
protagonist in those two cases than with the second-person.

Clearly I'm in the minority, perhaps because of what you say here:

> I know the protagonist is not me, but I feel like I have
> been put into his shoes. To me this strengthens the feeling of
> identification and empathy with the character.

It's interesting because every writer in my class felt the same way I
felt (and, mind, this was without prodding on my part). To wit, they
all felt that they couldn't identify with the character and emphatize
with them mainly because the motivations of the character (the
protagonist) were just conflated with that of the player, who wanted
to solve a game. There was no deeper motivation. There was no
emotional background as to why the protagonist would act one way (or
refuse to act another way). Thus you couldn't invest the character
with meaning (or, at best, it was superficial meaning).

Now, again, I don't think that's inherent in the use of second-person;
but I think the almost sole usage of second-person is what has
constrained authors from thinking of the player-character as a more
well-rounded character, one that might require just as much exploring
as the game world.

> What I find more difficult is when I am told I can't do something
> because the character doesn't want to for varies reasons. e.g. ">get
> the china cup" and the response is "Mrs. Jenkins would not appreciate
> you interfering with her prized china collection!". This can be quite
> annoying, because I personally might not care that much about Mrs.
> Jenkins possessions (depending on the circumstances of course). But in
> these kinds of situations I tend to put it more down to the boundaries
> of the game.

And, for me, I put it down to the boundaries of how the author
*thought* about telling the story. In other words, if I'm thinking of
"boundaries of the game" then the game has exposed its implementation
model to me quite overtly. That, to me, is more mimesis breaking, than
just about anything else, when it involves things like narrative and
story structure (as opposed to things like saving a game and restoring
a game).

For example, let's use what you just said. Say the protagonist is a
guy who really wants to be liked my Mrs. Jenkins but, beyond that,
needs information from her. So:

> GET THE CHINA CUP
I knew if I did that, Mrs. Jenkins wouldn't appreciate it. She valued
her prized china collection more than just about anything. If I was
going to get what I needed, I needed to make sure not to do anything
to upset her. (First person)

or ...

> GET THE CHINA CUP
Blake knew that if he did that, Mrs. Jenkins wouldn't appreciate it.
She valued her prized china collection more than just about anything.
Blake realized that if he was going to get what he needed, he needed
to make sure not to do anything to upset her. (Third person)


I could do that in second-person, of course:

> GET THE CHINA CUP
You know if you do that, Mrs. Jenkins won't appreciate it. She values
her prized china collection more than just about anything. If you're
going to get what you need, you need to make sure not to do anything
to upset her.


I guess, for me, I just feel more connection with the "I" in first-
person (if the story gradually indicates who this person is) or with
"Blake" in third-person. Because in those cases, it doesn't matter
what *I* feel per se. I know what I wanted the character to do, and
they chose not to do it. So now I have to figure out what I know about
this character in order to determine how best to get them to do what I
believe they need to do. I'm working with the protagonist but, in one
sense, I'm also in some cases working against them. That, I think,
adds a bit more complexity to the game.

- Jeff

Valzi

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Jun 13, 2007, 1:37:42 PM6/13/07
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In principle, I agree with the assertion that third person is better
suited to interesting character and even story development than is
second person. However, I have yet to see third person implemented in
IF in any way that does not feel intensely awkward and off-putting,
perhaps simply because the structure of interaction with the game
requires the player to give textual commands to the protagonist.

-Michael

Jeff Nyman

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Jun 13, 2007, 1:44:21 PM6/13/07
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Okay, I can see that. So let's try an example.

(First Person)
> GO NORTH
You've gotta be kidding me? There's no way I'm going in there. Didn't
you just see that thing that ran in there? Maybe there's another way.

(Third Person)
> GO NORTH
Henry paused. He couldn't imagine a worse idea than going in there,
given that thing he just saw run in there. Maybe he could find another
way in.

(Second Person)
> GO NORTH
You pause. You don't want to go in there because of what you just saw
run in there. You could try to find another way in.

To me, I can start relating to the first- and third-person examples a
lot more than the second-person. To me, the second-person definitely
makes it sound like I'm playing a game ... and, granted, I am. But, in
my mind, with text-based IF, I'm also reading and participating in a
story.

Caveat: There is a danger here that I'm caricaturing the second-person
viewpoint and I'm trying not to do that. So if it seems I'm being
unfair with the examples, let me know.

- Jeff

Stephen Bond

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Jun 13, 2007, 1:57:56 PM6/13/07
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Jeff Nyman wrote:

> However, when you say that the reader *is* the protagonist (second-
> person), you can't really do that.

But you don't necessarily say "the reader *is* the protagonist" in
second-person prose. Even though Varicella tells me that I am
the Palace Minister of the title, this clearly isn't true. Primo
Varicella is invested with so many of his own distinctive opinions,
and the game with so much his own distinctive attitude, that he is
quite obviously not me, but a separate character I am interacting
with during the game.

A similar case holds for many other second-person IF works. In fact,
it's almost the norm in current games to assume that the player and
PC are different entities. (The "Best PC" award has been running
since, what, 1997?) Any game that assumes the opposite is
probably being deliberately old-school.

> Okay, so I'm in
> dialogue with my protagonist. *That* to me is the key point of the
> interaction that text-based IF allows.

Yeah, a lot of writers have discovered this already....

> Instead of just vicariously stepping into the shoes of a protagonist
> and reading about their adventures, you get to more actively
> participate in helping them through those adventures. However, as in
> all good stories, conflict arises: the protagonist may have some
> tension with what you want to do. After all, they're not you. You're
> not them. So you can't expect everything to go just as you say. You
> have to explore the world with your protagonist; find not only the
> boundaries of your world, but the boundaries of your protagonist and
> what they can do, what they can't do, and what you might have to coax
> them to do (against their better wishes).

Yeah, it's been done. Some works (e.g. Spider and Web) are more
explicit
about this kind of interaction, but it's present to some extent in
virtually every IF work in which the PC and player are separate
entities.
I wouldn't be surprised if most writers either consciously try to
bring
about the effect you've described, or end up doing it anyway as a
consequence of having a characterised PC.

> My belief is that the use of second-person has held up the development
> of works of text-based IF because of a failure to recognize that the
> "player-character" is just another character.

I occasionally see claims that "X has held up the development of IF",
and they annoy me because
- They're usually not backed up with any evidence
- If you think X is holding up the development of IF, why don't you
do something about it?
- More often than not, the best writers already realised X was a bad
idea a long time ago and abandoned it.

I don't object to your making these observations -- maybe not
everyone is aware of them, and they might lead to an interesting
discussion -- but presenting them as a major personal discovery
that the community has "failed to recognise", when that is
patently not the case, is rather tiresome.


> So, with that bit out of the way, I'd like to solicit opinions and
> thoughts.
>
> (1) Do you feel second-person is more effective than first- or third-
> in text-based IF?

It depends on the writing.

> (3) Do you feel that first- or third- person is *not* effective in
> text-based IF?

It depends on the writing.

It's certainly easier to do a more strongly-characterised PC in
first-person, especially if you want to give the PC strong emotions
right from the off without having to evoke them in the player. It's
not impossible in second-person though. I've seen good examples
of both.

I've yet to see third-person IF that convinced me. But I wouldn't
prescriptively rule it out, and I don't think anyone could.

Stephen.

Lem Signwriter

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Jun 13, 2007, 2:00:57 PM6/13/07
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Jeff Nyman wrote:
> So, with that bit out of the way, I'd like to solicit opinions and
> thoughts.
>
> (1) Do you feel second-person is more effective than first- or third-
> in text-based IF?

I'd nearly go so far as to say that this question, and the following
ones, are useless.

I'll grant you that much IF uses second person because that's what the
authors see everyone else using; I have difficulty ascribing such a
sheeplike attitude to Emily Short, say, or Zarf, people who evidently do
*think* about what they're doing.

A narrative in second person demands a somewhat different skillset of
the player than first or third. Second person demands a roleplayer on
the other side of the keyboard, a method actor; someone *very*
comfortable with static fiction, either as a reader or writer, may have
more difficulty identifying with the PC than a novice or an experienced
IF-er, because more is being demanded of them.

First person asks you to identify *with* the protagonist. Second asks
you to identify yourself *as* the protagonist. This is not a function
that audience members find themselves carrying out while experiencing
any mainstream medium.

(This brings to mind the fact that Second Person - the book - has many
essays devoted to "tabletop roleplaying" - Dungeons & Dragons and the
like. Which are not a mainstream form of entertainment, either; am I the
only one wondering if this (grokking second-person media) is a
minority-personality-type thing?)

As an author of IF, choice of POV is technique. There are structural and
stylistic considerations; there are different motivations for picking
one or another; but really, it's no more a question of "interaction
possibilities" than the choice of first or third person when writing a
novel.

Jeff Nyman

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Jun 13, 2007, 2:33:09 PM6/13/07
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On Jun 13, 12:57 pm, Stephen Bond <stephenb...@ireland.com> wrote:

> I occasionally see claims that "X has held up the development of IF",
> and they annoy me because
> - They're usually not backed up with any evidence

A valid point. Part of what I'm trying to do here is gather the
evidence. Part of that evidence is what people think and how they
perceive text-based IF is most effectively done. I've played many text-
based IF games. I've read many books. I've seen many films. I've
played many non-text-based IF games. So big deal, right? I'm just like
everyone else in that sense. But what I haven't seen (and still have
not) is why text-based IF seems to predicate itself upon a convention
(second-person) that virtually no other medium (related, whether
peripherally or not) does.

I'm not saying second-person is wrong, per se, but it's a curious
thing to me.

When I started playing around by converting some scenes from text-
based games to first- and third-person, the possibilities seemed
richer to me. When I converted scenes from other games (non-text-based
IF) to second-person, the effect seemed as artificial as converting a
chapter from a novel to second person seemed.

> I don't object to your making these observations -- maybe not
> everyone is aware of them, and they might lead to an interesting
> discussion -- but presenting them as a major personal discovery
> that the community has "failed to recognise", when that is
> patently not the case, is rather tiresome.

I get the point here. But I don't see something as "patently not the
case" in perhaps the same way you do. I'm also not saying the
community has "failed to recognize" this necessarily; I don't know.
That's part of what I'm asking for. That said, I do have my beliefs
and, you're right, I don't have a ton of evidence necessarily, except
what I've come to observe. I don't treat those observations as gospel,
however, hence me bringing up topics like this, so I can learn what
others think and figure out where perhaps I'm not looking at things in
the way that others are.

That said, you are correct in that my wording above does indicate
exactly what you said. I said this: "My belief is that the use of


second-person has held up the development of works of text-based IF
because of a failure to recognize that the "player-character" is just

another character." What I should have perhaps said is:

My belief is that the use of second-person has led to works of text-
based IF that do not treat the 'player-character' as just another
character, and thus don't develop that character with internal
motivations or as characters that I feel I can relate to and watch
develop as part of the enfolding story.

Whether that's a largely irrelevant point or not is what I'm trying to
determine. Here is sort of how my thinking started to evolve: since
text-based IF is largely alone in its reliance on second-person and
since it's a format that survives solely via a relatively small
worldwide community and since, as others have indicated numerous
times, it's hard to get people interested in text-based IF if they
aren't already, .... well, that's when I started looking at why that
might be. Is it solely because people prefer graphics? Personally, I
don't think so. Is it solely because text-based IF isn't promoted in
any way? Perhaps. I don't know. Or is it, possibly, because of the
kind of games that people have seen and come to associate with text-
based IF (at least as a general rule)?

If that latter is the case (for the sake of argument), why might that
be? What have people been presented with that might explain the lack
of popularity or interest? Well, speaking only for me, the answer is
I'm presented with a medium that looks a lot like a book (meaning,
mostly or solely text) that has a character meeting other characters
and doing things. So some expectation is set up there. The major
difference is I can interact with the game more than I can with a
book. But I can interact with a graphical adventure as well. So it's
not just the interaction for me; it's the way the story is presented
to me via that interaction. And a lot of that presentation concerns
the point-of-view. And thus here I am and that's largely the reason
for this thread.

- Jeff

Jeff Nyman

unread,
Jun 13, 2007, 2:47:38 PM6/13/07
to
On Jun 13, 1:00 pm, Lem Signwriter <signwri...@lem.signwriter.name>
wrote:

> I'd nearly go so far as to say that this question, and the following
> ones, are useless.

They may be. But you don't say why they're useless so I can't respond.

> A narrative in second person demands a somewhat different skillset of
> the player than first or third. Second person demands a roleplayer on
> the other side of the keyboard, a method actor; someone *very*
> comfortable with static fiction, either as a reader or writer, may have
> more difficulty identifying with the PC than a novice or an experienced
> IF-er, because more is being demanded of them.

If I understand you correctly, I would actually argue that *less* is
being demanded of them, mainly for the reasons I've already stated.
There's no challenge (at least that I've seen) to "understanding" a
second-person character. I don't have to really care about their
motivations at all, nor do I have to consider them, as a person, in
terms of how I think about actions and reactions. To me, it's much
more demanding when I do have to consider those things; when I have to
build up a picture of who this person is, then see if I can model what
would most likely work, not just based on some game mechanics, but on
a conflation of what I think might work and what my player character,
given his/her personality and other foibles, might think. I have to
not only understand the game world, but the likely way that my
protagonist is going to react to this game world and what I can
reasonably get them to accompish.

Granted, nothing at all says that text-based IF should do this or must
do this.

And your point (regarding comfort with static fiction) may be quite
valid in that of my two classes (admittedly a small subset), the
writers in the group didn't like second-person; the non-writer-
programmers didn't really care one way or the other. (However, I will
say that my specific game programmers - and unfortunately I didn't
have that many in the class - didn't like second person, but they were
used to writing graphical-based adventures that don't rely on second
person.)

> (This brings to mind the fact that Second Person - the book - has many
> essays devoted to "tabletop roleplaying" - Dungeons & Dragons and the
> like. Which are not a mainstream form of entertainment, either; am I the
> only one wondering if this (grokking second-person media) is a
> minority-personality-type thing?)

That's part of what I'm trying to determine. As I've stated in a few
threads, text-based IF is largely (not completely) alone in terms of
media that relies almost solely on the second person. That, to me, is
at least an interesting thing.

- Jeff

Lem Signwriter

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Jun 13, 2007, 4:13:19 PM6/13/07
to
Jeff Nyman wrote:
> On Jun 13, 1:00 pm, Lem Signwriter <signwri...@lem.signwriter.name>
> wrote:
>
>> I'd nearly go so far as to say that this question, and the following
>> ones, are useless.
>
> They may be. But you don't say why they're useless so I can't respond.

My apologies - I edited the whole thing three times before posting, and
never quite got it right.

Useless in exactly the sense that asking whether it's better to write a
novel in first or third person is useless. The only meaningful answer
begins "Well, it depends what novel you're trying to write...."

>> A narrative in second person demands a somewhat different skillset of
>> the player than first or third. Second person demands a roleplayer on
>> the other side of the keyboard, a method actor; someone *very*
>> comfortable with static fiction, either as a reader or writer, may have
>> more difficulty identifying with the PC than a novice or an experienced
>> IF-er, because more is being demanded of them.
>
> If I understand you correctly, I would actually argue that *less* is
> being demanded of them, mainly for the reasons I've already stated.
> There's no challenge (at least that I've seen) to "understanding" a
> second-person character.

I think you missed my point, badly expressed as it may have been. To
engage with a first person narrative, you do not need to take on a role.
Third person, ditto. To engage with a second person narrative, you have
to, hence my reference to method acting - if you, the player,
can't/won't, you're not going to get much out of it.

When you say less is being demanded of the player, I think you're
talking about less in terms of reading-for-meaning; I'm saying that to
engage with a work in second person, *in addition to* exercising ones'
reading-for-meaning and other reading skills, one must *also* take on a
role. Be an actor, in effect, as well as a reader.

"Player" is not really a good word for talking about the interactors of
interactive fiction; but I avoid the word "reader" deliberately. Reading
is a *subset* of the things you have to do.

> I don't have to really care about their
> motivations at all, nor do I have to consider them, as a person, in
> terms of how I think about actions and reactions. To me, it's much
> more demanding when I do have to consider those things when I have to
> build up a picture of who this person is, then see if I can model what
> would most likely work, not just based on some game mechanics, but on
> a conflation of what I think might work and what my player character,
> given his/her personality and other foibles, might think. I have to
> not only understand the game world, but the likely way that my
> protagonist is going to react to this game world and what I can
> reasonably get them to accompish.
>
> Granted, nothing at all says that text-based IF should do this or must
> do this.

And, pardon me, nothing there says (to me) that IF - in second person -
can't do that.

If you're saying that most IF doesn't support reading much beyond
surface meaning - that sounds more like a reader-expectation problem
than an IF one. The writing in most IF parallels that in mass-market
genre fiction. No, there is no depth. No, it's not literature. No,
that's not because there's something intrinsically wrong with it.

No, that's not the way it *has* to be, there's room for Serious Lit IF
as well. But be honest - when there are so few people interested in
either producing or consuming the IF equivalent of paperback trash, the
number of people interested in actually producing or consuming Serious
Lit IF has got to be pretty damn small.

I'd suggest that's why you're having trouble finding any.

> And your point (regarding comfort with static fiction) may be quite
> valid in that of my two classes (admittedly a small subset), the
> writers in the group didn't like second-person; the non-writer-
> programmers didn't really care one way or the other. (However, I will
> say that my specific game programmers - and unfortunately I didn't
> have that many in the class - didn't like second person, but they were
> used to writing graphical-based adventures that don't rely on second
> person.)
>
>> (This brings to mind the fact that Second Person - the book - has many
>> essays devoted to "tabletop roleplaying" - Dungeons & Dragons and the
>> like. Which are not a mainstream form of entertainment, either; am I the
>> only one wondering if this (grokking second-person media) is a
>> minority-personality-type thing?)
>
> That's part of what I'm trying to determine. As I've stated in a few
> threads, text-based IF is largely (not completely) alone in terms of
> media that relies almost solely on the second person. That, to me, is
> at least an interesting thing.

To my mind, it's one of the few media that can actually support
second-person narratives as anything other than stylistic experiments
chiefly of interest to art critics - but yes, it's an interesting thing.

Jim Aikin

unread,
Jun 13, 2007, 4:23:40 PM6/13/07
to
Jeff Nyman wrote:
>
>> This inhibits the player's
>> identification with the character.
>
> But there is no character. (Or is there?) The character is "you": the
> player. That's what I don't really get. When people say they can
> "identify with the character" what they mean is they can identify
> with ... what? Themselves? That's what second-person is asking them to
> do.

No, this is not how I view it at all. My most recent release (now in
further development) has a player character who is clearly a 14-year-old
girl from New York. And my upcoming IntroComp gameling has a player
character who is ... well, he's not a robot, exactly, but calling him a
robot doesn't distort the situation too badly.

Neither of these characters is "you," but they both have a range of
emotional responses, which are described as "your" responses. In neither
case would I expect the player to necessarily subscribe to or feel the
emotions as his or her own.

The key concept here, I think, is empathy. As in, "Walk a mile in my
shoes." Normal human beings have the ability to empathize with others --
to imagine (briefly and shallowly or in gut-wrenching, insomnia-inducing
detail) what others are thinking and feeling.

When the PC is a real character, as opposed to an anonymous
cave-crawler, the player is invited to have some empathy with the PC. I
guess I don't see what's complicated about that. They're just pronouns,
after all.

--JA

Lem Signwriter

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Jun 13, 2007, 4:30:19 PM6/13/07
to
Jim Aikin wrote:
> Neither of these characters is "you," but they both have a range of
> emotional responses, which are described as "your" responses. In neither
> case would I expect the player to necessarily subscribe to or feel the
> emotions as his or her own.
>
> The key concept here, I think, is empathy. As in, "Walk a mile in my
> shoes." Normal human beings have the ability to empathize with others --
> to imagine (briefly and shallowly or in gut-wrenching, insomnia-inducing
> detail) what others are thinking and feeling.
>
> When the PC is a real character, as opposed to an anonymous
> cave-crawler, the player is invited to have some empathy with the PC. I
> guess I don't see what's complicated about that. They're just pronouns,
> after all.


I think the problem is that familiarity with static fiction trains one
in the assumption that if the text wants you to empathise closely with
the protagonist, *that's what first person is for*.

I don't want to start caricaturing this as "second person is just like
first person but with weird pronouns that put me off, so we don't need
it", but this *is* coming across to me very strongly as a perceptual issue.

Jeff Nyman

unread,
Jun 13, 2007, 4:42:36 PM6/13/07
to
On Jun 13, 3:13 pm, Lem Signwriter <signwri...@lem.signwriter.name>
wrote:

> My apologies - I edited the whole thing three times before posting, and


> never quite got it right.

No apologies necessary. You may be quite right. I just wasn't sure how
to respond.

> I think you missed my point, badly expressed as it may have been. To
> engage with a first person narrative, you do not need to take on a role.
> Third person, ditto.

Okay, this I can see. I agree. So, let me ask you this. In the *non*-
text-based IF games that don't use second-person (for example,
"Longest Journey" or "Dreamfall" or whatever you've played that you
like), what do you see the player as doing, compared to that of a game
using second-person?

I ask this because while you may not "take on a role", per se, I do
see you as having to engage with the character. To the extent that you
can do so, you are sort of taking on their role, I suppose. You are
taking on the role of someone that the game presents to you. Now,
granted, someone could say that you are not in fact doing so, but it
seems to me a bit of a case where you could argue either way.

So, again, the question here is: for those third-person or first-
person games (where, as you feel, you're not taking on a role): what
are you doing?

> When you say less is being demanded of the player, I think you're
> talking about less in terms of reading-for-meaning; I'm saying that to
> engage with a work in second person, *in addition to* exercising ones'
> reading-for-meaning and other reading skills, one must *also* take on a
> role. Be an actor, in effect, as well as a reader.

Okay, yeah, I can see it. I still think it's a very limited form of
"being an actor," but I definitely see where you are going with this.

> And, pardon me, nothing there says (to me) that IF - in second person -
> can't do that.

I agree and in a couple of posts I did indicate that some of the
problems I perceived were not something that was due solely to (or
inherent in) second-person. I just have yet to see something that (to
me) really brings me into the story, which I do get from other games
and, of course, books and film. This isn't to say that I don't find
text-based IF games with stories. But, to me, the story has always
seemed largely incidental, as I hope from one puzzle point to the
next.

> If you're saying that most IF doesn't support reading much beyond
> surface meaning - that sounds more like a reader-expectation problem
> than an IF one. The writing in most IF parallels that in mass-market
> genre fiction. No, there is no depth. No, it's not literature.

I would agree (perhaps) about the literature, but that doesn't equate
to lack of depth for me. There is quite a bit of "mass-market genre
fiction" that, depending upon your viewpoint, can have quite a bit of
depth. But, essentially, yes, what I was investigating was whether or
not one of the reasons text-based IF really isn't all that popular is
because of its (on the whole) apparent lack of what many other media
(including other game formats) use in terms of telling a story.

- Jeff

Raksab

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Jun 13, 2007, 4:43:22 PM6/13/07
to
For what my humble opinion is worth ...

I'm comfortable with second person. It's conventional, it makes
sense, it works. I don't know how a newcomer to IF would react to it,
though.

First person also works well, and in some cases it works even better
than second-person ... it can bend the "fourth wall" in interesting
ways. But to pull it off, the story has to make sense and be really
involving.

Third-person doesn't really take me into the story well at all. I'm
down with third person in a static fiction book, but if I'm playing a
game that involves me as a major character, third person is
uncomfortable and dissonant.

Jeff Nyman

unread,
Jun 13, 2007, 5:05:38 PM6/13/07
to
On Jun 13, 3:23 pm, Jim Aikin <midigur...@sbcglobal.net> wrote:

> Neither of these characters is "you," but they both have a range of
> emotional responses, which are described as "your" responses. In neither
> case would I expect the player to necessarily subscribe to or feel the
> emotions as his or her own.

Right -- just as in a novel you don't think you are actually the
protagonist nor in a film do you think you are the lead character. But
the style of language certainly sets expectations about how the player
(reader) views and thinks about the lead character (protagonist,
player-character). The notion of how much you can realistically
describe in an intelligent fashion, such as with flashbacks,
reflection, introspection, and even, to an extent, dialogue, with
second-person seems very limited to me. This is probably why close to
zero novels, short stories, and screenplays are written in this
fashion.

So maybe the issue for me is that no text-based IF I've seen really
allows me to suspend my disbelief enough to forget that I keep getting
told what "you" feel. It's not that I have trouble rememebering it's
not me. (I hope that much is obvious.) Rather, it's just that the very
nature of second-person -- *at least as I've seen it implemented* --
doesn't seem to encourage a writing style where you can effectively do
many of the things that other storytelling media (including other game
formats) do.

Maybe that's just me. (Clearly, in this community, it is.)

> The key concept here, I think, is empathy. As in, "Walk a mile in my
> shoes." Normal human beings have the ability to empathize with others --
> to imagine (briefly and shallowly or in gut-wrenching, insomnia-inducing
> detail) what others are thinking and feeling.

I agree. And I agree that second-person can be made to do this.
However, I think it's often more cumbersome for it to handle this,
which is, as I've stated, probably why most authors (of book and non-
text games) don't utilize second-person. I suppose we could argue
they're all wrong for doing so. Or we could argue that text-based IF
is just too different from those other things. I haven't seen anything
that really seems compelling.

The argument many seem to be going for is that second-person is more
natural for the storytelling medium, at least with text-based IF. I'm
trying to see upon what basis that claim is made.

I could more see the contention that the level of interactivity
doesn't allow, as easily, for third- and first-person. But then,
again, why is text-based IF one of the only forms of game format (that
I'm aware of) that does this?

> When the PC is a real character, as opposed to an anonymous
> cave-crawler, the player is invited to have some empathy with the PC. I
> guess I don't see what's complicated about that. They're just pronouns,
> after all.

Well, I agree, up to point. Just lacking anonymity is not enough for
empathy in any form of fiction. To me, it's *how* the protagonist
(player character) is "made (to seem) real." So maybe I'm not looking
at the right examples of games.

Can you point me to a game where the player-character was complex
enough that you could truly empathize? What I mean is a game where
their motivations were supported by a backstory that indicated why
they held the emotions they did and thus why that dictated what they
would and would not allow to happen? My thinking is that you can't
empathize if you don't understand; you can't understand if there isn't
a background logic to why someone acts as they do. (You may not agree
with how they act; you may feel you would do differently; but at least
you can understand why they do what they do and how it's consistent
with who they are.)

I personally have yet to see too many games of the text-based variety
where I could empathize with the lead character in a way that I can
with other forms of storytelling, including, as I've said, other game
formats. (One I can say that did work for me is the lead character in
"A Crimson Spring" because I could get behind his desire for revenge.
The other was the lead character in "Rameses", not because I'm that
way -- but because I know people who are *exactly* that way.)

- Jeff

travel2light

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Jun 13, 2007, 5:10:58 PM6/13/07
to

>
> First person: "I found myself back in my office. I can't tell you how
> many times I've sat behind that very desk, feeling as if life was
> passing me by. You ever get that? Where you feel you have to run full
> speed just to keep up? Well, that's how I felt in that office."
>
> Third person: "Blake found himself back in the office. He often found
> himself here, sitting behind this very desk, with the sinking feeling
> that life was passing him by. If he sat here too long, he'd literally
> have to forced to take any sort of action at all."
>


The interesting possibility with the first and third person examples,
as I see it, is what happens next. I think the first and third person
viewpoint may help the author to think more of terms of narration. For
example:

<example>

Third person: "Blake walked into the office and sat down behind his
old desk. He often found himself sitting here, with the sinking
feeling that life was passing him by. If he sat here too long he'd
literally have to force himself to take any sort of action at all."

> stand up

"Moving over to the large shuttered window he pulled a chord to open
the blinds. It was a glorious spring day and he could see his silver
BMW in the parking area. This is when the thought struck him, "Why am
I putting up with this anymore? There is my car -- the open road is
waiting. I've needed a holiday for a long time and only now do I
realise it? So what am I waiting for!"

</example>

Sorry about the poor writing (I'm pretty new to this) but I think this
gets across my idea. This moves away from the traditional "person in a
restricted environment" model for creating IF. For example with the
usual 2nd person it would be something like:


<example>

> stand up

done.

> look through window.

You can see your BMW car outside. It is a beautiful day and the
thought occurs to you how nice it would be to drive off in that
beautiful machine to some far off country and forget about all of your
troubles. After all it's been a long time since you even considered
the possibility of going on a holiday.

</example>

Thinking about it though, the 3rd person example switches to present
tense when he was expressing his thoughts, so it could be that it
would be better to stick to the present tense from the start. It's not
a huge change to the actual text -- but it gives more of a sense of
things currently happening:

<example>

Third person: "Blake walks into the office and sits down behind his
old desk. He often finds himself sitting here, with the sinking
feeling that life is passing him by. If he sits here too long he'll
literally have to force himself to take any sort of action at all."

> stand up

"Moving over to the large shuttered window he pulls a chord to open
the blinds. It is a glorious spring day and he can see his silver BMW
in the parking area. This is when the thought strikes him "why I'm I
putting up with this anymore? There is my car -- the open road is
waiting. I've needed a holiday for a long time and only now do I
realise it? So what am I waiting for!"

</example>

Another possibility is to use a more trivial style where the character
is being described as something completely isolated -- and without
attempting to get inside his head at all. Maybe this would work with a
very comic and not very serious type game; or more of a traditional
action or puzzle based type of game:

<example>

Blake is sitting at his desk with his head in his hands whilest
annoyingly rotating his chair one way and then the other.

what now>

</example>

Michael


Jeff Nyman

unread,
Jun 13, 2007, 5:14:19 PM6/13/07
to
On Jun 13, 3:43 pm, Raksab <theli...@hotmail.com> wrote:

> Third-person doesn't really take me into the story well at all. I'm
> down with third person in a static fiction book, but if I'm playing a
> game that involves me as a major character, third person is
> uncomfortable and dissonant.

Okay, thanks for the response. You say "but if I'm playing a game that
involves me *as a major character*" emphasis added. What if the game
doesn't ask you to *be* the major character but just *play* the major
character?

For example, do you find graphical adventures uncomfortable and
dissonant (which often have you playing the major character but being
referred to in the third person)?

The assumption here that everyone is going on is that because you are
controlling the actions of a character, you must *be* that character.
However, watching a film doesn't mean you have to *be* the lead actor.
Reading a book doesn't mean you have to *be* the protagonist. And
playing some other game formats doesn't require you to *be* the lead
character.

So I'm curious if this conflation of "being" and "playing" (which is
what others were telling me I was doing too much of) is in fact what
the issue is. To wit, people said they felt I was clearly taking the
"you" too seriously; it's not "you" -- it's the other guy. You're just
playing him. But what you say here ("involves me as a major
character") does in fact more seem to match what people think (if not
what they say).

- Jeff

Jeff Nyman

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Jun 13, 2007, 5:36:32 PM6/13/07
to
On Jun 13, 4:10 pm, travel2light <everything2li...@yahoo.co.uk> wrote:

> The interesting possibility with the first and third person examples,
> as I see it, is what happens next. I think the first and third person
> viewpoint may help the author to think more of terms of narration. For
> example:

Largely, that's my underlying contention. You can do more with
storytelling possibilities with third-person and first-person largely
because how you narrate the story can change, such as with asides,
reflections, introspections, flashbacks, internal monologue, etc. Does
that mean you can't do those things with second-person? Of course not.
You clearly can. But, equally clearly, it does have limitations, which
probably explains its relatively small amount of usage just about
everywhere.

Part of all my looking into this stuff was a direct result of the
talks we had on this newsgroup regarding simulationism and narration.
I came to the provisional conclusion that a lot of the theory that was
put out there really seemed to be speaking to just a few simple
aspects of how text-based IF is currently produced (at least as a
standard) and the one key thing was point-of-view.

Granted, the argument could be made that second-person can handle this
kind of narration. That may be. I haven't really seen it. The argument
could be made that this kind of narration isn't fun for players of
text-based IF. That could be, but I don't know if anyone knows that
for sure.

- Jeff

Emily Short

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Jun 13, 2007, 6:39:17 PM6/13/07
to
On Jun 13, 4:05 pm, Jeff Nyman <jeffny...@gmail.com> wrote:
> On Jun 13, 3:23 pm, Jim Aikin <midigur...@sbcglobal.net> wrote:
>
> > Neither of these characters is "you," but they both have a range of
> > emotional responses, which are described as "your" responses. In neither
> > case would I expect the player to necessarily subscribe to or feel the
> > emotions as his or her own.
>
> Right -- just as in a novel you don't think you are actually the
> protagonist nor in a film do you think you are the lead character. But
> the style of language certainly sets expectations about how the player
> (reader) views and thinks about the lead character (protagonist,
> player-character). The notion of how much you can realistically
> describe in an intelligent fashion, such as with flashbacks,
> reflection, introspection, and even, to an extent, dialogue, with
> second-person seems very limited to me.

Ah hm. Your second-person examples have read as a bit stilted to me,
which I'm willing to grant is not intentional, but which suggests that
you haven't internalized the techniques involved. Most good second-
person IF I've tried doesn't quite come out and say "you feel X. You
feel Y." Instead, it projects that information through the description
of objects and actions; it treats the protagonist's worldview as
though it (the worldview content) were *part of the world* instead of
part of the protagonist. I'd rewrite your 'you don't want to go that
way' message something more like this:

"You get only as far as putting your hand on the door knob. Somewhere
in there that *thing* is still scuttling around: all those legs, and
the peat-brown carapace, and the not-having-any-head."

Reflections -- opinions about people and things, memories about past
events, on-the-moment feelings -- can all be woven into descriptions.

As for flashbacks, there's no reason not to do them and make them
interactive flashbacks. It's not incredibly common, but I've seen it
more than once. (All Hope Abandon comes to mind, but is not the only
one.) Similarly dream sequences and character day-dreams, where those
things are useful.

Internal monologue -- well, as I think I suggested elsewhere, it's
possible to do some of this too, either passively (by having the PC's
thoughts interleaved with the action text) or actively (with THINK or
REMEMBER commands that allow the player to explore the PC's feelings
explicitly).

It would get rather hammy to have a character describing an internal
struggle at length in second person; games like "On Optimism" that
tend in this direction are fairly hard to take. But honestly I think
that is not so much due to the second person usage, and more to do
with the fact that long, abstract, struggling-with-self internal
monologues are *usually* awkward and cornball, no matter in what
person.

There are different ways to make this work, depending on medium.
Here's a sweeping statement I just thought up and which may be
completely wrong:

The handling emotive and subjective content differs more from medium
to medium than the handling of objective realities.

But consider: the conventions of plays, musicals, and opera make it
reasonable for the character to be expressing all these thoughts aloud
for the audience to hear, and monologues at intense moments not
infrequently take a stylized, poetic or lyrical form, where the music
or the sheer beauty of the language goes some way to expressing the
emotive power compactly. Movies do montages and voice-overs and
strange games with color balance and focal length. In novels,
characters often think concretely about memories and situations that
are affecting them, or betray their mood to the reader through their
actions or dialogue with other characters. IF can handle this kind of
internal revelation too, but it needs to do it interactively and play
to its own strengths. You *can* do a moment of indecision in IF well
enough: give the player a simple timed puzzle/choice, and interject
thoughts of increasing stress every turn until it's over. Another
common technique, though it needs careful handling, is to show
indecision by rejecting the player's first attempt to resolve a
situation, and requiring him either to repeat the action or try
something else. The parser stands in for the PC's inner voice, just as
it does in Rameses. There are other tricks and methods, but none of
the effective ones consist of presenting the player with a big wodge
of text wherein the player character thinks about himself. Big wodges
of text are usually a bad sign in IF, and it's all the more boring if
it's a big wodge of text in which no dialogue is exchanged and no
action occurs.

The larger point is, in the second person IF, the PC's thoughts and
feelings are expressed in everything he looks at, everything he tries
to do, every action reply; and more explicit explorations of feelings
can be done interactively, if one is careful. Obviously this isn't
working well enough for you to feel the same way about IF as you do
about other story-based art forms, or you're not playing the right IF,
or something. This is worth digging into further.

But I'm pretty sure the problem isn't simply that second person has no
equivalents for the storytelling techniques you listed.

Jeff Nyman

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Jun 13, 2007, 7:50:31 PM6/13/07
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"Emily Short" <ems...@mindspring.com> wrote in message
news:1181774357....@e9g2000prf.googlegroups.com...

> Ah hm. Your second-person examples have read as a bit stilted to me,
> which I'm willing to grant is not intentional, but which suggests that
> you haven't internalized the techniques involved.

Definitely not intentional but I appreciate the comment. As far as not
internalizing, you are no doubt correct. That said, I'm hoping to come to
some conclusions before I do internalize too much. Once you internalize, you
(sometimes) stop questioning and just accept. I'm not saying people here are
doing that; I'm just saying I treat my relative "stranger value" as an
asset --- for now.

> Here's a sweeping statement I just thought up and which may be
> completely wrong:
>
> The handling emotive and subjective content differs more from medium
> to medium than the handling of objective realities.

I don't know: it sounds pretty accurate to me. Now, like you said, if
certain information is "project[ed] ... through the description of objects
and actions" then the objective reality (the world) and the emotive and
subjective content is being, in some sense, treated together, at least with
second-person text-based IF. So do you feel that text-based IF does bring
the two closer together than other media, at least in terms of how both
aspects are handled?

> The parser stands in for the PC's inner voice, just as
> it does in Rameses.

Whereas, see, I think of myself, as the player of the game, standing in for
the player-character's inner voice or for a character's inner voice.
Thinking of the parser forces the implementation model on the user. Granted,
you can't truly escape the implementation model; I know that. But, in
usability circles exposing your implementation model when you don't have to
is considered a bad thing. I believe the same is true when the techniques
writers of static fiction use show through above the content of their story.
I believe the same is true when game authors use the underlying
implementation of the game engine (even if only peripherally).

> There are other tricks and methods, but none of
> the effective ones consist of presenting the player with a big wodge
> of text wherein the player character thinks about himself. Big wodges
> of text are usually a bad sign in IF, and it's all the more boring if
> it's a big wodge of text in which no dialogue is exchanged and no
> action occurs.

I agree. So the player character can't just sit there and think about
themselves. So the game has to show the player character's emotional base
and motivation by the actions they take. Now, the actions they take depend
on the player. That seems to be a dilemma. Yet I would maintain that's where
one of the true challenges for a text-based IF medium lies.

You have to provide the background for a putative protagonist that the
player can come to learn about, not in some text dump, but in the constant
series of actions that the protagonist does and does not take in response to
player actions. It's not just a dialogue between the player character and an
NPC; it's a dialogue between the player and the protagonist (and by
extension, the author). In fact, text-based IF, due to the nature of its
interaction model, allows this latter kind of dialogue much moreso than
static fiction, at least in my opinion.

> The larger point is, in the second person IF, the PC's thoughts and
> feelings are expressed in everything he looks at, everything he tries
> to do, every action reply; and more explicit explorations of feelings
> can be done interactively, if one is careful.

If you get a chance, can you recommend some specific games where you feel
what you say here is done well (regardless of point-of-view used in the
game)?

> Obviously this isn't
> working well enough for you to feel the same way about IF as you do
> about other story-based art forms, or you're not playing the right IF,
> or something. This is worth digging into further.

I agree and I appreciate that you see it this way. I'm fully cognizant that
perhaps text-based IF just isn't for me or, as you indicated earlier, I'm
not internalizing the techniques that make it effective because I'm trying
to make it too much like other related but different media.

> But I'm pretty sure the problem isn't simply that second person has no
> equivalents for the storytelling techniques you listed.

In truth, I agree. What I was more wondering (at least ultimately) was
whether or not the use of second-person tends, on average, not to encourage
the type of storytelling techniques I've been bringing up. If it does (or at
least doesn't discourage them), it does leave me wondering why second person
is so limited in terms of those arenas in which it is applied. (Lem brought
up "Dungeons and Dragons" and, of course, we're all talking about text-based
IF here.)

- Jeff


Jeff Nyman

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Jun 13, 2007, 8:00:32 PM6/13/07
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"Lem Signwriter" <signw...@lem.signwriter.name> wrote in message
news:f4pk50$hsk$1...@aioe.org...

> I don't want to start caricaturing this as "second person is just like
> first person but with weird pronouns that put me off, so we don't need
> it", but this *is* coming across to me very strongly as a perceptual
> issue.

I think you're correct regarding the perceptual nature of what I'm bringing
up.

What really drove it home for me, like I said before, was that when I
presented the concept to writers (of various pedigrees) they all, to a one,
had a problem with the second person viewpoint. That doesn't mean anything
other than that it started me looking closer at it but, truth be told, I've
had vague feelings about not liking the second person well before these
classes.

Then, when I got a group of programmers, those that were specifically game
programmers (and there weren't that many, admittedly) also didn't like the
second person. (The non-game programmers didn't really care as much one way
or the other, although first person was found to "flow" better -- vague and
subjective as that is.) This just further reinforced in me that while the
second-person concept may seem "natural" to those steeped in text-based IF,
it's not (necessarily) seen that way to others.

I also was doing an informal setting with parents and children and there
again, the second person was not found to be all that amenable, particularly
in the idea of the "let's tell a story together" concept.

What may (or may not) be interesting: the parent/children group preferred
third person. The writers and game programmers preferred first person.

The one commonality to all these people is that they really had no great
exposure to text-based IF. Some had heard of it; some had played various
example of it in the past. None of them had ever used a system like Inform
or TADS or Hugo and none of them had played any of the more "modern"
text-based IF.

- Jeff


Raksab

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Jun 13, 2007, 8:38:44 PM6/13/07
to

Well ... for graphical computer games, it depends on the game.

I played the "Myst" series and spent the whole time thinking and
acting as if I was actually "there." Myst (and similar games) goes
out of its way to promote this mindset, and for me, the virtual visit
to another world is what makes it enjoyable. It's designed as a first-
person perspective, and the other characters in the game address the
player in second perspective ("Hey you, whoever you are, bring me the
pages...") When I run into a locked door, I think of it as the
equivalent of a text game's admonition "You can't go that way." The
game is talking to *me*, not to some person I'm controlling.

Were the game to tell me "*I* can't go that way," the PC would seem
more like a puppet I'm controlling, rather than it being me in there.
Like, when I reach out to pick up something, my hand doesn't tell me
"I'm not taking that, it's too hot to touch." I just feel it. I'm
the one having the sensation of getting burned, not my hand. I'm the
one who thinks "It's too hot to touch." If that makes any sense. In
a text game, the narrator informing me it's too hot to touch is the
omnipotent storyteller, not the character.

I've also played "RPG" type games where the character I'm controlling
is visible from a distance, like Zelda or Mario. In those cases, it's
easy to tell I'm not the lead character, the character is just a
figure I'm directing. I enjoy those games too, but in those cases the
experience is more passive. I do the actions and then watch the
ensuing story, but it feels more like I'm outside the thing. That
doesn't feel strange to me, it's just a different kind of game.

Since I can see the characters from outside, it's easy to maintain the
"fourth wall" between me and them. That's what watching most movies
is like, too. I know I'm not the one events are happening to. It's
exciting to watch Jack Sparrow battle with Davy Jones, but I know I'm
not either person, I'm just watching (and rooting for my favorite
characters).

I guess it's a stylistic question. I can imagine a game in which the
player could type WAVE SWORD and get a response "Link waves his sword
around, looking foolish." But then I'm still participating in the
game as a character, sort of ... I just have a different role.
Namely, I play God.

hmmm ... writing a game like that would be very interesting ... but I
lack the skillz to hack a parser to turn it into third-person. Best I
could probably do is lay a veneer over the traditional second-person
parser by changing default responses.

I think that for a game, third-person present tense is not so
intuitive. When I play a third-person game, I get a sense much like
watching a movie: in the back of my mind is the knowledge that I'm
just retelling a story that already happened. Third-person past tense
is what it feels like. But since IF is usually present tense, this
gets confusing.

anyways ... that's my unorganized thoughts on the matter...

Kathleen

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Jun 13, 2007, 10:23:58 PM6/13/07
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On Jun 13, 2:36 pm, Jeff Nyman <jeffny...@gmail.com> wrote:
> Largely, that's my underlying contention. You can do more with
> storytelling possibilities with third-person and first-person largely
> because how you narrate the story can change,

Elaborate?

> such as with asides, reflections, introspections, flashbacks, internal
> monologue, etc.

Hasn't this all been done before in IF?

> Does that mean you can't do those things with second-person? Of course not.
> You clearly can. But, equally clearly, it does have limitations, which
> probably explains its relatively small amount of usage just about
> everywhere.

For those of us who squeaked by English - can you expand upon the
limitations? The only one I can think of at the moment is that the
author is telling the reader what they are thinking, "You frown at the
thought." But why is that any worse than the first person, "I frown at
the thought." That leaves me wondering why I'm reading about this
mysterious "I". If I am me, why do I need to read what I'm doing?

"You" seems more natural to me, if only because such a thing might
actually come up in conversion ("How do I get there?" "You walk down
to the corner, turn left, and stop at the big oak tree.") or, for
those with short term memory issues, "How did I get here?" "You
climbed three flights of stairs and..."

Third person leaves me cold. Perhaps it works in novels because, at
least for what I read, they are written in the past. This matches up
with my expectations of story telling - telling what happened. Movies
seem to me to be 3rd person present tense, even when showing
flashbacks. Voiceovers can be past, present, or even future, but for
the audience, isn't the action itself always in the present?

> Granted, the argument could be made that second-person can handle this
> kind of narration. That may be. I haven't really seen it. The argument
> could be made that this kind of narration isn't fun for players of
> text-based IF. That could be, but I don't know if anyone knows that
> for sure.

What is it you are looking for that you aren't finding?

Perhaps 2nd seems strange because there are few places where it's
needed. People tell stories in first and third because they are
telling their own stories or relating the stories of others. There are
few reasons I can think to tell a *story* in 2nd in Real Life (perhaps
if your roommate had a few too many and wanted to know why there is a
live cow on the dorm roof...) But then it would be in the past.

Movies and novels don't need 2nd because the audience rarely gets a
chance to alter or direct them. Of course, movie directors probably
spend a lot of time in 2nd person present (or future)... which brings
us back to IF.

Kathleen (then again, what do I know. I program for a living.)

Jim Aikin

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Jun 13, 2007, 11:04:44 PM6/13/07
to

> I also was doing an informal setting with parents and children and there
> again, the second person was not found to be all that amenable, particularly
> in the idea of the "let's tell a story together" concept.

I like this, but I wonder how old the children were. "Let's tell a story
together" seems like something you'd do with a kid or kids under the age
of 8.

Apropos of this discussion, I was just wandering around the library
tonight, and a little voice said "Tom Robbins." So I went over to the
Tom Robbins shelf, pulled out "Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas," which was
the only title I hadn't read ... and darned if it isn't told in 2nd
person present tense.

If you're looking for a perspective on how this voice feels in
conventional fiction, I guess this would be a good place to start.

--JA

Brian Slesinsky

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Jun 14, 2007, 3:48:58 AM6/14/07
to
It seems like first-person focuses too much on the weaknesses of
current IF because it's all conversation:

---

Help! Can anyone help me? Is anyone there?

> Hello.

Oh good! Someone responds at last. There's an angry monkey trying to
break down my door. What can I do?

> Do you have any bananas?

No, but I do have some apples. Will that do?

---

You're clearly not in the same room and all your information comes to
you as dialog, and this focuses more attention on the parser than it
can really stand; this is a classic Turing test that the computer's
going to fail pretty quickly. In second or third person, you're
talking to the computer narrator, so typing commands seems more
acceptable. Flaws in NPC characters can be hidden by limiting your
access to them. It's like in the old days in the movies, where so
much has to happen offstage or brief glimpses due to technical
limitations and the expense of special effects. Room descriptions and
simple objects are easy; characters and interactive dialog take a lot
more work.

Jeff Nyman

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Jun 14, 2007, 6:24:55 AM6/14/07
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"Jim Aikin" <midig...@sbcglobal.net> wrote in message
news:f4qb8c$315$1...@aioe.org...

> Apropos of this discussion, I was just wandering around the library
> tonight, and a little voice said "Tom Robbins." So I went over to the Tom
> Robbins shelf, pulled out "Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas," which was the
> only title I hadn't read ... and darned if it isn't told in 2nd person
> present tense.

Yeah, I know of that one. There are a few examples of second-person, at
least more than people might think. Three that I specifically recommend (to
see the usage in very different genres) would be Lorrie Moore's "Amahl and
the Night Visitors", Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Haunted Mind", and Iain
Banks' "A Song of Stone."

- Jeff


Jeff Nyman

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Jun 14, 2007, 6:34:08 AM6/14/07
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"Kathleen" <mfis...@aol.com> wrote in message
news:1181787838.0...@d30g2000prg.googlegroups.com...

> On Jun 13, 2:36 pm, Jeff Nyman <jeffny...@gmail.com> wrote:
>> Largely, that's my underlying contention. You can do more with
>> storytelling possibilities with third-person and first-person largely
>> because how you narrate the story can change,
>
> Elaborate?

Narrator orientation is the simplest way to describe it. It's how a narrator
relates to the story and to the person reading/playing the story.

I guess what it comes down to for me is that text-based IF is closer to
other forms of written media, like novels and short stories, that I see it
having the opportunity to take all the good things about how such media are
put to form (such as varying levels of narration) but also adding in the
major extra of greater interaction.

I see text-based IF, when predicated upon second-person, relying more on
objective narration, which can limit the storytelling possibilities because
... well, because of what objective narration is. An objective narrator
tends to act solely as an observer, as opposed to a fleshed-out opinionated
participant (character) in the story.

A limited third-person narrator, as an example, can be used to show two NPCs
in conversation. The narration style could give the player one of those
NPCS's words and actions alone (just observing), yet allow the player to get
"into the head" of the other NPC, so as to relate thoughts as well as words
and actions. This, to me, could provide a much deeper experience in terms of
considering how and why NPCs act and think as they do and how you might use
that to your advantage in the game.

First-person narration, of course, draws the reader's attention to the
narrator as a character. The reader has the sense of being spoken to by a
person who is telling of his own experiences. The nice thing here is that
such a narrator can be one who already personally knows the characters
involved, and who has opinions about the events and people in the story,
which can add deeper levels to a story as you, the player, have to not only
figure out the game world, but figure out what your protagonist knows about
it.

You, as the player in second-person, can be told that you know these people
and that you like or dislike them. That can work if the game presents that
information through various actions that you take. But what about the things
that drive *you* as the player; that drive your character. For example, your
player-character was scared to death by mice at one point in his/her life.
Something with the game comes up and involves mice. Now, you, as the player,
can have the player character try to do something with the mice. Both
second-person and, say, first-person can deal with that situation, based on
the past experience with mice, but the one forces you to try to internalize
the emotions more whereas the other asks you simply to accept them and
understand why the protagonist has them and why that may change how they
respond to your actions.

In other words, the voice of the player (you) is sort of like an inner voice
of the protagonist. You're telling them what to do. You might be their logic
and their conscience at the same time. But you are the unconscious or
subconscious part. The protagonist (the player character) is the conscious
part and they may "reject" or "go against" their unconscious. But, in doing
so, they'll (hopefully) explain why and allow you, as their subconscious, to
figure out another way for them to do what you need them to do.

I believe that's a powerful aspect of storytelling that text-based IF is
relatively unique in allowing. I also don't see that type of storytelling
being as effective in second-person because, as we've talked about here,
there's a difference between requiring someone to internalize and requiring
someone to have empathy.

> "You" seems more natural to me, if only because such a thing might
> actually come up in conversion ("How do I get there?" "You walk down
> to the corner, turn left, and stop at the big oak tree.") or, for
> those with short term memory issues, "How did I get here?" "You
> climbed three flights of stairs and..."

Okay .... this isn't bad, actually, at least as a conceptual understanding
of why. I kind at least see this as the basis of why people might like
second-person, particularly in a medium that you more direct.

I guess then where it comes down to it is what I have somewhat indicated. I
see text-based IF straddling the line between pure game and a work of
fiction. It's the latter that I believe is often given the short end of the
stick when there is consideration of how to write text-based IF.

> What is it you are looking for that you aren't finding?

Emotional connection with characters. A way to care about the character such
that I actually get something out of the game other than just solving a
bunch of puzzles (most of which don't do anything for character
development). A way to learn more about the author based on their work. A
way to understand a viewpoint about the world (or a situation) that I might
previously have lacked or not been exposed to.

- Jeff


Kathleen

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Jun 14, 2007, 11:36:58 AM6/14/07
to
Thanks for the elaboration - need to cogitate on that for a while,
however...

On Jun 14, 3:34 am, "Jeff Nyman" <jeffny...@gmail.com> wrote:
> > What is it you are looking for that you aren't finding?
>
> Emotional connection with characters. A way to care about the character such
> that I actually get something out of the game other than just solving a
> bunch of puzzles (most of which don't do anything for character
> development). A way to learn more about the author based on their work. A
> way to understand a viewpoint about the world (or a situation) that I might
> previously have lacked or not been exposed to.

All worthy (and difficult) things to do, but there is IF that at
leasts attempts those things out there - have you tried them? What did
you think? Obviously they must have failed for you, but why did they
fail?

Kathleen

Valzi

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Jun 14, 2007, 11:54:34 AM6/14/07
to
I think my awkwardness with persons other than second is probably
based on nothing more than habit and expectation, so I am going to
concede that the awkwardness is not natural, but personal.

I agree with Emily that the second person structure definitely has
valuable uses. The third, first, and second person person can each
actually produce the same results, generally speaking, of
communicating about the player character by way of descriptions which
show opinion and perspective, _however_ the second person seems to
force the emphasis, if the work is to be good. This creates an
interestingly different sort of frame in which to tell _or_ experience
a story in.

Admittedly, this can be a bit of a writing exercise, much like
programming within size limits, writing music within a set theme and
only an hour to write it in, et cetera. Arguably, this might be more
beneficial for the creator and his/her thought processes than for the
audience it was supposedly created for. However, I would instead argue
that it creates something enjoyable of a sort that might not exist
otherwise.

Because of this, I think that the use of second person in IF has great
value. However, there are similarly unique aspects which are
emphasized by the other two kinds of person. Since IF is largely
second person, the benefits of these are generally missing from IF as
a creative form, and the use of them in quality works of IF would be,
I believe, a worthwhile goal.

We are missing out, but not because second person storytelling is
second-rate. We are missing out because it is not innately better than
first or third person.

Jeff Nyman

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Jun 14, 2007, 11:55:17 AM6/14/07
to
On Jun 14, 10:36 am, Kathleen <mfisch...@aol.com> wrote:

> All worthy (and difficult) things to do, but there is IF that at
> leasts attempts those things out there - have you tried them? What did
> you think? Obviously they must have failed for you, but why did they
> fail?

Well, part of what I'm hoping to get out of this is that people are
going to be so sure I'm wrong, or at least misguided, that they're
going to point out numerous works that I should have tried, but
probably haven't. (Games I did like that I felt went a bit towards
what I like are "A Crimson Spring", "Babel", and "Rameses." Others
that I did like, to some extent: "Anchorhead" and "Slouching Towards
Bedlam.")

What I'm hoping is that people can suggest things that they feel
clearly disprove what I've been saying here. I'll be happy to play
those if I haven't. (Or replay them again if I have.)

- Jeff

Kathleen

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Jun 14, 2007, 4:38:19 PM6/14/07
to
On Jun 14, 3:34 am, "Jeff Nyman" <jeffny...@gmail.com> wrote:
> A limited third-person narrator, as an example, can be used to show two NPCs
> in conversation. The narration style could give the player one of those
> NPCS's words and actions alone (just observing), yet allow the player to get
> "into the head" of the other NPC, so as to relate thoughts as well as words
> and actions. This, to me, could provide a much deeper experience in terms of
> considering how and why NPCs act and think as they do and how you might use
> that to your advantage in the game.

> GIVE REPORT TO PAT
You place the report on the table, smoothing the cover with your hand
and aligning the lower edge with the table before sliding it across
the table. "Done."

Pat scowls, snatching the it off the table and quickly thumbing
through the pages. "Damn," he thinks, "she did it." And as his visions
of finally besting you go up in flames, he slowly hands over the
contract.

... ?

Kathleen

travel2light

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Jun 14, 2007, 6:59:18 PM6/14/07
to

> You, as the player in second-person, can be told that you know these people
> and that you like or dislike them. That can work if the game presents that
> information through various actions that you take. But what about the things
> that drive *you* as the player; that drive your character. For example, your
> player-character was scared to death by mice at one point in his/her life.
> Something with the game comes up and involves mice. Now, you, as the player,
> can have the player character try to do something with the mice. Both
> second-person and, say, first-person can deal with that situation, based on
> the past experience with mice, but the one forces you to try to internalize
> the emotions more whereas the other asks you simply to accept them and
> understand why the protagonist has them and why that may change how they
> respond to your actions.

I think I get what you're saying here. It's like in second person I am
being told 'you don't like mice' which can then create a conflict in
me because personally I might quite like them. So then I have to
detach myself and consciously realise that it is the player-character
who doesn't like them. Which is fine. But there are more processes
going on inside me -- that is to say I am having to make a conscious
disconnection from the player-character for that part of the game. And
then later on when the character is sailing along a river with awesome
cliffs all around him, something truly wonderful and inspiring -- then
I go back to wanting to be the character and imagining myself in that
situation. Then I get told how proud I am of my father for having used
slaves to dig a wonderful city beneath the mountains, and how I plan
to take up his work -- then I say "but not me!" So it switches
backwards and forwards. But with 3rd person fiction I don't have to
feel affronted. Another aspect of this dilemma is with regards to the
creative process of the author when writing in second person -- that
is he may find it more difficult to tell the player something
unappealing, immoral, bad or whatever about the player character for
fear that this will be an affront to his or her ego and therefore lose
the sympathy of the player. But the ironic thing is that this dilemma
and tension of doing precisely that, could actually be a strength of
second person narrative -- because it could create more conflict in
the player. That is to say she is literally _forced_ to think about
the situation and personality of the protagonist due to the problem of
his own issues and judgments of what she is being told. And on a more
profound level it also brings the player into a deeper connection and
dialogue with the author, e.g. how do I feel about this character the
author has created? What message is the author trying to convey to me?
And am I learning something about myself through this process? On a
more negative note it can lead to a somewhat preaching style of
narration. It's like I am being told to make a characters personality
become part of my own personality. This can work well as an
educational tool -- even as a way to confront the player -- to
challenge his assumptions. But it can also feel like I am being
manipulated -- like the author is presenting me with a situation and
telling me to feel a certain way about it. So there is a character
that is being revealed to me as the game progresses. I'm either
agreeing with his expected course of action or not. And I'm having to
either align or distance myself from his motive -- but either way it
doesn't matter -- I know I am not the character so for the duration of
the game I can enjoy the experience of being another person -- someone
who may be very different from me. So, from this perspective, second
person narration can be seen as a strength or a weakness. It can be
used to create a stronger sense of challenge and confrontation -- but
it can also be used to manipulate. As a form of propaganda it would
probably be highly effective. But all of this can also be achieved
through the other forms -- but the player has fewer processes to go
through in dealing with them. But he still has to align and assist
this character, and understand him. So I think that any of the forms
can be used effectively -- but the second person form could be the
most challenging to the player.

Michael

Jeff Nyman

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Jun 14, 2007, 7:18:15 PM6/14/07
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"travel2light" <everythi...@yahoo.co.uk> wrote in message
news:1181861958.0...@d30g2000prg.googlegroups.com...

>
> me because personally I might quite like them. So then I have to
> detach myself and consciously realise that it is the player-character
> who doesn't like them. Which is fine. But there are more processes
> going on inside me -- that is to say I am having to make a conscious
> disconnection from the player-character for that part of the game.

This is definitely an element of what I'm saying. There is a constant
disconnection that always is brought up when someone tells you that "you"
*must* feel something when you clearly don't. Granted, there is the notion
of suspending disbelief. But that works only when there isn't a credibility
gap and when you're not constantly being reminded that you are having to
suspend disbelief.

> the sympathy of the player. But the ironic thing is that this dilemma
> and tension of doing precisely that, could actually be a strength of
> second person narrative -- because it could create more conflict in
> the player.

That may be. I haven't seen it but, then as you say ....

> That is to say she is literally _forced_ to think about
> the situation and personality of the protagonist due to the problem of
> his own issues and judgments of what she is being told.

Except that with the second-person the notion of what is a personality (at
least to me) gets a bit fragmented because of the disconnection you mention.

On the other hand, though, I do see what you're saying. You're talking about
conflict. So ... hmmm. Yeah, maybe this does make a bit of sense as I think
on it here as I type.

> And on a more
> profound level it also brings the player into a deeper connection and
> dialogue with the author, e.g. how do I feel about this character the
> author has created? What message is the author trying to convey to me?

I think you could argue that. But if this form of narration was truly good
at doing this, I think it would be used more widely. That said,
counterarguing with my own self, perhaps this is where text-based IF offers
something different than other media such that second-person does work.

I thank you for this because this kind of insight is at least what makes
sense to me. I need to think through what you're saying more here since I'm
clearly replying off-the-cuff, but I thank you for your response as it has
helped me put second-person in a context.

- Jeff


Jeff Nyman

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Jun 14, 2007, 7:31:42 PM6/14/07
to
Just to sort of reply to my own self with a bit of a distillation of what
I've received.

Okay, here's what I presume most of us already know: characters (even those
in a game) are not just some POV "camera". A character doesn't just look at
something and tell us what they see; their own feelings (should) color and
shape their perceptions. That's what *makes them a character in the first
place.* It's what puts some context around the story.

Beyond that, POV tells you who is telling the story and -- sometimes more
importantly -- how they're telling it. (For example, are they coloring it
with fatalism or pessimism? Why? What if the player is succeeding in all
their actions? Why would the player character still color descriptions with
pessimism.) All stories have to be told by someone. But how they tell the
story can change as they grow as a character and as they encounter new
situations. But for that telling to change (in tone or content), it has to
make sense in relation to what's happened to the character *and* to their
personality.

I'm still not convinced that second-person does this well; but I'm looking
for examples that will show me I'm mistaken.

Somewhat related, but more on the narrative topic and on the idea of
narrative orientation, here's an example (and it's contrived; but all
examples are). I have a protagonist. If they eat a chunk of meat, it's
poisoned, and they die. If the player UNDOes that action, I want a bit of
narrative that can turn that usage of the implementation model (the game
engine) into part of the game itself. Here's an example in three
points-of-view:

= = = Second Person (present tense) = = =
> EAT THE MEAT
"You wolf down the chunk of meat all at once, that's how hungry you are. No
sooner than the meat hits bottom, you feel a sickening sensation in your
stomach. You fall against the table, desperately grabbing onto it, trying to
stay on your feet. The table -- or, rather, that rickety leg you had been
meaning to fix -- conspires against you; it and you topple to the floor.
Your bowels explosively release; a nice side effect of the poison. Death
with diginity is apparently out of the question.

...

Here you are three hours later. You have forgotten all about death with
dignity. For the love of God, you think, just let it end."

> UNDO
"You don't know what it is, but you have this thought that if you eat that
meat, you might end up getting killed. You have no reason to know this.
You've just got a suspicion about this meat. You'll later come to understand
where that suspicion came from."
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =


= = = First Person (past tense) = = =
> EAT THE MEAT
"I wolfed down the chunk of meat all at once; that's how hungry I was. No
sooner had the meat hit bottom, I felt a sickening sensation in my stomach.
I fell against the table, desperately grabbing onto it, trying to stay on my
feet. The table -- or, rather, that rickety leg that I'd been meaning to
fix -- conspired against me; it and I toppled to the floor. I have to be
honest, I was, at this point, contemplating death with dignity but that went
out the window as I experienced what could charitably be called explosive
defecation. Just a little extra treat from the poison.

...

Here I am three hours later. Forget death with dignity. For the love of God,
just let it end."

> UNDO
"I realized that if I ate that meat, I probably would have ended up getting
killed. Of course, I didn't know that right then, of course. It was just a
suspicion I had. But later ---- later I found out just how close I had
come."
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =


= = = Third Person (present tense) = = =
> EAT THE MEAT
"Blake wolfs down the chunk of meat all at once, that's how hungry he is.
But now he feels a sickening sensation in his stomach. He falls against the
table, desperately grabbing onto it, trying to stay on his feet. The
table -- or, rather, that rickety leg that he'd had been meaning to fix --
conspires against him; it and Blake topple to the floor. Blake's bowels
explosively release; a nice side effect of the poison, he realizes. Blake
comes to understand that death with diginity is apparently out of the
question.

...

Three hours later, Blake is still on the floor; all thoughts of dignity gone
from his mind. For the love of God, Blake thinks to himself, just let it
end."

> UNDO
"Blake doesn't know what it is, but he has this thought that if he eats that
meat, he might end up getting killed. He does'nt have any reason to know
this. He just has a suspicion about this meat. Later on that suspicion would
be confirmed."
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Forgetting for a moment critiques of my grammar (since that's not the
point), what do people think? Does any one of those stand out more than
another?

I think, overall, the death description is relatively okay between all
three. Now, of course, this does lead into: Okay, how is the player going to
"later" find out about the meat? As an author, that would be my job. To make
that consistent. Some action must take place where the protagonist does find
out that the meat is poisoned. It's here where I find second-person examples
can falter; when you want to introduce either a character aside (spoken by
the player-character-as-narrator) or a story aside (spoken by the
limited-third-person-narrator).

Of course, use of UNDO is not necessary here, I just do it by way of example
to show narrative possibilities. Even without the UNDO, I feel like I can
get into the character of Blake or the "I" (who is just Blake, in first
person) more than I can the "you" in second person. In both cases the
characters feelings, or specific personality, can color and shape their
perceptions and thus descriptions. I'm not sure that same thing can be
achieved with second-person because at some point you have to introduce
those personality aspects and feelings in second-person. That's what I find
lacking, particularly when you then want to use those asides as a
fundamental part of the game, such as explaining or indicating why the
character is acting (or not acting) in a certain way.

Now, as another example of how I think first-person (as one example) can
sound better, I've taken the beginning text from "When In Rome, Part 1" and
translated it from the second-person to first-person. It's not a one for one
translation. What I'm trying to show here is that the difference in how I
would have written the first person is a direct result of the narrative
possibilities (and the converstional style) I see possible with different
viewpoints. In no way whatsoever should this be taken as a critique of "When
In Rome." This is used for no other reason than it's well-known and, I
think, a really clever opening.

= = = = = Modified "When In Rome" Opening = = = = =
'Excuse me. You -- in the fedora.' It was a female voice. Coming from behind
me. 'Excuse me, but is it really too difficult to keep your dog leashed?'

In fact, it was very difficult for me to do so, especially considering I
didn't own a dog. I said as much to the voice as I turned back toward it.

The source of the aggravation was about ten feet back on the path: hair
somewhere between brown and honey, a Marilyn-esque figure, and one of those
tipped-up noses that makes women look like they're thoroughly annoyed with
the world at all times. And, believe me, I've been with enough to know.

There was also a short, apparently green, animal zipping around near the
bottom of her skirt. 'I don't think that's a dog,' I said, trying to get a
closer look at whatever the hell it was.

'Well, whatever you call this ... thing ... it *obviously* shouldn't be
unleashed.' The girl was clearly perturbed and apparently my earlier
admonition of not owning a dog hadn't sunk in.

'Yeah, well, like I said, it isn't mine. I don't own a dog. And if I did,
believe me, it wouldn't look like that.' At my tone, the girl looked down at
the ... whatever it was ... again. In the fading twilight of Central Park,
it was hard to see clearly, but I was pretty certain that it didn't belong
to the genus *canis*.";

'You think it might be an escaped monkey?' That's what I asked. It seems
stupid in hindsight, but I couldn't think of what else it could be.

'I don't know!' the woman exclaimed, her tone conveying that she felt only
an idiot would be asking her to speculate on the nature of this creature at
this particular moment in time. Before she could say anything else, there
was the unmistakable ripping sound of stitches coming free. I'd be lying if
I didn't say that I briefly wondered what she would do if the animal managed
to tear her skirt off.

'Oh, will you let go!' the woman yelled and attempted to swat the creature
with her handbag. There was a flash of green arms and the creature was off
and running for the shelter of the nearest bridge. 'It took my bag!' she
exclaimed, turning and blinking at me. 'Your pet took my bag!'

I opened my mouth to deny involvement but she didn't want to hear it;
instead she stripped off her shoes and went running after the thing. I
watched her disappear into the darkness of the underpass. I hate to say it,
but I considered just going home. Alas, the perverse side in me won out; I
didn't want this woman thinking that the stupid animal was my pet.

With chivalry taking a backseat to stubborness, I raced off after the woman.
= = = = = = = = = =

Could I have written that same type of thinking in second-person? Clearly,
yes. It's just that when I do, I find it comes off a bit artificial. And
that's even the case in a passage like this, where you really don't have to
explore the character via how they present themselves to you. I've found it
gets trickier, the more you use narrative to enlighten the player.

- Jeff


Jeff Nyman

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Jun 14, 2007, 7:43:08 PM6/14/07
to

"Kathleen" <mfis...@aol.com> wrote in message
news:1181853499.7...@e9g2000prf.googlegroups.com...

>> GIVE REPORT TO PAT
> You place the report on the table, smoothing the cover with your hand
> and aligning the lower edge with the table before sliding it across
> the table. "Done."
>
> Pat scowls, snatching the it off the table and quickly thumbing
> through the pages. "Damn," he thinks, "she did it." And as his visions
> of finally besting you go up in flames, he slowly hands over the
> contract.

Cool. Now here's how I, personally, tend to write something like that in
first-person and third person:

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
First Person (past tense)

> GIVE REPORT TO PAT
I placed the report on the table, deliberately smoothing the cover with my
hand. Because I couldn't resist, I aligned the lower edge with the table
before sliding it across. As per my usual, minimal level of communication
with Pat, I simply said: "Done."

Pat, predictably enough, scowled at me. (Gee, he's never done *that*
before.) He snatched the report off the table and started quickly thumbing
through the pages. I could just hear what he was thinking. "Damn, she
actually did it." Oh, he wasn't going to say it to me. But he sure as hell
was thinking it. And I can tell you his visions of finally besting me went
right up in flames. How do I know? Because he didn't fire back with his
usual snide comments. He just slowly handed over the contract.


= = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
Third Person (present tense)

> GIVE REPORT TO PAT
Kathleen places the report on the table, deliberately smoothing the cover
with her hand. Because she can't resist, she aligns the lower edge with the
table before sliding it across to Pat. Kathleen's normal conversations with
Pat are small. This one was no exception. She simply says: "Done."

Pat, predictably enough, Kathleen thinks, scowls at her. He snatches the
report off the table and starts quickly thumbing through the pages. Kathleen
has no trouble at all imagining what he was thinking. It was as clear as if
he was saying it. Pat was thinking: "Damn, she actually did it." Kathleen
knew he wouldn't say that or anything close to it. Kathleen realizes that
Pat's visions of finally besting her just went right up in flames. Pat, not
saying a word, slowly hands over the contract.


= = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Clearly it's a matter of style, as others have indicated, but I just feel
that more possibilities are open to this scene and to the characterization
that led to this scene in other viewpoints. That's not to say it can't be
done in second-person. As you've just shown, it clearly can. I just
presented my alternatives to give some concrete examples of how I tend to
see scenes in text-based IF.

- Jeff


Brian Slesinsky

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Jun 15, 2007, 1:00:32 AM6/15/07
to
On Jun 14, 4:18 pm, "Jeff Nyman" <jeffny...@gmail.com> wrote:

> This is definitely an element of what I'm saying. There is a constant
> disconnection that always is brought up when someone tells you that "you"
> *must* feel something when you clearly don't. Granted, there is the notion
> of suspending disbelief. But that works only when there isn't a credibility
> gap and when you're not constantly being reminded that you are having to
> suspend disbelief.

The way I think of it is that in second person, the player is the
starring actor in your play. Some roles are easy to play, as when
you're playing a sympathetic character who reacts the same way you
would. If you're playing an unsympathetic character, the role will be
more of a challenge (and maybe less fun). Sometimes you might just
disagree with the writer of your lines: "What is this awful dialog
you're putting in my mouth. Who am I supposed to be?"

As a writer, you need to provide enough guidance that the actor will
know what to do in your play while leaving some scope for variation.
I wonder whether being explicit about providing stage directions to
the player would make this clearer?

Also, I expect that roles that actors find fun to play also make good
main characters in IF.

greg

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Jun 15, 2007, 2:20:29 AM6/15/07