How literary is interactive fiction?

I realise that this not a well-defined question. What I’m asking is roughly this. Is interactive fiction a sub-category of the novel/short story/play, or is it a category of its own?

Whenever I read a novel or short story or see a play, my interactive fiction radar is always on. Now and then there’s a bleep and I go “This idea could have traction in an interactive fiction context,” but most of the time the radar is silent.

Let me give you an example. Picture an interactive Oedipus. An educated player knows the story and can easily avoid killing his father and bedding his mother, but what’s the point of an Oedipus who doesn’t follow his tragic destiny? Plot is such a fragile contraption, investing the protagonist with agency can easily destroy it.

Interactive fiction is an art form of its own, though one that overlaps intriguingly with digital games, board games, visual art and animation (in the case of some Twine work), and static fiction (in the case of dynamic fiction).

Any IF game that offers a traditional story element (even the minimal “collect treasure, achieve victory” story of Zork) will spend some amount of effort to align player objectives with the story element. This is particularly true for tragedy and horror. (The “don’t open that door! / you’re going to open that door” problem.)

Non-interactive stories don’t have that wiring. They hang themselves entirely on a different approach: aligning character motivation with the story element in a convincing way. (IF does that too, but it can’t rely solely on it because the player can disengage from the character setup and run away / not kill dad /etc.)

Because of this, any direct translation of a static story into IF is going to look silly. It’s just missing a layer. The work of adaptation means adding that interaction design.

If you enjoy thinking about questions like this, you might like the IF Theory Reader and ifwiki’s list of theory-related posts: part 1, part 2. (These are older writings focused on parser IF.)

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In the particular case of Oedipus Rex, the action of the play takes place after Oedipus has killed his father and married his mother, so an interactive version needn’t give the player the option to avoid that. In fact, it’s quite common for the story in games to be about discovering what happened–Joel Goodwin complains about the ubiquity of this sort of environmental storytelling in non-text games.

I think IF is a subcategory of “fiction” but not necessarily a subcategory of printed novels/short stories/plays except in the niche of printed cyoa/gamebooks.

(There are interactive plays. The Mystery of Edwin Drood and Clue, both musicals, pop to mind. The audience votes on the outcome. Sleep No More is definitely interactive theater, but perhaps more like a Twine in that the audience can explore the scenery and take side-quests through different rooms chasing actors, but this increases audience knowledge and doesn’t affect the outcome. Before this, there was another “chase the actors in real time” theater piece called Tamara.)

In both cases, I’m not sure the “interactive” variations are large enough to qualify as a “sub-category,” and are more experimental curiosities when compared to the scope of mainstream fiction.

IF is an art form related to literature, but is not itself the same thing. Related media are just that: related, but not the same. Kind of like how sculpture and painting are similar, but still stand on their own.

“Literature” is a meaningless term, used only to espouse works you like and deride ones you don’t.

Some people might use the word that way, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s meaningless.

“Literature” is a word that expresses aesthetic judgment about written works. It’s a philosophical question as to whether aesthetic judgments are “truly meaningful” or only “apparently meaningful” or “somewhat meaningful,” but I’d say “literature” is no more or less meaningful than “great book.” “Literature” is obviously more meaningful than “lkajshdflkjhasdfk.”

As a lifelong lkajshdflkjhasdfk enthusiast, I must object to this elitist assertion.

Well, there’s also the thing where, just because people think something is literary, doesn’t necessarily mean they like it.

I think you guys are confusing his question. It’s not “how aesthetically artistic is IF” but “how divergent of a medium is IF from traditional fiction.”

Given some of the things the OP has posted, I’m not inclined to take the original question as seriously meant. I was just responding to Dannii.

And I was just responding to husserl :wink: