Hi y’all, as a starry eyed new entrant to both the community and the competition I wanted to post something about what rediscovering interactive fiction has been like for me and then, not really ‘reviews’ in the critical sense, but just express my awe and appreciation at some of the work I’ve come across through this process. The following is an adapted extract from a longer substack post I wrote reflecting on the whole topic of text adventures and IF (which you can find here if you’re interested) and then in the subsequent thread I’ll post my various adorations for games I’ve played as they appear in the orginal blog.
In my mind games based around text had died some time in the late 90’s- meaning that while such games were still available- and people might still be creating them- they were not growing as an art form. They were a peripheral, archeological experience that mainly survived as a compliment to more successful organisms, like the sonnet form in a fantasy novel or a playable version of an 8 bit arcade game rendered in a virtual environment. But the IF community gathered around Narrascope disabused me of that notion.
The IF community I saw at Narrascope was mainly young (as in younger than me), optimistic and, by the standards of the games industry, highly diverse. They seem to have no conception of their work as niche or hobbyist and there is not so much nostalgia for the past as a purposeful intellectual appreciation of it. These are enthusiasts, obsessives, fellow dorks if you will, but also cutting edge writers and highly refined artists contributing to the forward march of our culture. Discussion ranged from the highly technical, to the ethical, to the aesthetic to the radical. We met in the aftermath of the heatwave and the early days of the war in Ukraine. The welcoming lecture was introduced with the reassurance that we were entering a space where we could not expect to escape the effects of these terrors, but at least contribute to an alternative commonality. It was a gentle sentiment that spoke to the spirit of the community; inclusive, questioning and mutually supportive.
Encountering the IF community has been like drifting apart from an old friend, hearing somewhere that they have died, and then bumping into them one day on the street and discovering that they have been living their best life without you this whole time. When you meet such an acquaintance you will be at first elated to find them alive, and then desperate to get a piece of what they’ve got. After playing Ataraxia I began skootling around in Twine. I didn’t have any intention to create a viable game and ended up instead with a meandering highly personal exploration of my anxieties and memories. I named it Lucid to convey the idea of consciously exploring a dream, which to me is the essence of reading Interactive Fiction. While I was working on this I learned about IFcomp and thought that entering it might be an interesting way to sneak into the community, that is sneak in the sense of stumbling awkwardly into a pep rally wearing poorly constructed cheerleader cosplay. I made some edits to Lucid to make it a little more appropriate for public consumption, gave it to my friends to playtest, and then entered it into the competition. NERVES.
The competition isn’t over, but the experience has been wonderful. The IF community has survived and grown by enthusiastically nurturing it’s constituents. There is no gatekeeping or passive aggressive hostility. People have strong opinions and are open about their tastes, but they are shared constructively and with an emphasis on positivity and the possibility of growth. The open source Twine community in particular is an incredible resource, Lauren sherpa’d me through a lot of my climb to submission but once i’d gained confidence in the basic principles I found that I could find the answer to practically any question about the platform simply by searching the forums for some paleo-noob with the same query which invariably multiple initiates had examined and resolved many times over.
A lot of the participants share reviews of the games they have played as part of the competition, but I don’t feel like I’ve earned the right to really review the games I’ve played. Besides which my experience has hardly been critical, but more like an infant walking wide eyed into an arcade run by strange, chthonic spirits. My heart full of wonder and terror, my sanity shaken.
Instead I would like to offer the following tributes to the completely random selection of games I played in order to rate them as a participant-judge in IFComp 2022 (check out the rules here). Some of them are tentative explorations of the format expressing powerful feelings and compelling ideas, others highly sophisticated games that seem ready for commercial publication. I hope that you will try them all, every one is worth your interest and your time.