2) General (Journalism, Reflection, and Literature)


This bibliography was published in the November 2002 issue of TEXT Technology.

25 Aug 2001; Dennis G. Jerz
This part of the Annotated IF Bibliography covers: 

§2.1: Reportage (Journalism and Non-academic Books)

Au, Wagner James. "Will you tell me a story - please?" Salon 16 May 2000. 16 May 2000. http://www.salon.com/tech/log/2000/05/16/e3/index.html. [link]
** This article is not about command-line IF, but rather a review of Electronic Entertainment Expo 2000, lamenting the commercialization of electronic narrative. "But if the massive E3 exhibit floors sum up the current state of gaming, I think it's safe to say today's developers aren't pushing the narrative envelope. Lured by the siren song of ever-improving graphics power, terrified by the risks involved with truly unique ideas in gaming, the industry is collectively stumbling along a path well-worn by Hollywood; the unfortunate truth to be taken away from a weekend in gamers' paradise is that the mindless summer-blockbuster season promises to last all year" (¶7).

Buckles, Mary Ann. "Interactive Fiction as Literature: Adventure games have a literary lineage." Byte 12.5 (1987): 135-138, 140, 142. [link]
**1/2A condensed, popular version of Buckles's thesis on "Colossal Cave Adventure." (See §1.1: Buckles.) The article describes IF's connections to detective fiction, adventure literature (such as Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth and Stevenson's Treasure Island) and the prose novels of chivalry (the target for Cervantes' satire Don Quixote). Buckles, whose byline credits her as "co-owner and writing consultant of Transgalactic Software," offers five suggestions for would-be IF authors, based on her observations of people playing and responding to "Adventure."

  1. Game authors should make up a "supra-story" that contextualizes all the puzzles and isolated events that make up the gameplay, but since the player is on his or her own to solve the puzzles, the player should also be permitted to make up his or her own explanation for events, "just as each person arrives at a personal meaning for a poem."
  2. "If you build up story tension, make sure something happens!" The buildup to the "Breathtaking View" room was "the aesthetic high point of Adventure" for many players; yet, once the player finds the source of the distant rumbling (an underground volcano) and has read a paragraph of purple prose (adapted by Don Woods from Tolkien's description of Mount Doom), there is nothing further to do, and players generally felt disappointed.
  3. "Give the puzzles a moral quality. . . . For example, several people told me they thought the hungry bear bound with the golden chains was the most enticing problem because they were emotionally involved with it. They didn't want to hurt the bear, yet they were mildly afraid of it. When the puzzles have a moral dimension, it gives them emotional depth."
  4. "Create a narrator with a unified personality and vision." Since the "Colossal Cave Adventure" narration is sometimes self-referential, and sometimes seems to know more about the cave than the player does, Buckles feels that the player's response to the narrative voice enhances the aesthetic effect.
  5. "Test your story on other people." Buckles suggests that groups of two or three people tend to have discussions or arguments about the significance of events they have witnessed; observing their extra-textual reactions will help the programmer improve the game.

A brief conclusion observes that the artistic quality of early movies was pathetically limited, until D.W. Griffith and Charlie Chaplin brought their artistic talents to the new medium. "Perhaps it will take someone who is both a programmer and an author to explore the artistic promise of IF and create works of literature that rank with the classics of traditional literature." [Note: §1.1: Murray's Hamlet on the Holodeck will later echo this sentiment, announcing a vigil for the "cyberbard."]

Costikyan, Greg. "I Have No Words & I Must Design." Interactive Fantasy 2 (1994). 31 May 2001. Archived at http://www.crossover.com/~costik/nowords.html. [link]
** No specific reference to interactive fiction. The article applies equally to dice-rolling board games. Argues that a game is not a puzzle, toy, or a story. "A game is a form of art in which participants, termed players, make decisions in order to manage resources through game tokens in the pursuit of a goal. . . A light switch is interactive. You flick it up, the light turns on. You flick it down, the light turns off. That's interaction. But it's not a lot of fun. All games are interactive: The game state changes with the players' actions. If it didn't, it wouldn't be a game: It would be a puzzle. But interaction has no value in itself. Interaction must have purpose."

Economist [Editorial] "But Is It Story-telling?" Economist. 11 Nov 1995: 16. Academic Search Elite database, UWEC McIntyre Library, 15 May 2001. [link]
*** This curmudgeonly article dismisses the efforts of the computer industry to create - and the efforts of "interactive evangelists" to theorize - "interactive fiction." It refers only briefly to command-line IF, but sees CD-ROM games as a direct descendent, suffering from the same storytelling flaws. Argues that the computer's technical capabilities have not yet been successfully been put to use by someone with the creative talents to create something of literary value. (See also §1.1: Buckles; Murray; §2.1: Au.)

Ferrell, K. and G. Keizer. "Quiet on the Set: Interaction" Omni 14 (Nov 1991). Academic Search Elite database. 31 May 2001. [link]
* Subtitle: "Omni looks at emerging technologies, the potential offered by increasingly ambitious game designs, and the future of interactive electronic entertainment." Abstract: "Presents a special 'Omni' report on the world of electronic games, dateline 1999. Interactive fiction and interactive works of art; Tales on television you can change to suit yourself; Using remote control to bash heads, bop through mazes, and barrel down racetracks; Turning politics into a real entertainment form; Simulations, recreations, historical replicas and America's most wanted." In the spirit of one of those old black-and-white films that predicts what life will be like in the future, and shows a button-pushing housewife who wears an apron under her spacesuit, this collection of short, fluffy articles reveals more about the time it was written than it does about the time it supposedly predicts.

Gaiman, Neil. Don't Panic - Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Companion. Titan Books: London, 1992. [link]
** Pages 150-156 describe the relationship between Adams's comic science fiction novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and the Infocom version of the game, programmed with collaborator Steve Meretzky.

Garrand, Timothy. "Dust: A Tale of the Wired West: Creating a Narrative with Maximum Interactivity." Creative Screenwriting 4:1 (1997): 60-69. [link]
** Although "Dust" is a commercial graphic adventure game, Garrand describes in detail the process of scripting dialogue trees and crafting conversation menus. While the game was not a huge success, reviews praised the richness of detail and depth of interactivity (some 30 characters that can move in and out of 20 locations) and the loving attention to the Western genre. The article describes, from a writer's point of view, the requirements of writing a script for an interactive, multipath story.

Goetz, Phil. "Interactive Fiction and Computers." Interactive Fantasy 1, Crashing Boar Books, 1994. 98-115. Reproduced on http://www.mud.co.uk/richard/ifan194.htm. [link]
*** While this article offers little in the way of literary analysis of interactive fiction, it does usefully summarize the pre-history of the genre. It includes sections on graphic adventures, multi-player environments, and artificial intelligence.

Additional features of this article:On the coming of virtual reality: "Textual IF will survive, just as text novels haven't been entirely replaced by movies. It is a matter of time involvement. A graphical representation takes longer to 'play', just as a two-hour movie can't communicate as much as two hours of reading. It also takes much longer to create. Individual authors simply don't have the time to stop every time they write a scene, and create every object in the scene as a 3D object, as well as the background" (¶74).

Hafner, Katie and Matthew Lyon. When Wizards Stay Up Late: the Origins of the Internet. Simon & Schuster: New York, 1996. [link]
**1/2A good source for information on Will Crowther, an ARPA programmer and ardent caver who created the "Colossal Cave Adventure" (c. 1975) and Don Woods, who found an abandoned, unfinished copy of the game, and released an expanded version (with the approval of Crowther). (See also §2.1: Kidder; Levy. Also §2.1: Adams; Heller.)

Hayes Roth, Barbara. "Character-based Interactive Story Systems." IEEE Intelligent Systems and Their Applications 13.6 (1998): 12-15. [link]
**1/2 No specific references to command-line interactive fiction, but still an excellent overview of what AI promises for the fiction of tomorrow, with an emphasis on character and improvisation. (See also §2.1: Stern; Murray.) Herz, J. C. Joystick Nation: How Computer Games Ate Our Quarters, Won Our Hearts and Rewired Our Minds. Boston: Little, Brown, 1997. [link]
*** A nostalgic, non-academic review of the history of computer arcade, console and computer games in the late 70s and throughout the 80s. Has little to do with command-line IF, as the presence of the word "videogame" in the title suggests. Herz mistakenly gives a 1967 date for "Colossal Cave Adventure," and while she presents interviews with early game programmers such as Steve Russel's "Spacewar" (1962) and Eugene Jarvis's "Defender" (1980), she neglects to mention either author of "Adventure." Nevertheless, she makes some good general observations about computer-mediated entertainment, emphasizing on several fronts the concept that a computer narrative is a tool for creating an experience. Despite frequent patches of purple prose, Herz has a talent for a cutting phrase, as when she complains about IF: "You interacted with puzzles. You didn't interact with the story" (150). Kidder, Tracy. The Soul of a New Machine. Boston: Little, Brown, 1981. [link]
***1/2Pulitzer-winning nonfiction account of the creation and marketing of a line of personal computers, in the days before IBM and Microsoft came to dominate the industry.

Chapter 5 begins with an indispensable four-page account of the culture in which interactive fiction -- in this case, "Adventure" (Crowther, c.1975; Crowther and Woods, 1976) was being played c. 1979 - after business hours in basement computer rooms. Easily the best account of how the environment contributed to the effects of these early games: simply getting into the basement computing facilities where the off-duty mainframes could be commandeered for entertainment purposes was something of an adventure in itself. (See also §2.1: Levy; Hafner and Lyon.)

Levy, Steven. Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution. New York: Anchor Press, 1984. [link]
*** This readable book describes the ethos of the emerging hacker culture. Levy argues that a computer program, just like any work of art, is a reflection of the values and the environment of the author. "Adventure" (Crowther, c.1975; Crowther and Woods, 1976) is presented as "a metaphor for computer programming itself" (132). Levy depicts Roberta Williams (co-founder with her husband Ken of Sierra Online, a wildly popular publisher of computer adventures in the 80s) mesmerized by her first encounter with "Adventure" (Crowther, c.1975; Crowther and Woods, 1976) (294-5). (See also §2.1: Kidder; Hafner and Lyon.) Murray, Janet. "Building Coherent Plots in Interactive Fiction." IEEE Intelligent Systems and Their Applications 13.6 (1998): 18-21. [link]
**1/2Murray notes that critics of her book Hamlet on the Holodeck (see §1.2: Murray) may feel threatened by the very nature of computer-based narrative, or they may have misinterpreted the term "nonlinear" to mean "nonsequential" or completely random. In response, Murray now uses the term "multisequential," emphasizing multiple connected paths (18-19). Murray describes "Hot Norman," a computer-assisted re-presentation of Alan Ackbourn's comic theatrical trilogy, The Norman Conquests. Ackbourn's trilogy comprises three complete plays, each of which follows the same six characters over the same three days. Each play is entirely set in the same room; as the characters move in and out of the room, they move in and out of the one play being staged that night, but offstage events continue to affect the onstage characters. Pinsky, Robert. "The Muse in The Machine: Or, The Poetics of Zork." New York Times Book Review (19 Mar 1995): 3, 26-27. [link]
*** Pinsky, U.S. Poet Laureate 1997-2000, wrote the IF work "Mindwheel" (Synapse/Broderbund, 1984), which was based upon his own poetry. Poetry is like the computer in that both a short poem and a computer chip excel at packing voluminous information into a small space. "I believe that the poetics of Zork [Infocom, 1979] and its modern descendants tells us more about the literary potential of the computer than we could learn from any amount of ambitious literary theorizing" (3). The discovery of the trap door in "Zork," which leads to an underground realm waiting to be discovered, is like finding hidden meaning in a poem. "The computer, like everything else we make, is in part a self-portrait, it smells of our human souls" (26). Rothstein, Edward. "Reading and Writing: Participatory Novels." New York Times Book Review (9 May 1983). [Archived at http://www.csd.uwo.ca/Infocom/Articles/nyt83.html.] [link]
** An enthusiastic review of Marc Blank's "Deadline" (Infocom, 1982), emphasizing the pleasure of playing the role of the detective in a murder mystery: "I am not some forensic Pac-Man, proceeding through a pre-existent maze. From my arrival at the Robner mansion, I am a character whose actions affect the world I enter" (¶6). The average complete session with "Deadline" lasts 20 hours. Refers to the commercial success of Infocom products, and to a computerized application of Vladimir Propp's "Morphology of the Folktale."

Stern, Andrew. "Interactive Fiction: The Story is Just Beginning." IEEE Intelligent Systems and Their Applications 13.6 (1998): 16-18. [link]
**1/2An independent virtual reality (VR) artist describes the commercial product "Virtual Petz," cartoonish animals that "play" on the user's computer screen. (See §1.2: Bates; §2.1: Hayes Roth; Murray; also "Babyz" www.babyz.net.) Article contains only the briefest allusion to command-based IF.

Zimmer, Carl. "Floppy Fiction: Half Hackers, Half Hemingways, Some Writers Are Now Programming the Great American Novel." Discover 10.11 (1989): 34, 36. [link]
? Not reviewed. 

§2.2: Essays (Nostalgia and Reflection)

Adams, Rick. "The Colossal Cave Adventure Page." Tribute website. 1998. 27 Aug 2001. http://www.rickadams.org/adventure/  [link]
**1/2A tribute to the original text-based interactive narrative, including brief biographies of authors Will Crowther and Don Woods.

Adams, Scott. "Scott Adams Grand Adventure (S.A.G.A.)." Personal website. c.2000-01. 31 May 2001. http://www.msadams.com. [link]
*** The personal home page of Scott Adams, author of the first commercial computer game ("Adventureland," sold via a tiny ad in a computer magazine in 1978). While Adams's games are textually minimalistic (due to memory restrictions on the earliest home PCs) and have therefore attracted little attention from literary critics, his non-violent brain puzzlers are fondly remembered by many who played computer games in the late 70s. Adams's website offers links to fan pages and interviews.

Carr, Charles. "IF: The End of an Error?" ComptuerEdge Magazine (June 1997): 4 Apr 2000. http://www.ifarchive.org/if-archive/articles/ComputorEdge.txt. [link]
*** One of several "the day I first saw IF" narratives presented here. "I often wonder where IF might be now had the same amount of money and energy been thrown at it as graphic adventures. . . . Room for graphics notwithstanding, imagine the plot depth, character development, and worlds-within-worlds a text-only game could have with that much code."

Heller, Martin. "Adventure." Boston Review (1990); Windows Magazine (1998). 10 Jan 2000. http://www.mheller.com/Adventure.html. [link]
*** Postmodern biographical essay about Will Crowther, creator of "Colossal Cave Adventure." Interspersed with transcripts from "Colossal Cave," Heller offers his own personal reflections about Crowther, a man of many talents (caver, mountain climber, programmer, and lover of puzzles). [Crowther's design choices (placing most of the game underground; interspersing geographic puzzles and brain teasers; using a Tolkeinesque fantasy motif) had a tremendous effect on the computer gaming industry. --DGJ] (See also §2.1: Hafner and Lyon; Kidder; Levy.)

Lileks, James. "The other day..." Bleats. [Weblog.] 06 Feb 2001. 06 Feb 2001. http://www.lileks.com/writings/bleats/01/0101/01014.html. [link]
*** Another IF nostalgia article, significant because it focuses on a Scott Adams game, rather than "Colossal Cave" or "Zork".

O'Brian, Paul. "Editorial." SPAG 18 (1999). 07 Feb 2001. http://sparkynet.com/spag/backissues/SPAG18. [link]
*** The new editor of the Society for Promotion of Adventure Games newsletter writes: "Interactive fiction has been a part of my life for over 15 years. It's hard for me to believe it's been that long since my Dad brought home a copy of Zork I for the brand-new disk drive of our sleek Atari 400, but it's true. For me, just playing a game that didn't take a half-hour to load from a cassette tape was pretty cool, but this new program that understood what I typed, that challenged the agility of my mind rather than of my fingers, and that transported me into a breathtaking new imaginative vista. . . well that was downright *magical*."

Park, Mel. "Colossal Cave Revisited." TidBITS 8 (1994). 10 April, 2000. http://www.tidbits.com/tb-issues/TidBITS-229.html#lnk4. [link]
**1/2A brief article describing the real geographical origins of the landscape Crothwer incorporated into his "Colossal Cave Adventure" (c.1975). "'According to legend' - Hah! ADVENTURE is based on a real cave, one that is, indeed, now part of the Mammoth Cave System in Kentucky. The cave is not Colossal, however, but Bedquilt Cave. In our small circle, Willie Crowther is a famous, as was his wife then, cave explorer..." "Computer types who grew up exploring ADVENTURE don't realize how accurately the game represents passages in Bedquilt Cave. Yes, there is a Hall of the Mountain King and a Two-Pit Room. The entrance is indeed a strong steel grate at the bottom of a twenty-foot depression."

Watson, Blake. "Welcome to the Well House." The Well House [column]. Adventuregamer.com. 21 Apr 2000. 25 Aug 2001. http://www.adventuregamer.com/features/columns/wellhouse-1.shtml. (Unavailable as of 25 Aug 2001). [link]
** This article, which announces a new column on the adventuregamer.com website, is here treated as IF nostalgia.

§2.3: Literature (References to IF in Other Genres)

Clarvoe, Anthony. PICK UP AX. New York Broadway Play Pub, 1991. [link]
*** PICK UP AX is a three-character stage play, set in Silicon Valley around 1980, in which the characters play an "Adventure" clone. For reviews, see: Munroe, Jim. "Interactive." Independent film; multiple viewing formats. 7 min. 2001. 6 Mar 2001. http://nomediakings.org/interactive.htm. [link]
**1/2A short, no-budget digital film about "unrequited love and unrepentant geekiness." Two friends relate to each other through an improvised oral interactive fiction quest - one plays the role of the computer, orally describing the situation, while the other suggests actions.

Powers, Richard. "Escapes." Esquire 131.7 (1999): 86. [Excerpt from Powers's novel Plowing the Dark.] [link]
** The short story "Escape," told in a second-person format, presents the thoughts of a political prisoner in a one-room cell, whose isolation is so severe that his flashbacks border on hallucinations. The short story published in Esquire contains no obvious references to command-line IF, but the novel from which it is excerpted deals with virtual reality, and many reviews (e.g. NY Times Book Review, Salon, The Village Voice) made the connection explicit. A short segment of the story: "You pace about, astonished. From the once-mythical far side of this cube, you look back across the ocean of air. Seeing your corner like this, from a distance - your mattress, radiator, chain; the grubby country that swallowed you entire - it looks bounded, known, livable."

Ross, Gary and Anne Spielberg [screenwriters]. Big. 20th Century Fox. 1988. [link]
* The opening sequence of this Tom Hanks comedy shows a boy playing a graphics-and-text video game. The young Josh is frustrated by a puzzle involving a character frozen in ice. He types "melt ice" but is stumped when the computer replies, "What do you want to melt the ice with?" Later, Josh makes a wish in front of a coin-operated mechanical fortune teller, and is transformed into an adult (played by Hanks). After leaving home and finding work at a toy company, he makes a successful boardroom pitch for his concept of "electronic comics" - book-sized video screens with buttons that can control the action. Now that the computer game has become a business proposition embroiled in office politics, Josh is nostalgic for his lost childhood. He returns to the same computer game he had been playing at the start of the movie, and solves the puzzle by melting the ice "with thermal pod." The ice puzzle seems to be a metaphor for Josh's childhood, and the mechanical fortune-telling game is a bridge between childhood and adulthood.

Dennis G. Jerz
03 Sep 2001 -- last modified
Dec 2006 -- minor HTML edits