A perspective on the subject of competitions

Just a viewpoint that might be interesting to ponder: Why is it that any activity that’s genuinely enjoyed by a reasonably sized group of people must be reduced to the rather juvenile sphere of “competition”?

In the case of the IF community, it only seems to be counter-progressive, considering that the limited amount of judges ostensibly can’t – or don’t want to – explore through any text adventure that takes more than a specified, small amount of time to complete (especially considering the amount of submissions).

Perhaps they should refrain from the undertaking, then? I would only say such a thing because this seems a self-defeating limitation. If it’s taken for granted that competition pushes the writer to enhance all of his skills, then shouldn’t this hypothetical writer be encouraged to expand, making his work less linear and more unorthodox (and hence, more time-consuming, as any truly fresh approach takes longer to assimilate) – rather than being encouraged to explore the different ways in which a minimalist idea can be dressed up stylistically or rhetorically?

I might be missing something, of course; maybe they’ve tried to add judges, but nobody wants to spend so much time playing others’ games and rating them within finite critera. I can understand that.

I submit that competing for some kind of prize threatens the visceral enjoyment of pulling fiction out of one’s imagination purely for his own pleasure; and that considering the submissions’ enforced limitations, it truly keeps the craft from expanding much. It seems to practically encourage the writer’s adherence to quickly completed challenges or easily navigated stories (read: predictability), even notwithstanding the more obvious, if equally significant, limitations on sheer world size.

I guess I simply don’t understand why it’s not natural for people to enjoy sharing their creative endeavors with one another, and just be glad that there are others of like interest with whom to have fun with their chosen fixations, even when those fixations are decidedly (and, I might add, gloriously) “unfashionable.”

Lest this be interpreted wrongly, I’ve never entered an IF competition, and don’t intend to; my games are too long, to begin with. Half the fun for me is the exploration facet. In fact, what I truly enjoy is the process itself, rather than the completion; I do this purely for my own enjoyment. Other writers’ acceptance of, or rejection of, competitions doesn’t exactly matter to me. And much of this paragraph is based on personal taste, of course. But I can’t help but find myself rather curious as to what other IF writers might think about this. It’s just a fun thing to talk about, you might say.

I suppose it goes without saying that anyone who displays arrogance, or a general feeling of superiority, about writing such a thing as interactive fiction – still a niche hobby, as far as the computing world is concerned (granted, we shouldn’t be concerned with this) – is quite off the mark, and presumably harbors other purposes, conscious or not, than the enjoyment of word-craft and genuine imaginative undertakings. Any such incarnate example of “contributing nothing productive to any self-styled community” figures quite outside my devil’s advocate-like challenge of “writing games for one’s own pleasure” (the whole point) vs. “writing games to gain others’ approval” (external and quite besides the point).

This is not intended to shortchange anyone’s efforts, subvert any writer’s pride in winning a past competition, or exhibit antagonism in any sense. Diverse opinions are healthy things to consider (and collectively help to prevent stagnation in any creative field), and like the man said, without deviation, progress is not possible.

This is merely provided as food for thought from someone who’s loved playing and writing text adventures for a quarter-century – hopeful fodder for grown-up discussion, if any replies at all are forthcoming in these relatively sparse forums. Thanks for taking it in the intended spirit.

Emily Short wrote a thoughtful piece last year on the value of the IF Comp to the IF community. Worth reading if you haven’t seen it yet.

Thanks, Emerald! I’ll definitely read that. I appreciate the link.

I would say that competition isn’t only juvenile. First of all I don’t think it’s coincidence that the root of the term is based in a coming together; secondly the spirit of competitions in many game development communities is a genuine community spirit, and has little to do with ‘competition’ in the strict sense of the word.

IF writers tend to develop their competition pieces in relative isolation; compare this with something like the IGF competition or TIGSource comps and you see serious differences. I don’t know if in more publically visible (and moneyed) competitions like IGF people consciously jack up the hype meter, or in shorter comps (like TiGSource’s) people feel free to display their development process, or it’s just that the IF community is based in a quieter, more niche, mid 90s Internet and there’s no reason to change that fundamental culture in a major way (I’m not saying there is, anyway).

If people truly are pulling fiction out of their imagination for their own pleasure, surely they’re the only people who’ll have heard of it? But even if they really aren’t interested in anyone else enjoying it but themselves, some of their enjoyment would come from their skill in the craft - which can only be seriously improved with feedback and criticism.

As I understand it, many in the IF community find that, whether it’s natural or not, this simply isn’t what happens. The IF competition is seen as the one place you can release an IF game and actually find any reason to believe that other people have actually played it.

This doesn’t especially chime with my own experiences, however, and the only competitions I take part in are more casual affairs whose chief aim is simply to get people to make and release games that they wouldn’t have otherwise.

To me, the annual IFComp has been the driving force behind the IF I’ve released. When there’s no deadline, no urgency, no sense of commitment – nothing “on the line” so to speak – I don’t create much of anything. This is arguably a character flaw on my part, but be that as it may, a couple games a few people have really enjoyed probably wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t felt driven to compete. It’s probably the same for some of the other participants.

Thank you for the thoughtful comments. They’re certainly more experience-based than mine; I’ve done this for years without really offering anything for people to play. The only bit I would respectfully disagree with concerns the theory that a writer can only get better with criticism and feedback – but I only contest this if it’s being applied universally. I’m more “selfish” with my…let’s call them creative endeavors, just to be a bit pretentious for a moment. I write according to my own tastes, as I suspect most people do in the IF world, before they start proofreading to attract/maintain the interest of a hypothetical “audience.”

I try to improve upon making myself happy. Life is short. Approval seems to be a wasteful thing to seek. Y’know, to be honest, with this attitude, it’s amazing I’ve managed to get any books published at all. :slight_smile:

But I certainly see why that possibility would be pointed out, and I appreciate the time you more succinct people have taken to respond.