Some late night thoughts on Interactivity

Last night I was thinking about something I’ve notice on some review sites and in general when it comes to any interactive media, which is the emphasis on what is “interactivity”. I find it fascinating how much people argue over interactivity and what makes for “good interactivity” as though their subjective opinions end conversation instead of (hopefully) adding to it. Often these arguments give me the same feeling of being in high school and watching someone go “Oh that bands shitty. They’re posers. They don’t get it unlike this other band, which is the real thing(because I like them and I’m more authentic and better than you)”. That’s not to say I do not think people have valid opinions or reasons for them, and that’s not to say I’m not immune to that behavior, but so much of these discussions seem to go no where. In IF there seems to be kind of a intersection of factors that create this sort of talk around Parser IF versus Choice style IF, particularly in reviews.

However, I can’t help but feel in regards to IF it’s an argument about how successfully people hide set dressing. Do you notice the strings? Do you care if you do? Do you care what kind of strings are used? At the end of the day your average CYOA and Parser is functionally the same to a certain extent on a fundamental level. The difference as I see it is Parsers allow for more individual freedom and potentially complex puzzles and problem solving, while Twines allow for more of a text centered focus and thus a basic character focus that guides who You can be. That is not to say it is impossible for one to do either or both, but that’s a few central differences between the two. It simply seems that at the end of the day you have a series of words, pre-selected, that you can use in a given situation. Truthfully until the day we have Star Trek:TNG style Holodeck’s that is all written interactive media where You are given a choice is. Ultimately it’s a question of whether you like your dressing to be ranch or honey mustard? I prefer honey mustard…or bleu cheese, or vidalia onion.

So when I look at certain reviewers explanations that explain how they rated things it always seems a matter of how you like your set dressing. However it has been equated to quality. I have heard people say that unless you have a score or(especially in IF) multiple endings then it isn’t a game or an IF, often with a preference for objects, inventory, etc. This seems small minded at best. Worse it’s an argument that feels similar to “If you don’t do what I think makes something good then it’s not good and your a poser”, which is the same high/middle school level nonsense I mentioned before.I can think of about ten different video games where “making things more gamey” was the reason for TERRIBLE boss battles, chase sequences, and quests. However we continue to equate interactivity and gamey elements for quality.

This presents a very difficult area in terms of reviewing after a certain point because, while many are fair and rate all IF on a pretty transparent and agreed upon view of interactivity regardless of form, others immediately assume a set dressing, usually parsers, automatically make for a better interactive experience because they present the illusion of freedom. Or some assume a lack of choice or impact from your choices means that the interactivity and overall product is a failure REGARDLESS of how it was executed. So how do we deal with this as reviewers, as players, as makers? Secondly how do reviews factor into what we play, how we view things, etc?

However there’s another issue that impacts this that I have seen in different interviews and in one experience with a reviewer, who admittedly was on the other side of the political and social arena than me. There seems to be a fair number of people who, regardless of quality, hate that people have access to be able to create. Because Twine and other CYOA style scripts are easily accessible to make IF some people resent that certain people are able to make IF about issues personal and otherwise. I’m not talking about that they’re annoyed it makes it harder to sift through folders, but people who are mad that say, I a black woman, could make an IF about being a black woman in a particular context… This creates a situation where the review isn’t about the actual thing, but about whether it should exist on the premise of what is in it(which is a weird back alley censorship when you think about it). Comments won’t be about whether you make a game based on your life in a well constructed non-solipsistic way, but as to the validity of your life being portrayed at all. Those are very different from quality or quality of form, but the accessibility of CYOAs equates all of this to some people. This, of course, presents another problem in reviewing as old as time, which is recognizing your personal politics as a reviewer or a player. And I bring this up because sometimes it seems like people try to say, for example, “This game is not good for interactivity,”, but then they add on “because it’s liberal/conservative/etc. propaganda because it’s about XYZ and that’s all there is in IF now blah blah blah”. Of course I have biases, but before I even react on that level, I almost universally react with “What does this have to do with the text, the game, the etc.” It has nothing to do with anything and it’s bad form to dismiss almost anything in art on the basis of whether it agrees with you. I am a southern black woman from the USA and I see the artistic value of the film structure/cinematography of DWG’s"Birth of a Nation", but I can still see the lack of artistic value in the story and depiction of black people. Perhaps that’s what troubles me is that individuals easily reduce their views of interactivity, text quality, etc. down to whether or not they dislike the type of people making X or Y without ever seeing the two as potentially unrelated. Worse is that this can, in some cases, really influence how people view the form and dressing of an interactive fiction.

Interactive fiction isn’t all text video games. It doesn’t purely exist for you or me or anyone just as the traditional pen and paper shouldn’t. Interactive fiction isn’t all intricate puzzles and challenges. It can be an experience. It is not unsuccessful because one person felt it and another didn’t, but it isn’t successful either. Interactive fiction presents great medium when put in the right hands whether you play, write, or both. Perhaps we try to hard to define interactivity as we all like. Maybe it’s because we’re all still those kids in high school who want to live by in-group out-group BS social politics. I have no doubt that’s just the human way, but growing up is recognizing that and understanding that. Hell writing and reading and being critical is recognizing that right?

It just seems dumb how messed and petty arguments over what define interactivity are. What do you think?

Just some thoughts. Thought I’d share. It’s 12am. Time to drink.

Hi darlarosa,

I think I have an idea of which reviewer you have in mind–I saw you had commented on one of his reviews on IFDB. He’s been banned from this forum, and I suspect more than one person has “plonked” his reviews on IFDB so as not to see them anymore. This doesn’t answer your bigger questions–I don’t feel prepared to wade into those–but I thought it might be worth mentioning how some people have chosen to deal with this reviewer in particular.

At the risk of over-simplifying…

There are good Twine games and there are bad Twine games. There are awful Twine games and there are awesome Twine games. That’s true of every other authoring system.

If someone is disinclined to be charitable towards games that are, in their view, not that good (and being charitable up to a point seems only reasonable - how else is any community expected to thrive? You don’t say “this is bad”, you say "this could be improved in the following manner), then that person will start conflating the tool with the game. Worse, that person will start conflating the whole design ideology with the game. Add in the fact that the tool we’re talking about is very easy to use, which increases the likelihood of any given game being someone’s-first-effort-and-it-really-shows…

I can say that I understand that person’s point of view, and I can even agree with many isolated points (I’m not nearly into CYOA/Twine as I am into the parser). But I can not agree with, nor condone, the overall attitude and the hasty, destructive conclusions. In fact, I react to that person the same way I react to a game that I feel isn’t good: if I have nothing constructive to say either way, I move away.

I guess my point is: don’t let it get to you. You can’t live other people’s lives for them, you can’t broaden their horizons when they’re clamped shut. Move away from destructive feedback. Focus on constructive feedback, even if it is negative.

The nameless person in question had a choice, and they chose to play that game knowing their biases. They then chose to post a review. You can then choose to ignore that review as biased, or mark it unhelpful. Reading more than that into it, trying to make sense of the destructive review… it may be a trip down a conversation hole you don’t want to get into.

You’re absolutely right on all these counts.

Interactive fiction is undergoing a spectacular renaissance right now, and part of that renaissance is the kaleidescopic reimagining of what interactive fiction can be.

Although some people are excited and enthusiastic about this reimagining, there will always be others distressed by change, especially when that change can be construed as criticism (or may even be criticism) of things they love.

Fortunately, most people recognize that “hey, have you tried cherry pie, it’s awesome!” does not have an addendum of “also apple pie is garbage pie that belongs in the garbage”. Even “sometimes apple pie is mushy and unpleasant” does not mean “apple pie is garbage pie that belongs in the garbage”.

Which is a good thing, because when more people bake more pie, we all profit.

I love cvaneseltine’s response. Perfectly said, and nothing more to add than that.

Except to echo that all benefit from more pie… or games – player AND creator alike. I love that there are more games to play, and diverse games that aren’t the same old same old. I also love that there is room for all games out there, and that well made games will find their audience and that more people (as of late) have been jumping into the act of creation.

I wrote a lot more than I thought, thanks for responding guys.
I think the pie analogy works great. That’s how I try to view it…I love the look of Boston Cream pie but then I try it and it’s not my cup of tea, but I respect it. But I love sweet potato pie…and some people hate pie and love cake. It’s all a matter of preference, though I do think for the most part their are times someone burns the hell out of a pie and we can almost all go “Nope. That isn’t good try again.”
The important thing is there is pie, and all kinds of pie, for every person. Best of all I could try your version of blueberry pie and you could try mine and we’d taste two equally yummy and very different things.
Also I want pie now. (Oh my lord I haven’t had chocolate cream and pecan crisp pie since I was a kid I may make it)

Eh yeah that guy doesn’t bother me, so much as I was legitimately trying to understand his point of view just to gain understanding and found he really…didn’t know how to review something he personally disagreed with. At this point I’m bothered by him. I think what bothered me was the assertion that text games needed official scores, and stats and such to be visible to the player…which is a bit odd,

Funny thing is his views I’ve seen echoed in a less (social/political tone) from people complaining about their being too many “autobiographical” games. The other individuals have made interesting points, but generally tend to give off a tone of “Cool it with the games about X” even if they relate to X. An example would be like me telling another black woman to cool it about games featuring black women I guess. I can understand that on one level but on the other I kinda don’t

Tell you the truth, I’m saturated with those sorts of games. I don’t bring it up usually, because just because I’m saturated doesn’t mean that other people won’t find it helpful or insightful. I’ve come to the point where I quit those gmaes in fairly short order unless they’re doing something that really appeals to me.

For instance, I’ve played umpteen games about being trans in Twine. Some of them had a downright hostile attitude towards the player - which doesn’t make me want to play them. Most of them re-hash the same sentiments, the same point of view. Cis Gaze, Bloom and (non-Twine) Dis4ria stand out as games I was very glad to have played and which I’ll recommend, and those are the sort of exceptions that rise above the rest.

The thing about autobiographical Twine games is that they are sometimes a slice of someone’s life being used to illustrate a bigger point. And the person is mostly doing it to get it off their chest. It will certainly be of interest to other people - and it will definitely not be of interest to a whole lot of other people, especially since when the author says “This is a big deal, as I’m painstakingly explained” the player will just go “I absolutely don’t see why this is a big deal - I see the parts you’re pointing at, but the big picture you’re talking about is quite a leap”.

Of course, when games actually WANT to paint a big picture out of parts, they usually fail for this inevitable reason: there’s no dialog between the player and the author. The author is often unable to understand and predict the questions they’ll be asked, and carries on. The player gets increasingly disinterested and unconvinced.

Well, maybe I’m generalising. I can’t imagine I’m the only one to whom this happens. Then again, maybe I am.

Long story short: I’m rather saturated with autobiographical games, unless they’re done right. Doing an autobiographical game, for me, is significantly more than what sometimes amounts to a blog post rant. And yes, there are plenty of Twine games I’ve played which are exactly that.

(DISCLAIMER: I single out Twine because it’s the most oft-used tool for this, it being so easy to use and distribute. Also because I’m biased, playing essentially IF. I’m sure I’d bring up more authoring tools if I played more sorts)

Hmmm, that I don’t quite see, thankfully. What about if you were telling another black woman to cool it about games featuring black women being victimised? That’s a bit closer to what I can see, and truthfully sometimes feel. But hey, if the games are done well… again, I’m not telling Inurashii to stop doing games about being trans because her games are friggin’ great.

I’m going from the last paragraph up.

I get what you mean, but I’m not seeing that as much as a general idea that mentioning anything about being black is “obsessive”, and I’ve experienced a similar thing with writers writing about writers. I would actually love it if the sort of thing you’re talking about was more of what I’m seeing because that’s how you get more stories and generate thought. I pretty much write everything but Urban Paranormal books because soo many books about women in fantasy seem to be that (I like to call the genre Tramp Stamps, Shirtless Men, and Amulets). I think some people mean “We aren’t all victims”, and I relate to that because every once in a while everyone has to say something like that. (Mine tend to be not all tall women are aggressive/play sports followed by a close second of “not all black people…something something writing related”). You’re so right about that and how people write victim stories to get things off their chests. To me the issue is…we need a better system and IF is so small there isn’t a real system stronger the IFDB to say “This is good” on a regular basis outside the awards/competitions. There really needs to be more out there and online because people are playing and writing, but so few of us are talking just constantly promoting and reccomending. I dunno. I think it’ll always be a bit oversaturated, but I think that’s anything with writing because everyone thinks their stories are interesting or good.

Ultimately I agree with a lot of what you say and I wish people would articulate things a bit more because I want to believe most people are like you in the sense that they find far too many games to be really crappy blog posts. It just seems like some people who may be perfectly reasonable/nice have an issue with autobiography’s even mostly fictionalized ones(Like the book Big Ray, seriously good book.).It’s no one doing anything interesting, or different.