How do you feel about IF works that deliver their stories primarily through notes, diaries, or other diegetic text?

  • I wish there were more IF works that delivered their stories primarily through notes, diaries, or other diegetic text.
  • It really does not matter to me whether a work delivers its stories through notes, diaries, or other diegetic text.
  • Under the right circumstances, I can enjoy a work that delivers its story through notes, diaries, or other diegetic text. (Please tell us the circumstances in this thread!)
  • Please, no more IF works that deliver their stories primarily through notes, diaries, or other diegetic text!
0 voters

As far as I’m concerned, it’s just one way of telling a story; it’s neutral in and of itself and can be done well or badly.

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Yup - and there are enough games like that to be a recognizable subgenre, but it’s by no means an overrepresented one, so I generally am interested to see a new one pop up.

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There were plenty of those in our April jam :partying_face:

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I’m in the minority of players’ opinions, but I don’t like letters much here. Unless it’s done fairly well.

But I know most don’t care, as long as it’s well designed and interesting to play.

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Honestly, that’s the most important part when playing a game. You can have the most bland format telling the best story ever, and the most intricate out-of-the-box format telling the most boring one. It really is all about the implementation!

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For me it is a narrative trick that works well every time, especially in IF.

The player is directly engaged with the story, and not just a passive reader. Collecting the bits of the story is some sort of puzzle which lasts through the whole game, a powerful binding mechanism which keeps the attention of the player high.

For the game-maker, you can use the diary trick in multiple ways (relaying the story from the end instead of from the beginning, have some part of the material written by an unreliable narrator, having multiple voices, etc.). Every setting has its own type of written medium (from clay tablets to audio recordings to diary pages), so it is easy to blend it in.

One of the text adventures someone recommended to me (Theatre) does just that and the result is good.

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My biggest problem with this trope is that it lends itself to huge text dumps, and READ PAGE 1 THEN READ PAGE 2 THEN READ PAGE 3 THEN… tends to lose my interest quickly. It helps if it’s broken up more and I can actually do something, gameplay-wise, in between getting the walls of text.

This was one of my biggest complaints about Anchorhead. There are certain sections of the game where you’re given a book and a table of contents and have to read every chapter one by one to find what you’re looking for, which is a lot of text without much interaction.

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I love epistolary works, and the pieces of interactive fiction I’ve seen tackle it have been a lot of fun! I think I have a bit more tolerance for it than most, seeing as I’m a huge fan of the gothic- and I also primarily am looking for strong characterization in narrative works, and the interplay of narrator reliability and external/internal censorship makes for a really interesting area to explore, even in the confines of a relatively linear story.

Here is a lesser known work that plays with the idea of censorship impacting the correspondence. Emily Short’s beautiful piece that concerns itself more so with internal/authorial censorship in response to societal pressure and navigating interpersonal relationships. And a very short, but cleverly done adaptation of Bluebeard by E. Joyce.

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For me personally, those were the most engaging part of the whole game – the early section where you go through old newspaper clippings, journal entries, etc. etc., write notes, and piece by piece form a mental picture of who these people are and what’s going on in the town. And once I started to crack puzzles with that knowledge, I just felt it was beautifully designed and it sucked me right in. My problems with Anchorhead start later on when it gets more action focused. Honestly, I might have stopped short if the author hadn’t done such a good job getting me immersed with those documents.

That being said, the technique doesn’t get a categorical go ahead from me. As someone said earlier, it’s a tool and can be implemented well or badly.

Edit: It must not go unsaid though, that I curse Michael Gentry for making those clippings be taken by the wind if you go outside with them. Ohhhhh, the amount of pointless, dumb RESTOREs…

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I fall right between “under the right circumstances” and “please, no more”. I don’t care about lore dumps, let me live the lore. I’ve heard of these mythical people who actually read the books in Skyrim. Weirdos, I know. :wink:

I find that reading through diaries, scouring manifests, listening to audio tapes, reading emails… it’s like I’m studying for a test at the end of the game. If the whole point of the game is to solve a mystery, then I guess it’s okay. You’re an investigator of sorts, I get it.

In the really bad IF jam, I hope someone put a diary entry in a book that reads, “I think he’s onto me. If he ever finds out, I’m… Oh, God! He’s right here standing behind me!” and then describe the blood covering the corner of the page. That should be the winner, hands down. Competition over.

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I don’t think I would decide whether I liked something or not before looking at it. At least, not in terms of its format. I think anything, done well, could win me over.

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I voted for “I don’t really care” because largely I agree with @EJoyce in seeing diegesis as one of many possible narrative formats. That being said, I adore epistolary fiction and games and generally feel that the kind of storytelling available through diegesis opens up very fun and exciting ways to create and to interact. The environmental storytelling opportunity combined with necessarily biased narrators is the main appeal to me.

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As someone who just wrote a letter game and will be writing a diary visual novel in a few days, I am firmly in the “don’t matter” camp. I started writing the stories realizing that they would be better suited in this format because of how the player will receive the text — and that’s about it.

As an aside, I did start reading diaries of famous people again for the next project I’m on. I’m hesitant in writing an epistolary where it’s clearly a “diary” for the sake of the writer and the world. Those always feel cheap to me. Instead, I want it to actually mimic my reading experiences of a diary: I don’t know who you are, I just stumbled upon your notebook, and I’m a nosy person, so I’ll be reading it and figuring out how you think.

Reading war diaries like Nella Last’s is interesting because she would just talk about the most random things she thought when she could be doing so much more. It’s difficult to read diaries like that sometimes because they are simply observations from the writer that don’t cohere to some grander picture. If her diary was “fiction” and closer to epistolary novels, then it would be more related to the plot and worldbuilding of World War II (lol). But I don’t find that very grounded, so the more mundane thoughts are fun to explore and wonder about.

So, in a way, I do care about diegesis if it’s related to characters working in an environment. Someone would write a diary that doesn’t say anything, but it’s deeply unlikely a diary would record all the important plot details. I don’t think of it as a literary exercise or as a way to valorize certain writing genres; it just makes sense my character would keep a poorly written diary in the world she’s in.

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I think it is a nice way to add narrative, flare and realism to a story.

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I’m a sucker for the epistolary form. I suspect part of it is a bit of thrill from illictly reading someone’s letters or journal, however ridiculous that may be.

Just Monday, a friend was telling me about his thrill in first encountering Myst that when he found a bookcase, he could actually read a book on the shelf. And then he realized there were lots of readable books. I had that same experience with Anchorhead. I thought all the articles and books and diary entries made the setting seem much more real and interesting.

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Read the reviews and find out :joy:

No one did, but you can do that for the next edition :wink:

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Not very original indeed. That immediately reminded me of Quote by J.R.R. Tolkien: “It is grim reading’, he said. ‘I fear their end…” (goodreads.com)

The last thing written is in a trailing scrawl of elf-letters: they are coming. There is nothing more.’ Gandalf paused and stood in silent thought.”

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It looks like I have a treasure trove of examples to check out. Thank you!

I had not given much thought to that aspect of it before. Thank you for the examples and the inspiration!

1 Like