What is IF?

Hello. I write this to know about your thoughts. What is Interactive Fiction?

I’ve played a few games so far (I’m new and without much free time to play) and don’t quite get the crux (sorry for my english) of IF. Is there a nice reading you can point out about the whole concept or better what can you tell about it? I can imaging storytelling as one of the most ancient activities of human culture. Stories were told to teach and to entertain. If they were real or not wasn’t always important so there you’ve got fiction I guess. But I can only imagine one storyteller and many amused though passive listeners around a campfire. I tell a story and you listen, so I guess interactivity is something recent. I don’t see where interactivity is heading, though. And I want interactvity to be a contribution to storytelling but since it isn’t that popular I guess it still needs some more trials to have a polished and final invention contributing to this old human need of telling stories. And you have also playing as another really old activity probably with the main purpose of learnimg by simulating situations and operating rules and that includes modern videogames. I know of tabletop role-playing games with story tellers and players building a story together framed by rules. I know of Inform 7 and other parser based systems building a world with rules to play along a storyline unfolding while you solve challenging puzzles. I know of Choicescript, Twine, Inkle, Undum, Varytale and other systems allowing easily stories with paths to be chosen by readers. But I think there’s something more I’m not quite getting yet and would like to read your opinions on the matter. You see? Lot of things that I can’t quite connect them all together.

What do you think? What are your thoughts?

IF is a “family resemblance” term, in Wittgenstein’s sense. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Family_resemblance The same applies to “games,” “adventure games,” “text adventure games,” etc.

1 Like

You assert that interactivity “isn’t that popular”, but I think you need to establish a better definition of “interactivity” before making that assertion.

Based on your examples (which cover everything from CYOA to gamebooks to tabletop to modern video games), over 1.2 billion people are engaged in interactive media. That’s pretty popular! (Source: geekwire.com/2013/gaming-rep … worldwide/)

Um. Well, it’s fiction…that is interactive


Seriously though, I’m sure it stretches all the way back to Caveman Ogg somewhere developed writers block and made grunts which equated “What goes next here, a picture of a deer or a picture of a river?” and all the children wanted to play since they didn’t know how to make pictograms and thought it interesting that they could affect what archaeologists would be reading in a million year’s time.

I bet long ago in Victorian England there was a type of story book where whenever the protagonist’s name appeared there was an empty blank for a parent or child to fill in their own name or the name of their choosing, and thus “customize” the story. Mad-Libs were invented, and so was improv theater where the moderator asks an audience for a girl’s name, an orchestral instrument, and a flavor of ice cream and the audience is mesmerized and amused as a story with features they suggest is created before them.

Then, in the Stephen King Universe, the author of Misery’s End crashes his car in the snow, and Annie Wilkes decides she’d like to control the direction of his last novel and keep the protagonist from perishing. If that guy had written a CYOA, he’d not have lost his foot.

Probably any author at some point has figured out what their readership enjoys and wants, and altered static fiction to best serve (pander?) to them.

Very interesting concept. I see now it may not be as simple as finding a common feature. Thanks for pointing this out.

Really nice pictures. Thanks for sharing, very illustrative.

Ok, I understand interactive (in IF) as the audience actively shaping the story/events according to what is being presented to them and I meant it isn’t as popular as non-interactive fiction like traditional tales you see in books and movies. Those are full-scale popular I think, people go to the cinema or read books or remind themselves they wanted to read more. I still think is less popular but you are pointing an important fact out about these changing times. And for fiction, if anyone asks, I understand ‘an imagined world where you pretend it exists’ (and thus for me Mario Bros and similar can’t be fiction, it lacks depth).

So you have this author helping you to imagine a world (his world?) so exciting you pretend it exists, and he/she’s not only telling you about it but making you try it and letting you decide what series of consequences is the story about… I’m thinking out loud. In a CYOA now I see I don’t like to choose what happens next, I want to be surprised with what happens next, just like with any non-interactive tale… It’s all about surprise perhaps. Well, sorry if this thread is going nowhere :stuck_out_tongue:

I think it’s a little broader than this. I’m sort of a newbie as well – I played Scott Adams and Infocom games back in the 80’s but have not really delved into the genre again until recently – so take my words with a grain of salt, but much modern parser IF seems to play around with the interactivity itself. That is, it’s not intended to be fiction where the reader gets to choose the outcome, or even necessarily the sequence of events. It’s fiction where the interactivity itself is baked into the cake and becomes part of the narrative. Photopia, for instance, would kind of be schlock as a short story, but works really well as interactive because it involves the reader in the narrative. That game is a great example because you, the reader, have zero effect on the way the narrative plays out. But the fact that you push the characters around the created world invests you more into the milieu and increases the impact the narrative can have. The best examples of IF seem to be those where the author has taken a hard look at where interactivity functions as a boon to the narrative and proceeds from there, rather than trying to shoehorn interactivity into an existing narrative.

Note that early IF didn’t really even attempt narrative: Zork and Colossal Cave are puzzlefests with very little or no narrative to link the puzzles together or even consistency between the puzzles or in the setting. Zarf’s recent Hadean Lands is a puzzle-game with a very consistent setting and a consistent conceit with regard to the puzzles, but no narrative in the actual gameplay. There is a narrative hinted at with clues you find during the gameplay, but you the player don’t really progress through it. In other words, it’s more lore than narrative. This is more similar to how non-text games like Dark Souls work. That game has meticulously crafted gameplay and a rich setting to explore, but your explorations don’t really advance any narrative and though there is a rich lore that can be discovered through the setting and by picking up hints during your gameplay, it’s not necessary to enjoyment of the game. IF can function in this way as well.

CYOA works kind of like a short story collection. The setting and characters and overall goal are established, and within that the author has written multiple stories. You get to choose which story to read, not by perusing a table of contents, but by making choices within the setting. There’s a sense in which this is more ‘reading’ than ‘gaming’, but I think that distinction is a little tiresome. Certainly some CYOA is intended to be just reading; some, like 80 Days or Ultra Business Tycoon III or – going back to print – Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf books, have light-weight RPG-like systems layered over the choice tree. Some, like Fallen London, have dense RPG systems layered over the top.

Anyway, all this is to say that IF, while it certainly operates within the constraints of its user interface, does not fulfill a particular genre role or a particular way of approaching narrative. It can be meta, puzzley, RPG-like, entirely narrative, a collection of stories, entirely non-narrative, etc. In other words, it embodies many of the approaches non-IF interactive media uses to convey a world to the reader.

This has varied widely just over the course of this community’s history. Look at Floatpoint, for example.

Thanks, I will! Just added it to my growing queue.

People enjoy passive, mindless entertainment. Like watching movies, listening to (simple) music. At most reading a book, as boring that may sound. Or mindless clicking/tapping through games and see where it gets you.

Interactive fiction, requiring that the player reads and understands what is going on and actually gets in the shoes of a character and makes an effort to think like the character would, will clearly never be as engrossing. This is what RPG really is about, rather than countless battle scenes in fantasy settings…

Now, it certainly could go a step further and actually shape the tale to the player actions. So far, most IF has been about the player funneling through the author’s story, all the while perhaps hitting a few dead ends… sure, it works really well in engaging the player, but not as it interactive as it could eventually truly get…

Great analysis! And ok, I will play Photopia, Hadean Lands and Floatpoint, eventually, and see those differences by my self. Seems true that there are many approaches to write IF and this is a good thing because I think this makes only true artists can write good IF.

I recently played Emily Short’s Bee and a few Choice of Games titles and they all seemed to me good examples of strong narrative with cyoa-like or storylets interactivity. I’m playing Aaron Reed’s Blue Lacuna which has plenty of interactivity for being written for a parser system (and due to Reed’s talent, of course) and I think you have narrative here, not only lore… Well I still need to finish it.

Yes, that is, funneling the reader through the author’s story seems active for the reader but not interactive as one could expect. And yes, reading is about deciphering graphic symbols and it’s tiresome, not for everyone, harder than hearing a story or watching images.

Writing IF seems a lot of work, authors want a stand-alone interactive work for anyone, not interactivity for a particular audience while they perform.

For myself, it’s the combination of programming, writing, story-telling, and puzzle-making. This is more from a creators perspective. From a players perspective, I’ve always preferred the “traditional” Infocom styled games like Babel and Savoir Faire along with the original Zork and Enchanter series’.

I always wish I had more time to dedicate to creating or playing.


I realise that I’m late to this thread (didn’t notice it until now), but…

I can easily imagine those people around the campfire to be active, making that storytelling more interactive than anything we can create with computers. If that was the case thousand of years ago, I have no idea, but I can imagine it. I know that there are people who argue that the concept of a passive audience is the more recent one. (That was in relation to music, but it can be applied to storytelling too.)

“Once upon a time, in a land very like this one…”
“Oh… out west a way.”
“Towards Snohomish?”
“…Yeah. Right around Snohomish, or thereabouts.”

Ayn Rand (Yes, I know) wrote a play in which the audience would vote on outcomes in the late forties, before she was known as a (terrible) novelist. Dungeons & Dragons, and therefore the tradition that would become storytelling games, is significantly older (if you count in terms of wide adoption) than computer games. Certainly there is a long literary/artistic tradition of the cadavre esquis. And I suspect that call-and-response storytelling, especially for children, has been along forever. The idea of storytelling-as-game is so obvious that early 20th century anthropologist Huizinga in his classic work on games, Homo Ludens, barely bothers to define boundaries between games, children’s play such as make-believe, and theatre.

This topic came up on IntFic a few months ago: What is Interactive Fiction?

There’s some interesting discussion there, and the thread led me to create this thing, which one may or may not consider a work of interactive fiction.

Incidently, I absolutely love Taleslinger’s review. :slight_smile: You ported the entire book; so he copy-pasted reviews of the original book. Brilliant.

And it’s good that people outside of IntFic now have a chance to see what that Moby Dick thing, that appeared misteriously one day on IFDB, was all about.

Thanks, this actually answered some of my questions about the variety of ways a IF could be written.