I’m going to copy-paste a comment I made in the other thread (the “you” in it is RealNC), with one addition:
My view is that IF, like most genres (if not concepts!), is a Wittgensteinian family resemblance concept. It doesn’t have a single essence; what makes something IF is that it’s like other works of IF, which are in turn like other works of IF, etc. So any two works of IF might not have one particular thing in common, but if you look at the totality of IF you’ll find an overlapping network of criss-crossed similarities, to paraphrase Wittgenstein. [Addition: As wonderfully illustrated in Emily’s comment.]
Which also means that what gets counted as IF is contingent, and may be a judgment call. It’s because IF evolved in a particular way that we count the things we do as IF. If people who play IF start to play and write ChoiceScript games and see them as part of the same thing, then that’s a good reason to say they’re IF. If not, not. Which is somewhat to say that ChoiceScript counts as IF because people enter ChoiceScript games in IF competitions. (And also perhaps because IF people have been doing other CYOAs for a while.)
Which is a long-winded way of saying, if you want to decide that IF has to have typed commands, that’s fine. You can make your decision that that’s the essence of IF. But other people may have a legitimate disagreement with you on that front.
I think it’s important to have a short and sweet term that does exclude hypertext/CYOAs and all other non-parser works. I don’t think “parser-based IF” is good enough for the long run.
I agree with Joey’s comment on the first page of this thread that “hyperlink” is a good description for web-based CYOAs. I like duality of “interactive fiction” and “hypertext fiction.” One solution would be to keep “interactive fiction” for games that are clearly closer to the parser side of the spectrum, while leaving “hypertext fiction” for games that are clearly choice-based. Because IF and “HF” (using this hypothetical terminology) are clearly related to each other, a new parent term would have to be invented to describe the whole family of text-based computer fiction games.
However, it seems more likely that the community is going to include CYOAs in the definition of “interactive fiction.” If that’s the case, we really need a new term to describe only parser games and exclude hypertext/choice, within the parent category of IF.
Maybe nothing, but I feel that the differences between parser and choice-based IF – without denying the fact that they also have much in common – are great enough that a clear distinction should be made. After all, I feel that someone in the community who may want to (for example) run a mini-comp for only one or the other category should be able to do so without having to explain his or her criteria to separate the two at length.
There are definitely benefits to discussing parser-IF and choice-IF together (I guess those are the terms I’ll use for this post ). However, I believe there is also good cause to discuss them separately at times. It’s probably true that parser-IF and choice-IF are not apples and oranges. They may both be apples, but they are different kinds of apples. Some times it’s good to discuss all the different varieties of apples together, but sometimes you just want a Red Delicious and you don’t care about Crispins.
I disagree. “Hyperlink” describes a method of input, and there is at this moment an active thread on the forum about a game that uses hyperlink input exclusively to play a game that is parser-based. (The links you click, some styled as buttons, are commands that are run through the standard Inform parser.) Quest also has a hyperlink interface for parser-IF.
The problem is that our focal categories for each of these game types are actually just the zones where multiple domains have happened to overlap, due to historical contingency. Input method isn’t the be-all & end-all–you can have CYOAs where all input is typed, and parser-based IF where all input is clicking on links. (Obviously, you can have CYOAs that don’t use hyperlinks at all–cf. the eponymous series of books!) Moreover, CYOAs could be constructed in which at least some of the game is organized by a world model, while you could conceivably parse typed input in such a way that you didn’t need a world model (e.g. ELIZA).
I don’t have an answer for how the terminology should work. But I’d like to see more and more games that problematize our distinctions.
(Fair warning: I’m the guy who likes to use “interactive fiction” to exclude CYOA games but include Myst. Although I don’t do it so much in discussions around here.)
I agree entirely that we’re talking about families of games here, not strict essences. Some of the qualities of the families are accidental, historical, or (in fact) shallow coincidences of timing and fashion.
On the other hand:
I would say that interface is by far the most important characteristic that we use to divide up games. Interface is deeper than input method – but they’re tied together nonetheless. If you don’t keep input methods firmly in mind when you design games, you design lousy game interfaces.
Indeed. The Play and Walker and Silhouette are both hyperlink games, but I wouldn’t consider the Choice Of games [that I’ve seen/played, which is certainly not all of them] to be hyperlink games, even though they do literally use hyperlinks. I also say The Matter of the Monster isn’t one, even though it’s made in the same system as The Play. Less straightforwardly, though, I admit that my internal criteria for using the term are quite vague and non-rigorous. I think deciding factor to me is the extent to which the links are scattered throughout the text (like Wikipedia) instead of stacked neatly at the end (like a multiple-choice question), and that’s an almost entirely aesthetic judgment. There’s also something about the extent to which a game does not close off the un-picked choices that makes it feel more properly hyperlink-y to me. I doubt I could fully taxonomize this.
I like the term that Choice Of Games uses, which is “choice-based game.” I think it emphasizes the pertinent difference between those games and world-modeled/parser IF, which is the granularity of game moves. Choice-based games are toward the “make major narrative changes per move” end of the spectrum, and parser IF is toward the “make subtle changes in the state of the world” end of the spectrum. I think one of the reasons why The Play has been so well-received is that it supports the gamut; you can make big emotional decisions, but you can also putter around observing your surroundings, if you like, which was very comforting to us parser-game folks.
(Also, in case this idea isn’t dead: I agree that “interactive fiction”, as used in the title of this forum, the IFComp, the XYZZY awards, and so on, has never been used to mean “things that are interactive and are fictional”. Total red herring. Also, “science fiction” is not limited to fiction about science; “fantasy” does not include all made-up stories; and other statements that should be too obvious to repeat.)
I too have been using “choice-based game” in recent discussions.
I think this makes a lot of sense, to have separate names for these different classifications, but leaving IF as an encompassing umbrella term.
Hmm. Choice may work, but I’m not so happy with the term “game”. The reason IF moved away from the term “adventure game” decades ago was partly because some works were being created that had less and less resemblance to games, and there’s similarly no reason that the scope of non-parsed IF should be limited to games.
What about terms like Parsed Fiction vs. Choice Fiction, Explicit Choice Fiction, Decision-Tree Fiction, or Explicated-Options Fiction (as decreasingly likely outcomes), all of which exists in the universe of Interactive Fiction (itself a subset of electronic entertainment)?
I at first thought that the main distinguishing characteristic of hypertext fiction was that it presented a set of modal choices at the end of every narrative ‘beat’. But as tove points out, it’s possible for non-choicescript systems to present incidental descriptive details without advancing the plot, as The Play did – and even in CS this can be accomplished by looping back to a hub menu when a decisive choice has not been made. But all of these have more in common with one another than with IF written in parser-based systems, so it would be nice if the term for them included all the various types (stateless like the CYOA books, player-handled statistics like some RPG one-person books, computer handled statistics like CS et al, crossed with the various flavors of hypertext and multiple-choice-at-the-end-of-each-section).
Zarf has already said here that the differing input mechanisms are of fundamental difference, and I agree.
I think it was also Zarf who once said before that a further substantial difference is that “CYOA” generally makes explicit what your options/potential interactions can be, where as “IF” generally doesn’t. This difference largely flows from the different input mechanisms, but also drives the choice of one over the other.
“CYOA” style mechanisms have been a part of “IF” for a very long time, think of number conversation options for example. We are seeing more and more works using traditional IF VMs use CYOA style mechanisms too. So I have no problem with CYOA being widely accepted into the IF community. Perhaps in the future we will talk about how prominent the parser is in a particular work (from being non-existent to the only input mechanism).
The real problem of the XYZZY awards isn’t one of mechanisms or genres but of communities. And people problems are always harder to solve.
A thought just occurred to me. It seems weird to me that there is so much talk about parser-IF and choice-based games being fundamentally the same, when so few people in the community seem to acknowledge the greater similarities between IF and MUDs. Furthermore, IF and MUDs are more clearly descended from the same tradition; the original “M.U.D.” got its name because it was a multi-user form of Dungeon. The MUD and IF communities just never really got together to the same level that the CYOA community (or at ChoiceScript) has been interacting with the IF community lately.
I think it’s great that parser-IF players and writers are considering and discussing the similarities with CYOAs, but I don’t think community relations should determine the accepted definitions. I feel that MUDs have more cause than CYOAs to be called “interactive fiction” according to the text adventure tradition and the objective interface similarities.
I think it’s best to have separate terms for all categories, ultimately, because they do all have qualities that are unique, even though actual games exist on a spectrum. Crossovers and hybrids are fascinating, but in order to be crossovers and hybrids, they need actually contain characteristics that are typically unique to multiple genres.
I see that MUDs probably shouldn’t be classified with IF because the narrative experience and other characteristics have changed greatly in the years of separation from IF, but I think IF and MUDs should still learn from each other and be discussed together. I feel the same would be a good approach to CYOAs. It’s great for hybrids of parser and choice-based formats to appear, and it’s fun to have both forms in the same discussion boards and comps. However, I think we need to acknowledge the uniqueness of both, and allow for the separate communities to exclude each other for some things.
How would the IF community react if a MUD were to be nominated in the XYZZY Awards?
We also need to consider the different evolutionary trees of text adventures and CYOA. The former has roots in virtualized cave exploration. A sort of virtual reality. A computer simulation. CYOA on the other hand is based on CYOA books and does not attempt to give the illusion of reality (for better of worse; that’s subjective.)
We have two completely different heritages and we’re trying to put them on the same boat.
Can these two genres converge? I think the answer is an obvious “yes.” Attempts have already been made by introducing world models and state in COYA. And vice versa, by removing the free-form verb/object input from some parser-based IF. But we still have to deal with tradition here. The IF community was formed by people who didn’t want games in the style of the old works by Infocom, Level 9, Legend Ent. and many others to disappear. Everything we did was centered around the mechanics of those games. CYOA is alien to all of this. To me it feels like it arrived here overnight and is now trying to convince me it’s part of the text adventure tradition. I don’t like that, because it’s not.
I don’t think that’s exactly what he said. But in any case, I think the presence of a world model is far more fundamental than whether commands are typed or not. Without a world model, there is nothing for a parser to parse to. If you’re going to have typed input in a game without a world model, it needs to correspond to something other than objects in the world: numbered choices in a menu-based game, for example, or maybe some kind of keyword matching where typed input is used to select from a finite number of possible input strings.
This is an interface consideration, but not one of input per se. There’s no necessary reason that a world-model IF can’t make all of the meaningful moves explicit (see A Colder Light, which does just that). You could also conceal inputs in a CYOA, though that would probably just make for pixel-hunting…some people enjoy pixel hunting…
Of course it’s the case that these things are true of most parser IF and most CYOA-style games, but I don’t want to see us try to use these to define the essence of one category or the other. In fact, I’m most interested in seeing those categories break down, which is why I choose to emphasize the contingency of the configurations we see today.
LoTech Comp was 11 years ago. CYOA may be an alien tradition, but it’s hardly one that arrived in IF yesterday.
It may also be worth noting that the term “Interactive Fiction” itself appears to have been invented by a guy whose work included stuff that had much more of a choice-node structure than an Adventure-style world-model structure, though from that I can’t quite tell whether His Majesty’s Ship Impetuous tried to use a free-form keyword parser or just presented you with Yes/No choices.
This makes me think.
I’m close-minded, and this is also noted somewhere else, so take what I say from where it comes from…
To me, IF is Infocom style adventure games. They can be more or less puzzled, or even puzzle-less. But they ARE Infocom style.
Not even Scott Adams-likes are IF, to me. A game that states “You are in a forest. You see: trees, Zarf. Exits: west.” is not IF to me. It’s a game, yes, but no IF. Taking a *Gem and dropping it into a room for the last line of text saying “Congratulations. Play again? Y/N” doesn’t feel a lot like fiction.
I can’t take that a game that just lets you READ and, sometimes, press the “next” button or something like that is IF. It’s fiction, yes, but no IF.
That said, I don’t think that the question of who coined the term “interactive fiction” should really have much bearing on how we use it today. If we were to discover that before computers, someone used “interactive fiction” to describe pop-up books, we wouldn’t start letting pop-up books in the xyzzys.
… Which puts me in mind of the nearly identical discussions we have in the Pen-and-Paper-RPG world of which types of games are, and are not, RPGs (I have a section in my FAQ for my take) But just the fact that I have to specify “Pen-and-Paper-RPG” when in my mind it’s simply “RPG” speaks to the change the term experienced once computer-game publishers decided to use the term for (a basically unrelated) game form.
This is even more different, though, because basically no one followed up Lafore’s way of designing (as far as I can tell from Jimmy Maher’s blog). The term “interactive fiction” got co-opted right away.
I might also give you some guff about whether computer RPGs are unrelated to tabletop RPGs, by pointing to the line from D&D to the earliest cRPGs and then on to the present day. But you know a lot more than I do about both genres, so that would be a silly thing for me to do.