(Summary: I will be discussing the Muzzle Rule and the Parser vs. Choice issue.)
I want to discuss just a couple of issues that are central to IFComp. My thoughts have evolved on these since 1 October. First I should point out that I’m in most ways a newcomer to the IF community. I have been judging for a long time, but I never visited the forums or anything, and this year was my first entry (Koustrea’s Contentment). So I have no idea how much I can contribute to the conversation or how much has been said before.
After a few days of experiencing the authors’ forum, I became concerned about the general Parser vs. Choice situation. It’s certainly not out of control; this is much more a molehill than a mountain. But there is some bitterness here and there that I didn’t like seeing. The parser people (like me) don’t want to see their tiny place in the universe overrun by browser games that bear little resemblance to their Text Adventure forebears. The choice people openly gripe about a judging bias (or “preference”, if you prefer) toward parser games. My concern, initially, was that the IFComp forces parser people to judge choice games and vice-versa, because the occasional voter really does hate the other kind, which can result in needless spiteful scores. And I was shocked to see quite a few authors express something to the effect of “I have no interest in parser games. I don’t make them, I don’t play them, and I won’t review them.” I was thinking we should institute categories again, or just choose one kind or the other for IFComp.
I have changed my mind on all this. The Comp really doesn’t force anyone to judge any particular kind of game. Judges can and should steer themselves towards the kind of games they like. There has been a murmuring in support of adding more tags to IFComp entries for just this purpose. It’s a good idea. And this will become more important as the contest continues to grow, as it becomes less and less feasible to play all of the entries. I think it’s true, to some small degree, that choice games currently face a harsher grading curve, but it’s also true that the choice games are slowly taking over, and their influence on judging is not far behind. Then again, it won’t be long before some new kind of thing comes along. IF is very inclusive.
That’s why I decided that I’m fine with how things are on this issue. The community will handle this, and it already has in some ways by means of other contests like ParserComp and Spring Thing. I hadn’t heard of those before this year, but now I have–so that’s progress. I really have come to appreciate the IFComp as the big IF orgy/festival where all kinds of things are welcome: parser, choice, sketchy-looking Windows executables, and who knows what else; that has always been its beauty. Let’s continue to see them mix and mingle. It’s also important that the general public serve as the judges. I feel the IFComp is simply the proper venue for that, and it wouldn’t be the same otherwise. Let’s bring in newbie judges, too, and take whatever they dish out. Likewise, we must maintain the contest aspect, as opposed to simply being a festival. It’s just not as exciting without the Rankings looming, and everyone knows it. In fact, I’d really like to see more XYZZY-style awards given out during the Comp for things like Best NPC, Best Writing, and so on.
This all adds up to the IFComp being the most inclusive, wild, and attention-grabbing event in the IF world. The one where we can really try to draw in the outside world and accept the consequences. There is some concern that newcomers will play bad games and get turned off, but even worse is them not playing any games at all. And, even playing bad games may inspire people to do better, or to compare them to others, or to have fun shredding them in reviews. The IFComp is already the best venue for all this, and I’d like to see it reinforced.
Which brings me to my next topic: the so-called Muzzle Rule. As you know, bphennessy started the main thread about this and made the point that a whole lot of enthusiasm was being wasted in the authors’ forum, which had tremendously more activity than the public forum. That’s certainly a point. I was initially against changing the Muzzle Rule, but I’ve changed my mind, at least in a way.
Without getting too deep in this argument, I think the wisest course of action would be to lift (modify) the Muzzle Rule next year, on a trial basis, and see what happens. We’ll never really know otherwise.
There may be risks, but they don’t seem severe. And we would learn a great deal. I am not convinced that any of the envisioned adverse effects would actually occur (aside from the authors’ forum becoming a ghost town–that’s a given). I’m not entirely sold on the benefits either, but I’d like to find out. I don’t think we would be violating anything sacred by giving it a shot. It would be prudent, if this community is concerned with advancement, to explore all options. There’s nothing wrong with admitting we made a mistake and going back, either.
So, back to the overall theme of my discussion, I’d like to see the IFComp fill its de facto role a little better, carve out its place a little more. And, in response, I’d like to see other Comps carve out their places with more emphasis. The community could certainly use a juried competition with a fixed number of entries, no time limit, and pre-selected judges. Maybe that will be Spring Thing someday, maybe not. I’m really not even sure what is out there.
When these things fall into place, the issue becomes which events become (or “should be”) high-profile and get however much prize money from donations, but that will sort itself out, as we sort ourselves out.