TEXT Technology Call for Papers

This is the text of the call for papers for what later become the November 2002 issue of TEXT Technology.

The journal TEXT Technology invites submissions for a special issue devoted to interactive fiction -- that is, the text-based participatory novel, or "adventure game.”

Feel free to contact Dennis G. Jerz with questions or ideas.

Send a the full article to:

Joanne Buckley
Humanities Communications Centre
McMaster University, TSH 308
1280 Main St. West,
Hamilton, ON
L8S 4M2 (Canada)

Articles should be sent both in electronic and hard copy form (3 copies). Articles should be double-spaced and on 3.5 floppy. Articles may use either WordPerfect (up to 9.0 or Microsoft Word 2000). Articles on disk should also be accompanied by a version in ASCII. Graphics should be sent as separate files and not embedded in wordprocessing files, and should be compatible with Windows. Except for pagination and italics, do not format the document with any wordprocessing style commands or codes. The maximum word length is 8,000. The preferred style is MLA, but APA is also acceptable. Do not use footnotes; include notes only at the end of the paper. Include an abstract of about 100 words, and a one-paragraph biographical note, complete with an email address where correspondence may be sent.


TEXT Technology is an eclectic quarterly for academics and professionals around the world, supplying articles devoted to any use of computers to acquire, analyze, create, edit, or translate texts. Given the journal’s textual emphasis, multimedia computer narrative is not an appropriate topic; however, discussions of the “fictive” elements of MUDs, chatterbots, and similar textual spaces will be welcome.


Hypertext narrative is not the intended focus of this special issue. For the purposes of this special issue, “interactive fiction” describes a text-based electronic narrative that responds to input from a user (in the form of typed commands such as "fill bottle with water" or "headmaster, tell me about Malcolm").

While academics have paid only occasional attention to interactive fiction, which was extremely popular in the early and mid 80s, since about 1995, amateur programmer/authors have rejuvenated the medium, supplying new primary texts, improved computer programming tools, an expanded critical vocabulary, and an audience that reports dissatisfaction with a computer gaming industry that privileges mimetic simulation (that is, the mathematical rendering of shadows, sound effects, spurting blood, etc.) over authorial creativity (that is, the literary rendering of plot, character, motivation, dialogue, etc.). An IF competition that has, in past years, drawn about two dozen entries, drew 37 in 1999; over 50 entered the 2000 contest (which concludes in November, 2000).

Advances in palm-sized computers and digital communications devices mean that a growing percentage of the population is walking around carrying enough computer power to store dozens of text-based games -- a fact that has not gone unnoticed by the wireless communications industry; in the summer of 2000, Noika licensed the dozens of text-based games marketed by Infocom in the 1980s, and Bedouin offered a royalty-sharing plan to new interactive fiction authors who make their works available via the wireless Internet.

As Aarseth observes, the reader's negotiation of a path through any cybertext is not metaphorical or interpretive, but is literally necessary for the experience to take place: “A cybertext is a machine for the production of variety of expression” (3) -- not figuratively, but literally, in the sense that “film is useless without a projector and a screen.” This machine is completed by the presence of a perceiving human. Linda Hutcheon, discussing the postmodern emphasis of the receiver's role in constructing a text, offers interactive fiction as "the most extreme example I can think of" (77). Hutcheon cites Niesz and Holland to concur with their claim that, in interactive fiction, "there is no fixed product or text, just the reader's activity as producer as well as receiver." While Aarseth disagrees on this point, the issue is worth further investigation.


(Feel free to adopt these or suggest your own.)


IF and dyslexia (Marnie Parker’s “Iffy Theory” and the IF Art Show)

IF and the blind (Michael Feir’s Audysee – a gaming ‘zine for the visually impaired)

Linguistic or technical studies of comparative IF (letteratura interattiva; Interaktive Belletristik)

Interactive Fiction in Esperonto (Why? Why? Why?)


Buckles describes “Colossal Cave Adventure” as a work of Internet folk art – created communally, and distributed through an informal underground social network. Nelson’s IF language “Inform” provides the nuts and bolts for hundreds of other IF projects, and has been tinkered with and expanded by others; their silent contributions to the IF “engine” affects the author's creation and the reader's experience of the resulting texts.


Nelson -- who created the IF programming language Inform, and also some of the best IF of the 90s, is Marlowe (of the “mighty line”) and Shakespeare rolled into one. (His online persona also shares elements of Dr. Johnson, Lewis Carroll, and, of late, J.D. Salinger.)


The nullity of the typical IF protagonist – typically a genderless, identityless and largely voiceless puppet who is animated by the commands of the reader/player -- provides literary theory with a tabula rasa, about which professional literary theorists have said surprisingly little.



Literary theorists typically have little motivation in playing computer games; hard-core gamers typically have little desire to read Lacan and Barthes. George Landow’s _Hypertext_ managed to bridge the artsie-techie divide in the study of hypertext.

* Somewhere out there, I hope, is a literary theorist who can represent interactive fiction as a genre in and of itself, rather than what Hutcheon (77) called an “extreme” example that illustrates a postmodern theoretical point.

* Somewhere out there, I hope, is a computer programmer critically equipped to discuss the rhetoric of Nelson’s programming language, Inform. For example, embedded within Inform are default commands that encourage the programmer/author to present the player’s “death” as a “loss”; this programming detail may be shaping shape the kinds of texts being produced on the Inform platform. (The same can certainly be said of other popular programming platforms, such as TADS and ALAN.)



Because transcripts of interactive events rarely make interesting reading, scholars who happen across transcripts of interactive fiction may receive the impression that IF is necessarily an uninteresting textual experience (as much of it, truth be told, is). To solve this problem, a scholar/gamer could supply a bank of “saved games” that represent the most textually or thematically interesting passages. A scholar/reader (who does not have time to play each of the games being studied) could then sample each of the saved games in order to experience, firsthand, the textual interaction that would otherwise be presented only in transcript.


  • Aarseth, Espen J. Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins UP, 1997.
  • Buckles, Mary Ann. "Interactive Fiction: The Computer Storygame 'Adventure'". Ph.D. Thesis. U. Cal at San Diego, 1985.
  • Hutcheon, Linda. A Poetics of Postmodernism. New York and London: Routledge, 1988.
  • Murray, Janet Horowitz. Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace. New York: Free Press, 1997.

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