1) Academic/Professional Sources
This bibliography was published in the November 2002 issue of TEXT
25 Aug 2001; Dennis
This part of the Annotated IF Bibliography
§1.1: Articles, Books & Theses
Aarseth, Espen J. Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins UP, 1997. [link]
Aarseth articulates a comprehensive theory of interactive literature that applies across technological and generic boundaries. "A cybertext is a machine for the production of a variety of expression" (3). According to Aarseth, "ergodic" literature is that in which "nontrivial effort is required to allow the reader to traverse the text" (1). The book includes chapters on hypertext literature, interactive fiction, and MUDs. Aarseth's interactive fiction chapter includes a call for better IF scholarship and criticism: "The adventure game is an artistic genre of its own, a unique aesthetic field of possibilities, which must be judged on its own terms" (107).
Highlights from the introductory chapter:
In the chapter "Intrigue and Discourse in the Adventure Game," Aarseth opens with a brief history of the Internet, and offers Don Woods's description of his collaboration with Willie Crowther in the creation of "Colossal Cave Adventure." Aarseth agrees with Buckles's assessment of the "Adventure" phenomenon as a manifestation of Internet folk art.
- "The concept of cybertext focuses on the mechanical organization of the text, by positing the intricacies of the medium as an integral part of the literary exchange. However, it also centers attention on the consumer, or user, of the text, as a more integrated figure than even reader-response theorists would claim" (1).
- "Since literary theorists are trained to uncover literary ambivalence in texts with linear expression, they evidently mistook texts with variable expression for texts with ambiguous meaning. When confronted with a forking text such as a hypertext, they claimed that all texts are produced as a linear sequence during reading. . . . [But] when you read from a cybertext, you are constantly reminded of inaccessible strategies and paths not taken, voices not heard. Each decision will make some parts of the text more, and others less, accessible, and you may never know the exact results of your choices; that is, exactly what you missed. This is very different from the ambiguities of a linear text" (3).
- To Aarseth, the reader of a linear text is "[l]ike a spectator at a soccer game," who "may speculate, conjecture, extrapolate, even shout abuse" but cannot influence the text. "The reader's pleasure is the pleasure of the voyeur. Safe, but impotent. The cybertext reader, on the other hand, is not safe, and therefore, it can be argued, she is not a reader. . . . The cybertext reader is a player, a gambler; the cybertext is a game-world or world-game; it is possible to explore, get lost, and discover secret paths in those texts, not metaphorically, but through the topological structures of the textual machinery" (4).
- Aarseth argues that science-fiction authors have a better theoretical grasp of cybertext than literary theorists, the latter of whom mistakenly apply metaphorical structures such as labyrinths and ambiguity (typically found in postmodern texts) with cybertexts that are, in form and content, inseparable from the textual mazes or variables within the structure of the document, rather than merely applied by the reader's interpretation. "Thus, the interpretations and misinterpretations of the digital media by literary theorists is a recurrent theme of this book" (14).
Anderson, Peter Bøgh and Berit Holmqvist. "Interactive Fiction: Artificial Intelligence as a Mode of Sign Production." AI and Society 4 (1990): 291-313. [link]
- "... the ergodic structures invented by Crowther and Woods twenty years ago are of course far from dead but instead persevere as the basic figure for the large and growing industrial entertainment genre, called, by a somewhat catachrestic pleonasm, 'interactive games.' . . . It is a paradox that, despite the lavish and quite expensive graphics of these productions, the player's creative options are still as primitive as they were in 1976" (102-103).
- Observes that Buckles, in her dissertation on "Adventure," "seems uninterested in placing her subject text at a specific point in history, and she mentions its creators, Crowther and Woods, only in footnotes. . . . Most commentators and critics of the adventure game genre (Bolter and Joyce 1987; Randall 1988; Ziegfeld 1989; Bolter 1991; Sloane 1991; Murray 1995) fail to mention the original Adventure at all, and those who do usually date it far off the mark (Niesz and Holland 1984; Lanestedt 1989; Aarseth 1994) and often neglect to mention its creators (Moulthrop and Kaplan 1991; Kelley 1993)" (107).
- Offers a detailed analysis of the writing, plot, characters, and even the software bugs which contribute to (or detract from) the effectiveness of Marc Blank's "Deadline" (Infocom, 1982) (115-127).
The authors advocate artificial intelligence (AI) as a means of manipulating character behavior within the interactive space wherein the reader and program together create a story, much as a stage actor employs the script and fellow actors in order to generate a performance. Anderson and Holmqvist invoke hypertext theorists and the virtual reality analytics of Brenda Laurel, for the purpose of presenting a barroom scenario in which the reader/player interacts with several simulated characters with distinct agendas. A "good" couple (dressed in white) and a "bad" couple (dressed in black) interact via signified actions (hackneyed "film noir" motifs such as buying a drink or lighting a cigarette). Their work, from a project at the Institute of Information and Media Science, University of Aarhus (Denmark), bears much resemblance the "virtual theater" work of the Oz Project at Carnegie Mellon (see also §1.2: Bates; Mateas; Mateas and Stern).
- Just as successful interaction with a computer application requires a clear difference between, for instance an arrow pointer (for selecting menus and pushing buttons) and an I-beam (for inserting and manipulating text), so too, the authors argue, should interactive media develop its own "idioms that exploit the characteristics of the computer based sign" (291).
- This kind of interactive storytelling involves tracking the internal emotions (loneliness, vulnerability, etc.) of various simulated characters, and playing out a scenario based upon these states, which fluctuate with the action. Unlike the profession of literary criticism, which takes a polished product and analyzes it for evidence of underlying structure, the AI method begins with the structure, and builds a rudimentary story upon it.
[Note: The AI method of computer storytelling focuses on simulating everyday human behavior; but good stories generally require unusual events of some kind - or at least an artistic presentation of everyday events. Many IF practitioners (e.g. §3: Granade, "Artificial Intelligence in IF") argue that full-blown AI is a red herring. Nevertheless, the programming of believable supporting characters remains a technical and aesthetic challenge in command-line IF (see §3: Short).]
Buckles, Mary Ann. "Interactive Fiction: The Computer Storygame 'Adventure'." Ph.D. Thesis. U. Cal at San Diego, 1985. [link]
In a New Critical approach rarely seen in academic discussions of IF, Buckles de-emphasizes the role of the programmer/author, taking "Colossal Cave Adventure" (Crowther, c.1975; Crowther and Woods, 1976) as a "given," and examining instead the reader/player's efforts to make meaning out of the experience. As an immature medium, IF has not yet produced great literature: "I do not believe that the literary limitations of Adventure means that computer story games are of necessity a sub-literary genre, or that there is something about the computer medium itself which pre-destines interactive fiction always to be frivolous in nature. The development of film can be taken as an analogy."
Campbell, P. Michael. "Interactive Fiction and Narrative Theory: Towards an Anti-Theory." New England Journal and Bread Loaf Quarterly 10 (1987): 76-84. [link]
- On the nature of language puzzles (as presented in legend, the Bible, and riddle anthologies) as a factor in traditional fiction. One such puzzle: "Brothers and sisters I have none; but this man's father is my father's son. Who am I?"
- "Especially in the longer stories, the situations seem to be chosen not only because they express the logical relationships so well, but [also] because we can interpret them as moral or aesthetic problems" (47).
- "In most of the stories the reader can identify with characters' wishes or needs. Since their goals make sense to us, there is a reason, a motivation for solving the problems, i.e. we fulfill our own needs vicariously by fulfilling the characters' needs. Often the problems are couched in a primitive psychology of reward and punishment: if the heroes answer the questions correctly they win something valuable, and if not, they die" (48).
- Applies Vladimir Propp's schema for the analysis of folktales, and concludes that "Adventure" bears only a surface resemblance to the structure of folktales (104).
- Offers thoughtful and interesting commentary on the significance of various passages for several volunteer players.
- "[O]ne reader interpreted her adventure as entering a cave which all the creatures inhabited and [in which] she was an intruder. It was her duty not to disturb the creatures if possible. She therefore assumed that the purpose of the wicker cage was to catch and cage any cave creature she didn't want to kill outright" (127).
- [This same player tried to cage] "every creature she met in Adventure, including the dwarf throwing axes and knives at her. . . . After it became apparent that she would try negotiating with the animals, avoiding them, appeasing them, feeding them - anything but kill them, even when they were attacking her - she and her playing partner had a philosophical argument as to the validity of her attitude" (128). (See §1.1: Sloane.)
- Her partner then "insisted that she throw the axe at the dwarf, and she insisted variously that there is good in every creature," "do unto others as you would have them do unto you," and "of course it's justified in trying to kill us, we're enfringing [sic] on its territory." The dwarf then killed them, they were reincarnated, attacked by the dwarf again, she tried a few more non-violent tactics and was killed a second time. At this point she observed that she guessed the same thing happens to her in real life. She always tries to see only the good in people and then they dump on her. Whether she will draw any real-life consequences from this observation is another question, but she did modify her game-strategy. . . . There is, then an underlying set of conventions in Adventure that is analogous in some sense to the moral underpinings [sic] of folktales, but it is the process of decision-making based on self examination and motive analysis the reader undergoes while solving problems, not the depicted actions and events in the story" (129).
- "Somebody encountering a conventional story can pass his or her eyes over the entire text without filling in, or even perceiving, any of the textual gaps. IF is completely different, because the story stops until the 'reader' attempts to supply the missing action" (165).
- Gestures towards, but does not elaborate upon, the consideration of IF not as an outgrowth of fiction, but as a kind of lyrical poetry, in which the reader's interpretation of events makes meaning: "Many readers get intensely, emotionally involved in the fictional events because of their step-by-step activity in exploring the fictional world and mastering the fictional events. This can unlock strong feelings and memories of associated events from their own lives with they then build into the imaginary world they are creating. Finally, the fictional events in Adventure, for example, are only minimally explained, i.e. there is little context provided for the reader by the author. In this one sense, interactive fiction's quality of evoking emotionally charged and intellectually complete contexts for the text makes it more similar to the open textuality of lyrical poetry than the tightly woven textual fabric of fiction" (178).
reading of Robert Pinsky's "Mindwheel" (Synapse/Broderbund, 1984). Pinsky was
the U.S. Poet Laureate from 1997-2000. Campbell spends so much time describing
the form of the "computerized novel") that he has little time to analyze the
content. (See also §1.1: Packard.) Since "Mindwheel" is extremely difficult
to find (except via morally ambiguous "abandon-ware" websites), this article
(along with §1.1: Randall) is useful as a fossilized record of early cyberliterature.
Coleman, Douglas W. "Language Learning Through Computer Adventure Games" Simulation & Gaming 21 (1990): 433, 8p. Academic Search Elite full text database. 26 par. 30 May 2000. [link]
the title suggests an emphasis on adventure games, of classic text-only titles
the article briefly mentions only Zork. Nevertheless, "some of the games available
for home computers are designed around problem-solving activities and require
methodical planning, thinking, and note taking" (¶4). Of possible interest
to IF scholars is Coleman's list of attributes that affect whether a player perceives
a computer gaming session as "fun" - and thus, presumably, contributes to the
player's determination to continue playing.
Constanzo, William V. "Reading Interactive Fiction: Implications of a New Literary Genre." Educational Technology 26 (1986): 31-5. [link]
Most of the article is concerned with introducing the concept of IF to an unfamiliar audience, using transcripts from Douglas Adams's "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" (Infocom, 1984, with Steve Meretzky), and James Paul's "Brimstone" (Synapse/Broderbund, 1985). Also features a brief description of Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451" (Spinnaker, 1984). (See also §1.1: Packard.)
Desilets, Brendan. "Interactive Fiction vs. the Pause that Distresses: How Computer-Based Literature Interrupts the Reading Process Without Stopping the Fun." Currents in Electronic Literacy 1 (1999). 19 Sep, 2000. http://www.cwrl.utexas.edu/currents/spr99/desilets.html. [link]
- "Are interactive texts shaping new attitudes towards reading? If they provide new contexts for learning about language, story-telling, and ideas, are they encouraging particular skills and values at the expense of others? What happens to the traditional elements of fiction when the reader enters the fictional world as a participant? Does interactive fiction constitute a genuinely new form of literature?" (31).
- While Constanzo does not attempt to answer all the questions he asks above, he does conclude thus: "When
we turn the first pages of The Odyssey, Pride and Prejudice, or Brave New
World, we gain admittance to a system, enclosed and complete. Each system
has its physical and psychological premises, its codes of human interaction,
its written and unwritten laws. Our ability to read a book successfully depends
largely upon our understanding of the fictionalized world order. . . . Until
now, readers have had no genuinely active way to learn the codes in context,
as participants, no way to test their responses against a responsive text.
Interactive fiction is changing the meaning of reader response. It is giving
a new generation of readers unprecedented opportunities to encounter literature,
and in the process it is redefining the relationship between the reader and
the text. As educators, we would do well to watch closely as this relationship
Writing mostly for an audience unfamiliar with IF, Desilets presents his experience using interactive fiction to teach literary concepts (plot, setting, point of view) to children ages 11 through 14. He reports that about 70% of the students preferred to study IF texts, in part because "it challenges them to recognize and solve problems in ways that no textbook seems to be able to match" (¶8). (See also §1.1: Packard.)
Desilets, Brendan. "Reading, Thinking, and Interactive Fiction." English Journal 78 (1989): 75-77. [link]
- Desilets presents his seventh-grade class encountering an unfamiliar word in "Arthur: The Quest for Excalibur" (Bob Bates, 1989), and discusses the opening scenes of "Planetfall" (Steve Meretzky, 1983) and the sleeping grue puzzle in "Wishbringer" (Brian Moriarty, 1985) for their value in challenging readers to conceptualize problems according to their experience of the text.
- He also refers to the plot ramifications connected with moral choices such as "killing a bellicose stranger" in "Zork III" (Infocom, 1978-81) and "deciding whether to respect the orders of Preelman" in "A Mind Forever Voyaging" (Steve Meretzky, 1985). Praises "A Mind Forever Voyaging" as "a work of serious science fiction that many readers regard as the finest piece of IF yet written" (¶15).
- Desilets describes methods of using IF to teach, including having a student seated at a single computer read the text for the rest of the class; using an LCD panel on an overhead projector; and having students assemble maps, hints and other supporting material in folders dedicated to each IF story.
- The classic Scott Adams adventures (circa 1979) "offer little in the way of theme and character development" (¶24), but in "Photopia" (Adam Cadre, 1998), "the thoughtful student reader, with the right kind of help, comes to see that the astronomical concepts that emerge from the a [sic] touching father-daughter dialogue illuminate another subplot of the story, one in which the daughter, some years later, weaves a tale of space travel for a younger girl who idolizes her" (¶25).
- Discusses the character of the knight who challenges the young Arthur to a joust in "Arthur," demonstrating that the text presents the knight as honorable, and that the game penalizes a player who suspects the knight of cheating during the contest.
An embryonic version of his 1999 article, also describing scenes from "Planetfall" and "Wishbringer," and evaluates the problem-solving strategies of middle-school students playing IF in class. Perhaps most notable in this article is a brief passage addressing resistance from adults who dislike IF: "What's wrong with this picture? If you're one of the many adults who has tried interactive fiction and hated it, you think you may know. Actually, IF aversion is easily understandable, in that many of us get the worst possible advice [from students who present it as a kind of novel] as we get started with the genre. . . . And twenty cryptic error messages later, we've had enough of interactive fiction, because, in truth, even the most sophisticated IF program can deal with only a tiny portion of the kinds of English sentences that any speaker of the language uses" (77). Desilets' advice is simple: "all we need to do is read the clear and witty documentation that comes with each of the programs."
Dewey, Patrick R. "Interactive Fiction: A Checklist." American Libraries 17 (1986): 132-7. [link]
General introduction to the IF genre, written by a supportive librarian and amateur IF author. Includes capsule reviews of such titles as Ray Bradbury's "Farenheit 451" (Spinnaker, 1984), Michael Crichton's "Amazon" (Trillium, 1984), Arthur C. Clarke's "Rendezvous with Rama" (Spinnaker, 1984), and Douglas Adams's "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" (Infocom, 1984; with Steve Meretzky). Also, includes summaries of four IF authorship utilities.
Dunman, Susan K. "Judging the Book By a New Cover: Interactive Fiction." Media and Methods 23 (1987): 12-13+. [link]
- "All-text interactive fiction is also the best type of game for libraries to purchase and circulate because it requires lots of reading. Some libraries have encouraged it, playing host to adventure clubs. Others have allowed them to be counted as books read in the summer reading program" (133).
- "An all-text interactive fiction game is also an investment in longevity, since it can take weeks to complete. Some are so complex that they require 'mapping' (the representation of the landscape - or locations - on paper by the player) to solve" (133).
- "Aficionados can produce original adventure games by using any one of several authoring systems. . . . It's unlikely, however, that homemade games will be quite as spectacular as, say, Infocom's Zork series" (133).
- "My hope is that all-text games will not be replaced by the comic-book variety of graphics-intensive games" (133).
A reference librarian laments that computers placed in the middle of libraries tend to draw attention away from books. "The increasingly popular form of software known as 'interactive fiction' provides an opportunity to combine the power of the computer with the power of the written word" (12). . (See also §1.1: Packard.)
Harris, Barbara and Bruce C. Appleby. "Interactive Fiction." English Journal 76 (1987): 91-2. [link]
- Refers to IF adaptations (including "Fahrenheit 451," "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," "The Hobbit," "Treasure Island") that could be taught in conjunction with the source; also, original IF titles that fall into genre categories such as science fiction, fantasy, mystery, and adventure.
- "Whether or not interactive fiction represents an emerging literary art form is certainly open to debate, but if this should prove to be the case, what better place than the library to first experience it?" Playing IF requires students to practice such desirable classroom skills as accurate typing and spelling, recognizing basic parts of speech, reading instruction booklets and scene-setting pamphlets, taking notes, sharing resources, and interacting in small groups (40).
Brief introduction to IF, with belated reviews of "Mask of the Sun" (Ultrasoft, 1982) and "Deadline" (Infocom, 1982). IF "comes close to being a genre of fiction. . . . Is this literature? . . . That they need to be read with care and demand careful and logical responses makes them worth considering for your students" (91). (See also §1.1: Packard.)
Howell, Gordon and Jane Yellowlees Douglas. "The Evolution of Interactive Fiction." Computer Assisted Language Learning: An International Journal 2: (1990). 93-109. [link]
Howell and Douglas make no reference to command-line IF, but rather discuss the canonical works of early hyperfiction (Joyce's "Afternoon"; Moulthrop's "Garden of Forking Paths") which Landow would later examine in his influential Hypertext: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology. Nevertheless, this article begins with a useful analysis of Tristram Shandy, the experimental eighteenth-century novel which seems to have discovered postmodern narrative long before the twentieth century did.
Hutcheon, Linda. A Poetics of Postmodernism. New York and London: Routledge, 1988. [link]
A very brief reference. Hutcheon, discussing the postmodern tradition of emphasizing the receiver's role in constructing a text, and who then offers interactive fiction as "the most extreme example I can think of" (77). Hutcheon quotes Niesz and Holland to claim that, in interactive fiction, "there is no fixed product or text, just the reader's activity as producer as well as receiver." (See §1.1: Aarseth, who calls this observation "clearly false; otherwise [IF texts] could hardly be discussed at all" , and observes that "Hutcheon's misrepresentation is understandable in light of the often self-contradictory Anthony Niesz and Norman N. Holland article she refers to." See also §1.1: Niesz and Norman.)
Kelley, Robert T. "A Maze of Twisty Little Passages, All Alike: Aesthetics and Teleology in Interactive Computer Fictional Environments." Science Fiction Studies 20 (1993): 52-68. [link]
The author treats IF in part as a launching point in order to examine the potential of virtual reality, but along the way he examines other issues as well. IF is not central to this paper, yet Kelley writes with a welcome awareness of earlier IF scholarship.
Lancy, David F. and Bernard L. Hayes. "Interactive Fiction and the Reluctant Reader." English Journal (November 1988): 42-45. [link]
- He begins with a discussion of a short story by Stanislaw Lem, about a robot who created a simulated microminiature kingdom in order to pacify the power-lust of a brutal king, only to realize that the slavery of simulated citizens is an equal moral horror. The king's involvement with the simulated world is likened to an actualization of Barthes's "writerly text."
- Kelley notes that the interactivity that many theorists claim for hypertext is largely mythical, but rightly questions the tendency of Niesz and Holland to overlook the narrative limitations of IF.
- To stake out a middle ground, Kelley refers to Brenda Laurel's three levels of interactivity (see §1.1: Laurel 1993).
- With his brief but insightful assessment of the political storyline in "Trinity" (Infocom, 1986), Kelley offers one of very few extended critical readings of IF beyond the canonical "Colossal Cave Adventure" and "Zork." (See also §1.1: Aarseth; Campbell; Desilets; Randall.)
- Observes that IF seems to require a trade-off between the range of choices (as in the "Zork" games) and depth of story (as in "Trinity").
"[I]nteractive fiction could offer students who are reluctant readers a new motivation and interest to use their reading ability for personal satisfaction" (42). While the authors feel that calling IF (by which they mean both text-only and text-with-graphics titles) a new literary form is "debatable... there is no doubt that these sophisticated, interactive games involve the reader in activities that many current reading theorists would emphasize as important and essential in developing reading comprehension strategies" (42). Among the IF works presented to fifth-grade students were Infocom titles "Zork," "Seastalker," and "Wishbringer"; Sierra versions of "Winnie-the-Pooh in the Hundred Acre Wood" and "Ulysses and the Golden Fleece"; and Windham Classic versions of "Alice in Wonderland," "The Wizard of Oz," "Treasure Island," and "Swiss Family Robinson." The article focuses on the reading strategies of the children, rather than on any of the IF titles, although "Seastalker" is identified as an "electronic novel" that presupposes advanced reading skills.
Laurel, Brenda. Computers as Theatre. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1993. [link]
- "Whatever one may think of interactive fiction as literature, it does require students to read and in most cases, to write. It, therefore, has a place in school-supported recreational reading programs, on the school library shelves, and on recommended reading lists" (45-46).
- The authors conclude with their "impression that those students who are most often hardest to 'reach' in conventional literature and composition classes - those we have labeled reluctant readers - are often most enthusiastic about computers and the game-like qualities of interactive fiction" (46).
Computers as Theatre is a theoretical book, which offers stagecraft as a metaphor for the design of computer interfaces. Laurel does not address IF proper, except in passing, although her quantification of the three levels of interactivity (frequency of interactive opportunities, range of choices, and the degree to which any particular choice will truly affect the outcome) is extremely useful. Laurel used her research in theatre, education, and gender issues to found the software company devoted to creating non-violent computer games for girls. In 1999, that company, Purple Moon, rejected a $45 million takeover offer from Mattel. Laurel herself is now a respected computer interface authority, who in August 2000 joined the consulting firm of high-profile Internet usability guru Jakob Nielsen.
In the chapter "Dramatic Foundations II: Orchestrating Actions," Laurel "deals with how plots - representational actions - are constructed so that they provide emotional and intellectual satisfaction, and how these dramatic principles can inform the design of human-computer activity" (68).
- Color Plate XI shows Star Trek: The Next Generation characters Data, LaForge, and Pulaski in Victorian costume. The caption reads "two members of the Starship Enterprise crew relax with an interactive Sherlock Holmes mystery." In fact, the photo shows three crewmembers - one of them dressed as Holmes.
- "Other kinds of failures in human-computer activity can also be seen as failures on the level of thought. One of my favorite examples is a parser used in several text adventure games. . . . . [A] person might read the sentence, 'Hargax slashed the dragon with his broadsword.' The person might then type, 'take the broadsword,' and the 'game' might respond, 'I DON'T KNOW THE WORD "BROADSWORD".' The inference that one would make is that the game 'agent' is severely brain-damaged, since the agent that produces language and the agent that comprehends it are assumed to be one in the same" (59).
Laurel, Brenda. "Towards the Design of a Computer-based Interactive Fantasy System." Ph.D. Dissertation. Ohio State University 1986. [link]
- Laurel argues that computer programs have more "potential for action" than plays. Refers to Aristotelian formulation of plot as a progression from many possibilities to few, as the motives of the character are revealed; as the play reveals more information, it steadily excludes competing possibilities and directs the action of the play in a particular path. "At the final moment of a play. . . all of the competing lines of probability are eliminated except one, and that one is the final outcome" (69).
- "A program that reformulates the potential for action, creating new possibilities and new probabilities "on the fly" as a response to what has gone before, is equivalent to a playwright changing a plot in real time in collaboration with the actors and director, and communicating some new portions of script to them in real time through some automagical means" (72-73).
- Refers to Gustav Freytag's "visualization of dramatic anatomy" and "[t]he notion that the action of a play could be quantified" (82). Offers short samples of dialogue, which she then analyzes according to whether each bit of information communicated by the dialogue complicates or resolves action, and the degree of significance of each. "Given an informational analysis of the potential actions involved in human-computer activity, quantitative structural criteria could be used for orchestrating those incidents into the desired overall shape" (86). (See §1.2: Mateas; Sharp).
- In a discussion of the disruption experienced by users when computers won't accept their commands: "People are encouraged to use natural language to express their choices, and so they expect words to work. They have no clue to tell them which words are unknown to the system except the experience of failure. On the other hand, given the text-based nature of the game and the equipment that it is usually run on, people are never encouraged to attempt to express themselves through gestures or physical actions. The absence of visual and kinesthetic modes in the system is accepted as a given, and the resulting constraints are unobtrusive. Such constraints are extrinsic to the action but may be utilized effectively if they are presented simply and explicitly, or if they are integrated into the mimetic context (for example, 'this ship is not equipped for voice communication.')" (112).
- Applies Coleridge's "willing suspension of disbelief" to computer applications (arguing that the representation of an object, such as a manuscript or spreadsheet, on the computer screen is as pretend as the representation of objects in a game or actions on a stage (113).
- While much discussion of interactive narrative emphasizes the branching nature of plots (see §2.1: Herz), Laurel offers the "flying wedge" as a model for linear narrative: "A plot is a progression from the possible to the probable to the necessary." That is, at the beginning of a plot, many actions seem possible; for the plot to be effective, it must subsequently present probable actions, until ending with necessary actions (69-73).
? (My repeated attempts to request this via inter-library loan have been fruitless.)
Layton, Kent. "Interactive Text Adventures." Media & Methods (1987): [page numbers illegible in my copy]. [link]
Interactive fiction titles "may be one of the most underrated types of reading programs on the market." Describes branching prose fiction as "the less complete type of text adventure," and quotes a short transcript from "Zork" (Infocom, c. 1979). IF is "conversational in nature and definitively causes users to feel as though they are actively involved with the story." Offers a list of 15 "reading skills likely to be used" when students encounter IF. Advocates IF because students are excited about computers; they must read and express their own wishes textually; and because IF works well in small groups. "To the classroom teacher, the reading teacher, and the school library media specialist, interactive text adventures are much more than computer games. . . . More importantly, interactive text adventures help to foster a love for reading that may in turn foster a lifelong reading habit."
Lebling, David P., Marc S. Blank, Timothy A. Anderson. "Zork: A Computerized Fantasy Simulation Game." IEEE Computer 12:4 (1979): 51-59. 7 Jan, 2000. http://www.csd.uwo.ca/Infocom/Articles/ieee.html. [link]
With this article, the creators of "Zork" announced their contribution to the IF genre. These programmers, who would go on to create Infocom (which marketed most of the classic 80s IF) thought of the new genre as a platform for a "fantasy simulation game," very closely tied to the world of Dungeons and Dragons. Soon thereafter, thanks in large part to the efficiently-programmed works of Scott Adams, IF would expand into other genres (mystery, science fiction, etc.).
Montfort, Nicholas A. "Cybertext Killed the Hypertext Star" Electronic Book Review 11 (2000). 8 Jan 2001. http://www.electronicbookreview.com/ebr11/11mon/index.html. [link]
[Review of §1.1: Aarseth]. Observes that "hypertext. . . includes only a subset of electronic literary efforts" ("the hypertext murder case" ¶4) and approves of Aarseth's accomplishment: "to erase the stifling hypertext boundary, and to redraw that boundary so that it demarcates a more interesting territory of reader-influenced texts. The cybertext terrain includes computational literary artifacts that are in some cases novel, although yet to be thoroughly explored" ("the hypertext murder case" ¶2). (See also §1.2: Montfort, especially his close reading of "Deadline.")
Moulthrop, Stuart and Nancy Kaplan. "Something to Imagine: Literature, Composition, and Interactive Fiction." Computers and Composition 9.1 (1991): 7-23. 15 Dec 2000. http://www.cwrl.utexas.edu/~ccjrnl/Archives/v9/9_1_html/9_1_1_Moulthrop.html. [link]
- Montfort expressively captures the friction between hypertext theorists and those who wish to examine other forms of electronic narrative: "The phrase 'interactive fiction' . . . can cause loud gnashing of teeth among hypertext authors. They ask, 'if these things is [sic] interactive fiction, what is my work -not interactive?' (This complaint usually comes from the people who brought you 'serious hypertext,' a phrase that clearly suggests everything else is not serious.) . . . The term 'interactive fiction' is not a claim that the form it describes is the only fiction that is interactive in any way. It was simply coined because interactivity and fiction are central features of this form, which also has other distinguishing characteristics that do not lend themselves to encapsulation in two words" ("text adventures and interactive fiction" ¶5).
- Montfort identifies the hapless protagonist of an IF game with the protagonist of Christopher Durang's Actor's Nightmare ("meeting deadline" ¶1), and defends "Deadline" for not complaining about Aarseth's effort to have his detective-character fingerprint himself. Aarseth finds it ridiculous that the game returns a stock phrase about how "fingerprinting the me" would be unproductive, yet Montfort argues that "The one who pokes at the interface to see what will happen is actually being playful" ("meeting deadline" ¶4).
Moulthrop and Kaplan describe the experience of teaching "a first-year writing course on the literature of fantasy" that "enabled students to explore this mode of expression both as readers and writers of interactive fiction" (¶2). In a section titled "The Concept of Interactive Fiction," the authors write, "When writers make use of hypertext to produce fictional narrative, the result is interactive fiction, a form of writing which regularly calls upon the reader to respond in some way (e.g. by keying commands, highlighting a phrase with a pointing device, or touching a button on the screen)" (¶14). Hence, Moulthrop and Kaplan seem to define the term "interactive fiction" broadly enough to include command-line IF, and they do in fact quote from a transcript of Pinsky's "Mindwheel" (Synapse/Broderbund, 1984); yet their application is focused on hypertext. Because they cite (§1.1) Niesz and Holland's article as the "first critical appraisal of electronic fiction" (¶45), Moulthrop and Kaplan appear to be comparing apples and oranges when they argue "this new form of writing [hypertext] is neither as unimaginable as Niesz and Holland anticipated nor quite so likely to alienate anyone's literary affections" (¶46). Nevertheless, this article, written a few years before the advent of graphical browsers for the masses, ends with intriguing and salient questions about the possibility of interactive electronic narrative to provide professionals and amateurs with a sense of a reading and writing community.
Murray, Janet Horowitz. Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace. New York: Free Press, 1997. [link]
Murray takes "interactive fiction" to include hypertext and other forms of interaction, and thus has little to say about parser-based IF; yet her observations about the nature of electronic narrative are indispensable. Regarding command-line IF, the bibliography cites only "Adventure," "Deadline," "Planetfall" and "Zork."
Newman, Judith M. "Online: Write Your Own Adventure." Language Arts 65 (1988): 329-234. [link]
- While she acknowledges the powerful effect that the death of Floyd has upon many players of "Planetfall" (52-53) and her annotated transcript from "Zork" is an excellent introduction to the genre (74-82 passim), Murray, like (§1) Buckles, does not articulate an awareness of interactive fiction as the creation of an author/programmer; this necessarily limits the kinds of insights this book offers. Nevertheless, Murray articulates an optimistic view of computers in the service of human creativity.
- "Whether or not we will one day be rewarded with the arrival of the cyberbard, we should hasten to place this new compositional tool as firmly as possible in the hands of the storytellers" (284).
Describes the experiences of a fifth-graders using Story Tree (Scholastic) to write branching prose fiction, in the style of the "Choose Your Own Adventure Novel." No explicit references to command-line IF. While Newman is generally positive about the students' experiences, as well as her own, she ends with the following caution: "While software such as Story Tree can be wonderfully useful in the classroom we mustn't lose sight of what we're using it for - to enrich and support children's learning experiences" (234). (See §1.1: Packard.)
Niesz, Anthony J. and Norman N. Holland. "Interactive Fiction." Critical Inquiry 11 (1984): 110-129. [link]
In their near-evangelistic praise of the emerging genre, Niesz and Holland sound not unlike George Landow or Stuart Moulthrop in the early 90s, writing about hypertext narrative. So far as I can tell, this article is the first to consider seriously how literary criticism (particularly reader-response theory) might handle IF. As the authors themselves admit, "Writing about interactive fiction in 1984 is like writing about the movies in 1900 or television in 1945." When they speculate on what shape interactive fiction will take in 2004, they immediately latch upon "[n]ationwide computer networks now connected by telephone" (126), and refer to technological methods to enact T. S. Eliot's dictum that the best response to a poem is another poem. The authors conclude: "Microcomputers will change our ideas and our practice of literature as much as Gutenberg did, deeply refining the humanities in the process."
The authors make several other notable observations about IF:
- The most "literate" IF draws heavily upon formulas such as those found in Sherlock Holmes or Horatio Hornblower stories. Further, "as of 1984, no interactive fiction. . . measures up even to these originals" (120).
- The fact that IF requires the mediation of a computer distances the reader from "the text" in unexpected ways:
- Since the plot only advances when the reader issues commands, the reader cannot skim through boring sections or peek ahead.
- Once text scrolls off the screen, the reader cannot review it. [Note: this desirable feature is readily available for recent IF, and can in many cases be retroactively applied to older titles.]
- "Because the fiction is inseparable from the system that enables one to read it, one cannot, as it were, hold the whole novel in one's hand." For interactive fiction, "there is no text" (120). Now that technological advances have in fact brought us palmtop computers, the authors would need to rethink this portion of their argument, but the points they raise are still valid.
- "A reader of an interactive mystery could take as long to solve it as Sherlock Holmes would in 'real life'" (120).
- The authors also observe that IF can be extremely nerve-wracking. The player-character (PC) can die frequently, without warning, and for what seems like no good reason; the player must therefore replay and attempt to muddle through difficult sections. "Nothing is quite as frustrating as knowing that you have just permitted yourself to fall into one of the author's traps and experiencing the unmistakable feeling that he is laughing at your expense" (121).
- "This kind of finite, puzzle-solving interactive fiction demands determination and persistence from a reader if she is to overcome the obstacles which confront her. At the same time, however, this finite kind of interactive fiction is fundamentally optimistic. Its fictional universe is completely knowable" (122).
(But see §1.1: Aarseth's statement that any action that makes part of the text more accessible is likely to make another part less accessible.)
Packard, Edward B. "Interactive Fiction for Children: Boon or Bane?" School Library Journal 34 (1987): 40-1. [link]
Of the librarians, teachers, and researchers who introduce their readers to the educational potential of interactive fiction in the late 80s (§1.1: Costanzo; Desilets 1989; Dewey; Dunman; Harris and Appleby; Lancy and Hayes; Layton; Newman; Sampson), Packard is notable for his caution. Referring not to command-line IF but rather to branching-plot novels (essentially bound paper hypertexts), Packard observes that it has been known to motivate poor readers, but notes that some professionals consider it "junk food for the brain" (40). He concludes that "[I]nteractive fiction is a useful literary device, which like so many other things, may serve - to a greater or lesser degree - either to close young minds or to enlighten them" (41).
Peterson, Dale. Genesis II: Creation and Recreation with Computers. Reston, Va: Prentice Hall, 1983. [link]
- Sensibly, Packard observes that "interactive books are not interchangeable commodities," and lays out a deceptively simple, coherent, and useful criterion. A story which morally meaningless choices ("Do you open the door on the left or the door on the right?") is "an almost sure sign that the reader is being offered a mindless exercise in page turning. If these books are to be exercises in decision-making, as they profess to be, there should be motivation for each choice offered so that the reader is obliged to weigh the factors in favor of each, testing in some modest way his or her powers of analysis and comprehension of what has come before" (40-41).
- [We might ask whether Packard's observation extends to canonical literary hypertext, in which chunks of text are frequently linked by a character's name or a thematic keyword. Selecting these links do not involve moral choices; hence, when judged by Packard's criterion of meaningful story interaction, even the best literary hypertext would be "a mindless exercise in mouse clicking."]
Pages 187-195 describe "Adventure" (Crowther, c.1975; Crowther and Woods, 1976) and mainframe "Zork" (Anderson, Blank, Daniels and Lebling, 1978-1981). Offers a rare quotation from Crowther about the creation of "Adventure."
Randall, Neill. "Determining Literariness in Interactive Fiction." Computers and the Humanities 22:3 (1988): 183-191. [link]
- Quotes Will Crowther: "I had been involved in a non-computer role-playing game called Dungeons and Dragons at the time, and also I had been actively exploring in caves - Mammoth Cave in Kentucky in particular. Suddenly, I got involved in a divorce, and that left me a bit pulled apart in various ways. In particular I was missing my kids. Also the caving had stopped, because that had become awkward, so I decided I would fool around and write a program that was a re-creation in fantasy of my caving, and also would be a game for the kids, and perhaps had some aspects of the Dungeons and Dragons that I had been playing. My idea was that it would be a computer game that would not be intimidating to non-computer people, and that was one of the reasons why I made it so that the player directs the game with natural language input, instead of more standardized commands. My kids thought it was a lot of fun" (187-88).
- Quotes Don Woods: "I was a student at Stanford University. . . and I head through the grapevine that someone had found this game on the medical center computer. So I hauled it over, and started playing it a little. It had some bugs in it, but it was an interesting idea. So I tried to figure out how to improve it. Of course, all I got on the network was just the game: the source code for the program wasn't accessible. But it did mention Will Crowther, and I sent messages all over the ARPAnet addressed to him. I got in touch with him that way, and he sent the source code. I cleaned it up and began expanding it, adding some of the trickier treasures, and possibly tripling the size of the game - with the help of a few of my friends, roommates, and classmates. After that, I figured I might as well put it back out on the ARPAnet. I did, and sent out a few messages to various sites around the country to get people interested. Then I left for a couple of weeks' vacation. Well, when I came back, Stanford was irritated with me. Their computer had been swamped with people connecting via the network just to play the game! I accumulated the comments that people had about the game, and then fixed up some bugs and added features, and eventually came up with the version that got spread around" (188-89).
- Woods says that he added more treasures to the five that Crowther had
already created. "Some of the rooms, such as Bedquilt and the Swiss Cheese
Room, were in Will's version, but didn't really have anything and so were tagged
as 'under construction.' There were indeed some bugs, such as rooms you could
get into and couldn't get out of. Things like that. So all of the stuff beyond
Bedquilt, pretty much, was that I added. The entire Troll Bridge section was
mine. The Soft Room, the Vase, the Oriental Room, and the Chasm and Waterfall
and Witt's End. Will's version had this sign hanging in midair, just before
you got to Bedquilt, which said 'Cave under construction. Proceed at your own
risk.' I thought that was a nice sign, so I moved it off to the entrance to
Witt's End, and just left it there as an annoyance to anyone who wandered past.
Anyway, after I had finished that, I sent out to MIT and various other places
on the ARPAnet, and the requests for copies began pouring in. I offered people
what help I could with that, and it just exploded from there" (189).
Cites Wolfgang Iser's examination of Fielding's Joseph Andrews, Thackeray's Vanity Fair, and Joyce's Ulysses as examples of interactivity in literature. Randall refers to Steve Meretzky's "A Mind Forever Voyaging" (Infocom, 1985), Robert Pinsky's "Mindwheel" (Synapse/Broderbund, 1984); Bill Darrah's "Essex" (1985); James Paul's "Brimstone" (Synapse/Broderbund 1985); and Rod Smith's "Breakers" (Synapse/Broderbund 1986), which "all begin as traditional fiction, with roughly thirty printed pages serving as the first chapters of the story" (186), after which exposition the interactive portion is played out on computer.
Sampson, Fay. "Interactive Fiction: An Experience of the 'Writers in Education' Scheme." Children's Literature in Education 18 (1987): 184-91. [link]
- "Mindwheel," based on Pinsky's own poetry, is "self-referential and dream-like" (187); it juxtaposes the synchronic and the diachronic.
- "Brimstone" is "the most literarily allusive" work of IF, and also "perhaps the most literary of all current interactive works" (187).
- "A Mind Forever Voyaging" dispenses with the "score" feature, and offers a "rhetorically powerful" story. "The novel's power stems from the reader's gradual understanding of the incessant decay of the societies of the future" (187).
- Brian Moriarty's "Trinity" "derives literariness from the combination of strangeness and familiarity.... Most recent, serious interactive fiction forces moral action upon the reader, thereby abandoning (in apparent disgust) the kill-and-steal mentality of the genre's early works" (188).
- Rob Swigart's "Portal" (1986) is "certainly the most unusual and arguably the most interesting interactive fiction work yet written." In it, the player interacts with an unreliable narrator, in the form of a computer database named Homer. The title is "ultimately, a metaphor for the writing process. We watch on the screen as the story's intertext is molded by the narrator into a psychologically valid myth of the heroic scope, and we watch too as the narrator questions the act of narration" (188-9).
- "Even if we grant Niesz and Holland's claim that interactive fiction 'simply pushes the role of the text back a stage' (1984, p. 124), forcing the reader to decipher the 'underlying nexus of puzzles or conundrums [that] is the creation of the author', the fact remains hat the reader of an interactive text must physically act if she is to complete, decipher, discover the text she is reading. . . . or the story simply will not continue" (189).
- "Just as it makes the familiar strange and the strange familiar, interactive fiction allows the reader to partake, first-hand, of a new literary world, and the unfolding of that world is continuous, even if the plot is not" (190).
An author of children's books reflects upon the energy she receives from reading her books to young schoolchildren, and notes that as children get older, and more indoctrinated by the idea that a writer is a special kind of person, their questions become less probing. Only the following passing reference to interactive fiction:
Sloane, Sarah. "Interactive Fiction, Virtual Realities, and the Reading-Writing Relationship." Ph.D. dissertation. Ohio State University. 1991. [link]
- "Should I be moving into the fashion for interactive fiction? How can the novelist make creative use of the computer's possibilities, and I don't just mean word-processing? Never mind that many early experiments are of dubious merit. Is the potential there? Is it my job to explore it, or someone else's? Anyway isn't all fiction interactive? The story is a different experience for each reader" (187).
- [See §1.1: Aarseth for commentary on the important difference between the interpretive variability of linear text and the inherent variability of cybertext.]
Sloane studies interactive fiction because it provides her a convenient
example with which to "contribute to our academy's working hypotheses about how language, legality, and subject in general relate," and sees it as
"a tool with which to probe the composing models of social constructionists
and cognitivists" and "a window into how texts constrain readers and
even into how the world constraints interpretations." Hence, the main
thrust of her argument has little to say about interactive fiction per se, but
rather supporting argument that "computer-based fictions. . . require
researchers in Departments of English to reconfigure their critical theories and
models of textual interpretation that are based on readings of paper texts"
"It is the intent of this dissertation to examine reading and writing
interactive fiction and to demonstrate how these electronic texts and a
dimension to our critical understandings of the ethics of reading, the
collaborations of composing, and rhetorical triangle, has traditionally
conceived. In short, this dissertation intends to answer the following four
questions: What is the experience of reading and writing interactive fiction?
How is this experience different from traditional, paper based acts of reading
and writing? What do interactive fiction and antecedent, virtual reality, tell
us about the reading-writing relationship in general? And how must we adjust
our rhetorical theories and models to account for this kind of electronic
This dissertation won The Hugh Burns Award for the best dissertation in Computers and Composition Studies.
- Describing an encounter with an interactive fiction text: "It is a
scene that is postmodern: heteroglossic and fragmentary, occasionally
nihilistic, disjointed. Within the scene, interactive fiction evokes sets o
readerly and writerly activities whose new visibility makes clearer
the rhetorical dimensions of electronic text in general" (3).
- "Existing models of reading and writing fail to encompass
interactive fiction, I argue, because they are limited to either social
constructionist or objectivist epistemologies. The phenomenon of interactive
fiction, in contrast, currently requires a model the bridges these two
epistemologies. As result, I suggest we revise our models of the rhetorical
triangle to encompass the multiple reading paths, the layered
collaborations, and the unstable texts characteristic of interactive fiction
and virtual realities" (15).
- "Interactive fiction throws into confusion the boundaries between the
inside and outside of text; the text and its readers and writers merge into
a visually seamless collaboration that exposes the rhetorical triangle as a
flawed model of the spatial transactions of the electronic text" (16).
- "The narrative technique of interactive fictions (and it is that
technique, combined with computer presentation, I am claiming contribute
primarily to the heightened reader involvement and related ethical
culpability) is fairly constant across interactive fiction texts; Deadline,
however, is anomalous in its contents because it doesn't involve the reader
in nihilistic activities nor in a culturally male (as do, for
example, the Zork trilogy, Leisuresuit Larry, or Leather
Goddesses of Phobos [the latter of which incidentally permits the player to choose the gender of the PC]). By choosing Deadline, I am removing the
effect an overtly misogynist content might have on my analysis of how
readers resist the scripts of interactive fictions while at the same time they
respond to textual invitations" (26-27). Deadline avoids
"the misogyny and plunder mentality of other interactive fictions"
(76). (See §1.1: Buckles.)
- "In contemporary interactive fictions, both male and female readers
can feel trapped in a rigid, fatally-scripted text that silence dissent,
force conformity, or compel other unpleasant textual collaborations for
which he may feel culpable. Although the stories are uniformly advertised as
participatory stories in which 'You, the reader, determine what happens,' a
more critical reading reveals that in actuality in many of the stories the
reader does nothing more than attempt to stay alive in the scripted
Sloane's chapter on IF composition is weakened by the lack of availability
(at that time) of published secondary material concerning the complex
relationship between the programming and linguistic creative tasks undertaken by
the author-programmer. She turns instead to studies of the Oz Project and
Interactive Fantasies -- electronic text projects that differ in important ways
from the form and style of the classic text-adventure game.
Tosca, Susana Pajares. "Playing for the Plot. Blade Runner as Paradigm of the Electronic Adventure Game." dichtung digital Beiträge
zur Ästhetik digitaler Literatur und Kunst (31 May 2000). 4 Jan 2000. http://www.dichtung-digital.de/2000/Tosca-31-Mai/index.html or http://www.dichtung-digital.de/2000/Tosca-31-Mai/Tosca-Bladerunner.rtf. [link]
- More relevant resources for an academic exploration of the composition
process of an IF author may be found in the author interviews regularly
published in fan newsletters (§4 XYZZYNews and SPAG), in Graham
Nelson's Inform Designer's Manual and Michael J. Roberts's TADS
Authors Manual (each of which covers both programming and content), and
in reflective and analytical essays written by contemporary and recent IF
authors (§3 Short; Rees).
- Sloane's revision of the classical rhetorical triangle (expressor,
receptor, and language signs) proposes three new categories: materials
(the technological and organizational properties of the electronic text), processes
("the sequences of activities and mentations typical of users,
programmers, authors, and participants"), and locations
(accounting for differences between the world views of the author and each
of the players).
- In her conclusion, Sloane applies her poststructrualist, post-authorial,
and reader-centered observations to the greater world of literary study.
Tosca examines the graphic computer game "Blade Runner" (Westwood, 1997) as an example of digital narrative, and offers insight as to reasons for its effectiveness. The game is set in the same world as the movie directed by Ridley Scott (Warner Bros., 1982; director's cut 1992), which is in turn based on the novel by Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (Del Ray, 1968). Textual variations among several overlapping versions of the story already suggest a kind of multiform narrative, which Tosca touches on briefly. Although she makes only passing references to command-line IF, Tosca demonstrates a welcome understanding of the specific narrative strengths of text-based participatory fiction. The close reading of the "Blade Runner" game is a excellent blending of gaming and narrative theory, yielding much useful and valid insight.
Tosca is the editor of what is billed as the first Spanish digital literary magazine; she published this article in English, for a German periodical; perhaps this is why the final text seems to suffer from numerous translation errors, editorial lapses, or some combination. If the article breaks little new critical ground, it does present a competent application of existing theory to this relatively unexamined literary form. To contextualize the close reading of the game, Tosca regularly refers to the literary and narrative qualities of interactive games - yet her bibliography is heavy on cybertext theorists, and light on those literary postmodernists and structuralists to whom the cybertheorists themselves turn in order to orient their theoretical inquiries.
van der Linde, Gerhard. "Text without boundaries." Trans:
Internet-Zeitscrhift für Kulturvissenchaften 9 (2000): n.p. 20 Dec 2000. http://www.inst.at/trans/9Nr/linde9.htm. [link]
- "Adventure games form a genre of their own, and are direct descendants of the first text-based adventures that can be said to have inaugurated digital narrative. The puzzle solving and plot development were afterwards combined with the powerful visual element evolved from action games and others, first incorporating moving images and then videos and 3D landscapes to the story-driven games. These games present a new challenge to literary studies, as their acknowledged aim is to let the user 'live' a story" ("Introduction" ¶2).
- Useful reflections on narrative and game as both springing from conflict with an opponent (concurring with §1.1: Murray, and §2.1: Costikyan).
- In a section called "Adventure Games," Tosca observes that "the last generation of tabletop roleplaying games, in the Whitewolf style, insist more on storytelling and less on dice rolling" ("Adventure Games" ¶1). She also writes that "Adventure" and "Zork" "established the basis of puzzle solving and mysterious plot that characterizes the genre, and are still regarded by many fans as superior to their graphic followers."
- Compares "the detective of Deadline, the mystery-writer. . . of the Gabriel Knight series, the curious traveler of Myst, the journalist of 11th Hour" and observes that, in the wake of some crime or disaster, the player has to "look for a plot behind the apparently meaningless terrible acts in order to reconstruct the story from clues" ("Adventure Games" ¶6).
- "Games don't give an elaborated finished plot that we can read about, instead they force the player to get involved in the process of making meaning out of the elements the designers have laid out. . . . there are other elements that can interest us, like the exploration of engaging 3D worlds or the solving of the puzzles, but the narrative component is the strongest force of motivation in adventure games, I suggest" ("Adventure Games" ¶7).
- The section "Blade Runner" is a close reading of the 1997 Westwood game, in which a limited number of key plot elements are randomized, so that the same actions bear different moral consequences each time you play the game.
- "As any 'shoot 'em up,' the game starts with the assignment of 'retiring' escaped replicants, but unlike in these narratively simple games, the player has the choice of hunting them, letting them [e]scape or even helping them. There is no 'right' thing to do to win the game, the final decision about what is best is left to the player. Indeed the player's decisions affect not only the behavior of the non-playing characters towards [the player-character] McCoy, but also bring out different endings to the game. This is a huge leap in adventure games, for even if the decision points are not many, they are so significant to the ethos of the story that it truly feels as [if it were?] multi-linear, something that literary hypertext hasn't yet achieved despite some critics['] claims (see A[a]rseth 76-97)" ("Blade Runner" ¶12-13).
Refers to IF proper only in passing, within the context of a systematic classification of electronic texts. Unlike many humanities studies of electronic text, which seem to begin and end with the canonical literary hypertexts of Joyce and Moulthrop, van der Linde identifies a wide range of ways in which a particular text can be electronic. He identifies online versions of traditional texts, such as those published by Project Gutenberg, which "are read in basically the same way one reads traditional books" (§3), and which rely upon computers almost solely for distribution.
A second class of e-texts "are fully accessible only in electronic format" (§4), comprising multimedia CD-ROMs; the canonical literary hypertext; multimedia hyperfiction that uses the interactive capabilities of the Internet (chat, message boards, etc.) to extend the boundaries of the text; the "interactive novel" (what this bibliography terms "command-line IF"); a kind of role-playing hyperfiction in which "the reader-protagonist enters a virtual scenario in which he has to solve problems, overcome obstacles and so on" (§4.5) [this is presumably something like the literary equivalent of the "How to Host a Murder" party games, in which party guests are assigned roles and expected to improvise conversations with other party guests who have taken on other roles, although van der Linde does not offer that analogy]; and collaborative hyperfiction, in which authors collaborate in series or in parallel, in which readers influence the story either indirectly (by communicating their preferences, offering suggestions, etc.), or by writing additional branches of the story themselves (which completely eliminates the boundary between author and reader). The article concludes with a discussion of the "e-book" as structure, content, object, and mechanism.
Vander Ploeg, Scott D. and Kenneth Phillips. "Playing with Power: The Science of Magic in Interactive Fantasy." Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts 9:2 (1998): 142-56. [link]
- While most scholars writing on interactive fiction are fairly certain, and at times apologetic, about the status of IF proper as a textual game not unlike a crossword puzzle, van der Linde sees only "a certain resemblance between interactive fiction and computer games in which the player as protagonist has to navigate a number of obstacles or solve certain problems" (§4.3, ¶3).
- "One of the most significant innovations of this form [i.e. interactive fiction] is that the distinction, theorised by Barthes and others, between a pre-determined 'work' and an indeterminate 'text' becomes redundant, as only an indeterminate, or at least a variable text remains (Ziegfield, 1989:364). The notion of the reader as co-producer of the text is concretised in the interactive novel" (§ 4.3, ¶4).
- "Information technology and advances in telecommunications. . . develop at a rate which would be unthinkable in academic literary studies. Developing a body of theory which would offer an informed response to electronic literary forms therefore is a considerable challenge. This is made even more problematic by the changeable and sometimes ephemeral nature of Internet literature, and by the traditionally adversarial relationship between technology and the humanities" (§7).
Focuses exclusively on role-playing board games of the "Dungeons and Dragons" variety. The authors observe that, while some authors ignore or actively scorn role-playing games, such games have undeniably influenced the fantasy genre. This article is of some interest to IF because D&D heavily influenced the content and style of Crowther's original "Colossal Cave Adventure" (c.1975) as well as the Zork series (1978-81).
Ziegfeld, Richard. "Interactive Fiction: A New Literary Genre?" New Literary History 20:2 (1989): 341-372. [link]
This theoretical, rather free-ranging article describe the tools of electronic publishing to an unfamiliar audience, discusses the "literary applications" of this technology (e.g. Faulkner could have included maps the Yoknapatawpha area; for The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco could have helped readers visualize the detail of the abbey, etc.). A third section assesses the contemporary state of interactive literature.
- "For now, interactive fiction's reality is disappointing because it is often associated with adventure software. Some popular writers such as Michael Crichton and a few high-culture artisans such as Michael Newman have explored this possibility, but interactive fiction still awaits a major high-culture advocate whose software product wins coverage in the New York Times Book Review" (358-9) (but see §2.1: Rothstein; Pinsky).
- "The main cause is that as yet we lack the literary harbinger, with impeccable credentials and startling creative ability, who delivers a concrete application of the abstract possibilities I described above." Ziegfeld likens himself to Emerson, who "described the traits of the great American poet many years before Whitman published Leaves of Grass" (359).
- Offers criteria for whether a literary product can be considered "new." It must require a new production technique; require a new aesthetic criteria; require training for the user to evaluate it properly; lead to new experiences; and prompt "genuinely new questions about the nature of the literary discipline" (359).
- The average novel requires about six to eight hours of reading time, but a "Dungeons and Dragons" game takes up 40 to 70 hours of playing time (363). [Note: Ziegfeld attributes the extra time to the complicated, branching story, but multi-player gaming involves much conferring, waiting, interpreting, and debating. The social aspect of the multiplayer gaming supplies much value that is not apparent to a purely literary analysis of "narrative."]
- Paraphrases a comment from a teacher of six-year-olds: "even children who were sometimes indifferent students seemed to be drawn into the process" (366).
- Offers brief analyses of the potential effects of interactivity on drama, poetry, oral literature, and "film, TV, video and radio" (368-69).
- "[M]any people who have tried adventure games such as 'Zork' do not consider them literature. Language is not a high priority for adventure game developers; in fact, some appear to disdain the word" (370). [Note: Ziegfeld does not expound upon this pronouncement.]
§1.2: Conference Papers, Project Reports and Student Papers
Bates, J. "The Nature of Character in Interactive Worlds and the Oz Project." Technical Report CMU-CS-92-200, School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University. October 1992. Postscript file. 24 May 2001. http://www.cs.cmu.edu/afs/cs.cmu.edu/project/oz/web/papers.html. [link]
A useful discrete example of the goals of Carnegie Mellon University's "Oz Project," an effort at using artificial intelligence to generate interactive stories. This article describes the programming of a simulated housecat, "Lyotard," whose behavior (purring, hissing, running away, etc.) is governed by a series of emotional variables (fear, happiness, gratitude, etc.). (See also §1.2: Garrand.)
Briceno, Hector, Wesley Chao, Andrew Glenn, Stanley Hu, Ashwin Krishnamurthy, and Bruce Tsuchida. "Down from the Top of Its Game: The Story of Infocom, Inc." [unpublished manuscript; MIT course project, "6.933J/STS.420J: The Structure of Engineering Revolutions"] 15 Dec 2000. 1 Feb 2001. http://mit.edu/6.933/www/Fall2000/infocom/. [link]
This student project, for a course in engineering entrepreneurship, examines the origins and economic history of Infocom (the company that popularized interactive fiction in the early 80s). The authors challenge the widely-held assumption that Infocom failed as a direct result of an unwise internal towards the development of business products. The authors describe the origins of "Zork," the culture of the Infocom workplace, and the role of the "implementors" or "IMPs", the programmer-authors whose creativity fueled the company's efforts. They also briefly analyze the game packaging and distribution methods that led to Infocom's early success. (See also the archived material on Infocom, available at http://www.ifarchive.org/indexes/if-archiveXinfocom.html.)
Mateas, M[ichael]. "An Oz-Centric Review of Interactive Drama and Believable Agents." Technical report CMU-CS-97-156. Computer Science Department, Carnegie Mellon University. 1997. 25 Jan, 2000. http://www.cs.cmu.edu/afs/cs.cmu.edu/project/oz/web/papers/CMU-CS-97-156.html. [link]
- Among the fans of Infocom's interactive fiction are "John McCarthy, the inventor of LISP," "science-fiction author Larry Nevin" [sic], "Douglas Adams, the author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," and, of all people, "comedian and actor Robin Williams" (21).
- The authors examine how Infocom's reliance on text meant that last year's titles did not seem as out-of-date as last year's graphic titles. While the Infocom implementers continued to innovate, by way of making the textual worlds more realistic and independently life-like, "they created evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, innovations" that were not noticeable to the average user (27).
- Marc Blank reports that he "wanted to do something with graphics but... was told there was no money" (35).
- "Infocom's text-only games had to be churned out like clockwork just to keep the company afloat, and there was neither the time nor the resources to pursue a new path with graphical games." Dan Horn is quoted as follows: "The reason that text adventure isn't alive anymore is that the technology to present visual representations of a story advanced very quickly. Some companies picked upon on that but you'd notice that the reality of gaming is now EverQuest - massive multiplayer, real time, online, and graphically amazing. This is the market that Infocom was destined to own but let slip through their fingers because of bad business decisions. Imagine if you will Sorceror, Planetfall, and Deadline with the EverQuest engine, amazing... but lost forever" (44).
- The paper concludes with an excellent four-page summary covering "Why Infocom Succeeded," "Why Infocom Failed," and "Lessons from Infocom."
"The Oz Project at CMU is developing technology and art to help artists create high quality interactive drama, based in part on AI technologies. This especially means building believable agents in dramatically interesting micro-worlds" (from the Oz Project Home Page). In order to emphasize its devotion to the simulation of characters and actions, rather than places and puzzles, the Oz project refers to "interactive drama." A "believable agent" is a computer-automated character capable of maintaining the interest of a human interactor. (See also §1.2: Bates.)
Mateas, Michael and Andrew Stern. "Towards Building a Fully-Realized Interactive Drama." Paper presented at Fourth International Digital Arts and Culture Conference (2001). 27 May 2001. http://www.stg.brown.edu/conferences/DAC/subs_in/Mateas.html. [link]
The authors describe the criteria for "Façade," a work-in-progress, designed to be "an interactive story integrating an interdisciplinary set of artistic processes and artificial intelligence technologies" (§1). The ambitious plan attempts to move from character-based interactive stories, in which the user simply pokes at pre-defined characters to see how they react, to a computer-generated storyline that aims to produce a meaningful Aristotelian plot arc. "We are interested in interactive experiences that appeal to the adult, non-computer geek, movie-and-theater-going public" (§2). [Note: "Façade" is not designed to appeal either to the mass-market gaming public, or the elitist book-reading public; the authors argue that would-be IF authors should not abandon the cultural middle ground.] While "Façade" is conceptualized as a 3D graphical environment, the user will interact through typed text; one component of the plan is to "build an AI [artificial intelligence] that can understand a natural language and gestural input within the context of the story" (§1).
Meehan, James Richard "The Metanovel: Writing Stories by Computer." Ph.D. Dissertation, Yale University, 1976. [link]
An analytical presentation of an artificial intelligence programming theory for generating short stories. The textual product is a far cry from fiction - the settings and characters are shallow, and the dialogue is stilted (Meehan regularly "translates" the output into good English in order to discuss the capabilities of the program). Further, the process of generating the text is only minimally interactive - the user may be prompted to decide what characters or props shall appear in the story (a bear, a bee, a boy, and a river, for example). While TALE-SPIN does pause to invite the user to answer multiple-choice questions that describe the relationship between the characters ("DOES WILMA CANARY FEEL DECEPTIVE TOWARDS SAM ADAMS? 1:A LOT 2: A LITTLE 3: NOT MUCH 4: NOT AT ALL" ), the program can be set to supply those details randomly. The program does not require input from a player in order to generate its narrative, and thus can hardly be said to be interactive.
Montfort, Nicholas A. "Computer Co-Authors for Fiction" Paper presented at Computers & Writing 2000. 08 Jan 2001. http://www.nickm.com/writing/cw2k.txt. [link]
- The TALE-SPIN story world does include such well-defined concepts as
friendship, trust, lying, and kindness, but the implementation is
simplistic. The program "just barely" ran in the 75k memory space of a
PDP-10 (161), and so Meehan could afford to expend few computing resources
on writing style.
- The chapter "Mis-Spun Tales" (93-99) is a thorough explication of the
painstaking detail with which a computer must be taught about the simulated
story world. For example:
- Bill Bird stands nearby and watches his good friend Henry Ant drown --
because, being underwater, Henry is unable to request help. (Meehan
added a new "noticing" subroutine, so that characters are more aware
of behavior that happens in the vicinity.)
- When Henry slips and falls into the water, gravity has no means of
getting itself back to shore, so "gravity drowned".
Brief comments presenting Montfort's IF work "Winchester's Nightmare" as an exercise in co-authorship with the reader.
Montfort, Nicholas A. "Interfacing with Computer Narratives: Literary Possibilities for Interactive Fiction." Unpublished B.A. Thesis, University of Texas at Austin. 1995. 06 Jan 2000 http://nickm.com/writing/bathesis/. [link]
Montfort's thesis includes a preface that examines the history of the genre in terms of the literary value of computer-aided narrative. His analysis of plot and co-authorship are interesting and valid for both text- and graphic-based games. Writing when "virtual reality" was the buzzword de rigueur, and before the impact of the Internet on the rejuvenation of the classic IF genre was fully apparent, Montfort nevertheless offers a thoughtful and persuasive assessment of the future of interactive narrative. (See also §1.1: Montfort.)
Sharp, Doug. "Story vs. Game: The Battle of Interactive Fiction" Paper presented at the Computer Game Developer's Convention 1989. 31 May 2001. http://www.channelzilch.com/doug/battle.htm. [link]
Author/programmer's discussion of the game "King of Chicago" (Cineware, 1986-88). A complex implementation of a multiple-choice narrative path, rather than a textual parser (and hence, only tangentially related to the subject of this bibliography). The article offers a detailed analysis of one programmer/author's focus on dialogue and action to tell a multiform story. (See also §2.1: Garrand.)
- Sharp wrote a large number of short scenes, and rated each according to several emotional qualifiers. A scene in which the mobster's girlfriend leaves him, for example, is more likely to be displayed when she is dissatisfied; the more dissatisfied, the more likely that scene will be selected.
- He describes his creation process as follows: "I had a mental image when I set out to put the King together as a work of Interactive Fiction. A guy in a projection both with hours and hours of film about a group of gangsters. The film is not on reels but in short clips of from a few seconds to a few minutes long. The clips hang all over the walls of the projection room. The projectionist knows exactly what's on each clip and can grab a new one and thread it into the projector instantly. The audience is out there in the theater shouting out suggestions and the projectionist is listening and taking the suggestions into account but also factoring in what clips he's already shown, because he wants to put together a real story with a beginning, middle, and end, subplots, introduction and development of characters and the whole narrative works. I wanted to minimize hard branches, to keep the cuts between clips as unpredictable as possible. Yet the story had to make sense, guys couldn't die and reappear later, you couldn't treat the gangster's moll like dirt and expect her to cover your back later."
Dennis G. Jerz
02 Nov 2001
-- last modified
Dec 2006 -- minor HTML edits