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.