Janet Murray responds to Nick Montfort

So IF has certain intrinsic design difficulties, a built-in awkwardness in the way it represents spatial navigation and the inconsistency with which it handles language. And yet it continues to draw devoted practitioners and interactors. It is, in Montfort‘sview, a still vibrant tradition.

Why does IF work despite these design difficulties? Perhaps the answer lies in its structure as a riddle. Riddles, unlike puzzles, are always verbal and are based on a conversational exchange. They are intrinsically interactive, and have a formal syntax, a variant of call-and-response structure. A riddle is a word-puzzle, framed as a conversation. —Janet MurrayJanet Murray responds to Nick Montfort (Electronic Book Review)

Murray notes that the interface innovations that made IF a breakaway success in the 70s (specifically, the fact that the user communicated with the program by typing words that followed a syntax that was at least recognizably a subset of English) is the source of its awkwardness today.

When I first started teaching IF, I noticed newbies tried to use MUD syntax to get around in the world. More recently, students who are used to text messaging each other have to unlearn their IM syntax (which is itself a simplified form of English, with creative spelling “rulz”). Thus, they are so used to communicating with each other via short textual bursts, and they are so used to assuming that the recipient of these messages will be able to deal with typos and irregularities of every sort, that the command-line interface appears much more stringent. Thus, it’s an increased familiarity with the command line (as employed in purely social contexts) that distances them from the command line as used in IF.

The discussion also includes Brenda Laurel and a response by Nick Montfort. Part of Electonic Book Review’s remediation of First Person. Great reading! But I’ve got to get back to grading now…