Why do you write Interactive Fiction?

This is probably prompted by how humbling an experience mucking around with interactive fiction always is for me- whether it’s clumsily pawing around in a parser and trying to desperately thrash out a solution, scrolling through years old forum posts and opening up random blogs in an attempt to figure out how to do something that seems so obvious it should be common sense, or squinting at the blank page in an attempt to thunk out some thoughts onto the page.

I write, and draw, and I’d like to think that over time I’ve gotten fairly decent at both. I also dabble in TTRPGs with my friends, and have happily been the DM for various campaigns over the years. Sometimes I even make bad chiptune-y little doodles. The biggest reason I’ve picked up IF as a hobby is probably because it lets me mesh several spheres of interest into one, without any major hardware investments- I think the most expensive thing I’ve used while noodling around has been Scrivener, which I already had bought for my writing hobby at a steep discount after NaNoWriMo, so that doesn’t really count.

At least, that’s what I’d say right away, if I got asked it. I think part of it is also branching out into something new that I don’t really have much of a background in at all- and learning something from what feels like scratch is an intensely humbling experience. I think I like that aspect a lot? Both in terms of the immense dopamine hit of solving whatever problem you’d been struggling with, the glowing pride in being able to make something work out close to how you envisioned it, and in actually feeling very silly and curiously poking around at the internet in an attempt to get answers- I don’t really spend a lot of time otherwise in spaces where I get to feel like I’m a newcomer and have no real idea on how to approach an issue.

A lot of my hobbies bleed harmoniously into one another. And that’s nice- but it’s also fun to challenge myself a tiny bit, in a safe space where if I really fuck it up- well, that’s okay, it’s not like there was a lot at stake anyways, it’s just for fun, and I learned a novel way of how to not go about something. Learning how to streamline the process through trial and error is also new and interesting to me. Being able to research and deep dive into new blogs and forum archives is also just fun in a way that appeals to my rabbit hole prone brain.

Allowing myself the grace to fall down and have fun playing around in the dirt is a really nice change of pace, from the perfectionism and no-room-for-failure general approach to the rest of my life I’ve got. It’s nice just playing around without twisting myself up into knots over being ‘good enough’ at it. I already expect I’m gonna fuck up immensely somewhere, or do something in a less efficient fashion than I could otherwise, especially in comparison to people with experience in programming- this is all new territory to me, and accepting that possibility of failure and enjoying the process is really weirdly cathartic.

It sounds kind of weird, but I think that I’ve been writing Interactive Fiction because I really like the idea that it’s okay if I’m terrible at it.

What about you?

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Everything I’m doing now became attractive as alternatives to the rather competitive world of poetry publication.

So far as writing a game goes: my wife has been pushing me to do it ever since she realized that there was a contemporary IF scene. I’m not sure I would have tried without her encouragement.

I suppose I know a lot about video games. I’ve played a bunch over the years and have probably written a book’s worth (or more) of content about Infocom IF. I feel like I will be able to do what I want to do in Inform, even if there are growing pains.

I also feel that I have a good idea for a game that wouldn’t have made a good novel or poetry collection or film. If I want to chase the idea, I have to make a game. I’ve always believed that choice of medium/form is inseparable from the meaning conveyed by a text.

Between the Gold Machine stuff, the podcast, and the new game, it’s basically a full time job, for which I’m grateful, finding fulfilling things to do is an ongoing challenge as a disabled person.

Since it was mentioned: I did run some 1E AD&D games back in the day. Gamma World, too. There was also the Amber diceless system. That was pretty good. I’m surprised I’m not getting as much mileage out of those experiences as I expected. It definitely helps to know how to design a map, though. At least in an Inform game, I haven’t experimented with any other systems.

I will probably request some testers for a short, 9-room proof of concept game soon, which feels pretty exciting, unless people don’t get it. :stuck_out_tongue: I’m down to proofreading and editing default responses for several verbs. Then I’ll run the whole thing through a spellchecker–my spelling is garbo

Unfortunately, I never feel permitted to do things badly, which obviously colors my experience when learning things and makes it hard for me to ask for help.

E: I guess I should say that I am always writing something. I have said why I am writing IF but not why I write, which is more of a squishy personal question. I suppose that since I am always doing it, I must need to do it.

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This is a surprisingly deep question! Or at least surprisingly so to me once I started trying to answer it.

At the most elemental level I suppose it’s just monkey see monkey do - I’ve played and really enjoyed a bunch of IF, so go figure, it’s appealing to make my own. And since the barriers to entry are relatively low these days (I’m a non-programmer, so while I fiddled with Inform 6 back in the day it took Inform 7 for me to really bear down on things) it’s not that hard to go from audience to author, notwithstanding the perfectionist tendencies that Sophia and Drew both mentioned and which super resonate with me.

Beyond that, writing IF feels super rewarding to me in a way most of my other hobbies don’t always. I really like solving problems - I’m a big puzzle person - so my brain releases a ton of dopamine when I figure something out. And writing IF is basically a nonstop series of stepwise challenges, figuring out how to design a mechanic or write a description or implement a feature - and crucially, it requires exercising a bunch of different faculties, so if I start to get burnt out on the writing side of things I can switch to the programming side and it feels fresh again. I honestly think I have more fun writing IF than I do playing it (and I have a lot of fun playing it!)

Then when I think about writing IF vs other creative endeavors, I think part of the rationale is the community. It’s a very welcoming set of folks, and it’s rewarding to create stuff for them since in my experience at least there’s a lot of positive (but not vapidly so) feedback. Plus there’s a built-in audience - it’s challenging to figure out how to get fiction in front of people, and the idea of self-promotion fills me with anxiety to be honest, but you can just enter something into IF Comp or Spring Thing and at least a few people are guaranteed to check it out.

Finally and most idiosyncratically, as I’ve mentioned in the postmortems of my two games to date, writing IF for me has also been a form of therapy following a rather traumatic event that happened a couple of years ago (keeping things vague to avoid being downbeat, but also to avoid spoilers for Sting - and man it is weird that my life has a spoiler warning but that’s what you get for writing a memoir, I suppose). My first game was kind of running away from it, while my second was about running towards it, and I think it’s been psychologically helpful to have this artistic outlet.

(The thing I’m currently working on doesn’t have anything to do with said event, so we’ll see how that plays out. I’m going back to the well for game four though).

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Why I write (& code…) IF ?

As many people already known, I’m a Naval historian, and Naval historian must be also an historian of science and technology. and this led me to programming as a major tool of trade, like a pencil and pen.

but as pen or pencil can be used for both dry technical drawing and vivid art drawing, a computer can be used for both computing things like ballistic tables or tides and playing games, like interactive fiction.

What fascinate me about computer is their absolute universality. with this machine I can do both essays and fiction, switching from essays on Naval war supported by appropriate computer-calculated tables and graphs, to, well, playing and writing/coding IFs to writing alternate histories (a Naval and/or military historian must be an “heretic” because s/he must actually investigate the “if…s” for understanding how and why fateful decisions on field was taken, in the good or bad) with few strokes on the shell commandline.

Hence this is both I’m writing IF and really slow-paced in IF development…

Best regards from Italy,
dott. Piergiorgio.

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This is a really interesting question! I had to think about it for a minute, because on the face of it the answer is “because my partner got me into it”, but obviously there’s some deeper appeal or I wouldn’t have stuck with it beyond being her playtester.

Some of it is the space that IF exists in relative to the video game sphere at large, I think – I’m a huge Gamer™ and I have a lot of thoughts about what makes a game fun, but getting into hobbyist game design was always way too intimidating as I don’t have either the coding or the multimedia skills to make it work. IF, for better or for worse, is a lot more accessible and gives me a space to go wild with my ideas without feeling limited by my skill set. The community and competition structure are also great at encouraging me to keep creating, since 1) the competition structure means I always have a deadline to work towards, if I want it and 2) I can always count on getting both attention to and feedback on my work if it’s in a comp, even if only a handful of people engage with it. It’s way less scary than throwing something out into the void of the Internet to be completely ignored (or worse, mass clowned about on Twitter). Prior to getting into IF these anxieties had mostly kept me from creating art at all, so I’m grateful to have a space I can work comfortably in.

As a sidebar, I was inspired by Sting (and to a lesser extent, Fine Felines) to write about my own traumatic family event for Ectocomp last year. Even though I was limited to four hours to write my game I was surprised at how cathartic the experience truly was - frankly, it was a lot more helpful than any attempt at journaling I’d tried. I’m not sure why that is but hey, I’m not complaining.

I haven’t actually played either game, since it was decidedly Too Soon for me (especially since I am also a twin), but having them out there gave me the knowledge that people were OK with that kind of thing and gave me the courage to write my little game. So I’d like to pass along a thanks. :slight_smile:

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I’ve had three main reasons to make games over the years:

  1. To make a game I wish I could play but no one had made yet (my first game and a few others). It was IF because I had been playing IF.
  2. To try to win competitions for fame and glory (2 or 3 times, went bad). This was IF because the competitions I wanted to win were IF competitions.
  3. To try to please specific people or groups of people (especially the games I offer as prizes for IFComp winners). This was IF because those people liked or requested IF.
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You and Mike are cited as the inspirations for my Parser Comp game. I thought that writing about painful autobiographical stuff might be helpful and cathartic, and it has been. So look forward to a super-depressing game about dementia that you were an instrumental inspiration for.

This makes me sad, Drew. Feeling free to fail epically is important, I think. But only you can give yourself permission to experiment and screw it up fantastically.

I write IF because I always wanted to. From 10 years old when I played Zork, I thought “I want to do this.” But I always thought I was too dumb to learn to code. And nearly anyone who answers requests for coding help on this forum, if they’re being honest, will say that raising me from scratch has been challenging. But it feels now like the culmination of a lifelong dream in a way that I’ve never really experienced before. Kids want to be and do a million things when they grow up, and my list looked something like: an opera singer AND an astronaut AND a poet AND an archaeologist AND a bird veterinarian AND a game writer.

Only the game writing part came true, and not until last year. So it’s pretty special.

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I am absolutely incoherent about this (in a good way! good-ish way? I never quite know how to categorize my feelings on this subject). I’ll be there day 1 with my box of tissues at the ready.

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I’ve always enjoyed writing, and I’m interested in the narrative possibilities of interactivity, and IF is easy to get into if you want to make games but all you can really do is write. (I do think that if I could draw, I would probably make visual novels, which are not not IF, but it is largely a different community.) As for why I write stories in general, I’ve been doing it so long that it’s hard to really pin down, but certainly some of it is, as @mathbrush mentioned, about creating the kind of thing I wish existed.

I guess a lot of it is sort of dissatisfaction that a genre isn’t quite giving me what I want from it – “I like gentleman thieves but I wish there were more gentlewoman thieves,” or “I wish urban fantasy had less paranormal romance and PIs solving murders and more people dealing with the supernatural as a part of their everyday lives that is sometimes inconvenient and annoying.” (Though IF might have more of the latter than books do, and while we’re citing inspirations, Social Lycanthropy Disorder probably owes something tonally to 16 Ways to Kill a Vampire at McDonald’s, which is a favorite of mine.)

Sometimes I’m also working through my issues, but I have to do it through several layers of abstraction and/or irony, because I can’t make myself that vulnerable in public, especially in a piece of art that I would expect people to dissect in reviews. (Even criticism of SLD kind of stung more than I expected it to given the insulating layers of humor and werewolves. If I wrote something more directly autobiographical and someone was like “eh, I don’t know, I thought the PC was kind of annoying,” I think I would have to change my name and move to Antarctica and never write again.)

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Thank you for making these threads OP! You’re doing great at making this community more active.

So, um, I basically write as a coping mechanism, or as like, a cheap substitute for therapy, where I have a place to ramble about gender/loneliness/alienation or whatever without the awkwardness of literally talking about myself. A lot of what I write has some quasi-autobiographical elements because the stories are ways for me to process my own experiences; Pageant and NYE2019 have been ways for me to re-interpret these parts of my life. There’s a Karen Zhao-esque character in all of my stories; good thing that kind of person isn’t a common trope yet.

Some of my in-progress stories are more about explorations of ideas/worlds, experiments in ludonarrative and just seeing where a few story concepts and mechanics can end up. Also I write in part because of spite; I see so many stories (professionally published stories in other media, not in IF) that I feel use bad tropes or fail to develop their concepts and characters, and I can’t help but think, I could do better. Not that I actually can do better, but I can try at least…

I write IF instead of static fiction in part because I enjoy playing/reading IF more than static fiction. Even if it’s the exact same story, I would prefer the IF to the static version because of pacing.

Haha people have said that my self-insert protagonist in Pageant/NYE2019 was unlikable/annoying/bad at making decisions, which is, uh, kind of true and intentional. NYE2019 is at least like, 40% autobiographical.

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This is the most relatable reason in the whole thread

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Ever since I was a child, bringing home from school pictures made from macaroni and crepe paper, I’ve enjoyed the feeling it gave me when my parents would blu-tac them proudly to the pantry door. That feeling becomes addictive. Pretty soon my parents lost interest in the things I was creating, or they just didn’t “get” them any more. When that happened I looked to other adults for approval, my various English teachers, elderly relatives, family friends, anyone I could get to look at the amazing things I was doing. For the most part, my work was received with polite incomprehension. Eventually I found this community, and I suspect that we’re all much the same in that regard. We’re all seeking validation and approval, and we give it to each other. We’ve even invented accolades and awards! I check my IFDB profile every day to see if anyone has reviewed or rated my games. And not just once a day either, I do it practically every time I pick up my phone! Pretty sad, huh?

I know I’m not alone in this. The need for validation can become an unhealthy addiction. But we need to be seen, to be witnessed, and when that need isn’t satisfied, it can throw a creative mind into a depressive cycle. We owe it to each other to keep a watchful eye out for when that happens.

Writing IF is unusual because it uses both “sides” of the brain (and yes, I know the “left brain” and “right brain” is an oversimplification.) But what other medium combines creative writing with programming? There is something so satisfying about it. I’ve tried to write straight, or “static” fiction, but the analytical side of my brain aches for appeasement. Friends and relatives used to say to me, “can’t you turn To Hell in a Hamper into a novel or a short story?” They’ve given up saying that now, and I’ve even managed to persuade a few of them to play my games. A very few.

In a way I’d be sad if I never got anything into print, but I doubt that any modern publisher would look twice at the sort of stuff that I write. It does bother me that ours is a somewhat fragile and ephemeral medium. If the Internet were to be wiped out by a solar storm, everything we’ve done could disappear in an instant. Some IF classics have already fallen victim to licencing issues and changes in technology. All of which would seem to suggest that I write IF not simply to be witnessed, but too be remembered, to send some echoes of myself out beyond my mortal span. Man, I take myself seriously…

Like I said, pretty sad really!

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Not at all - I’m doubtful there exists any writer who doesn’t write partly in the expectation that their work will outlive them in some way. Even the ones with their unpublished novels locked away in the bottom drawers of their desks to be discovered after they’ve gone.

Anyway, I write IF because I’ve got stories to tell and I find writing in little snippets easier than writing regular long form prose. The IF form - somewhere between a short story and a screenplay - intrigues me. It still strikes me as being a pretty neat idea, retrograde though it may be in gaming terms (but then what would I know; I’ve barely played a non-IF computer game in the past 30ish years). I suppose it’s also partly because, as mentioned by others, sometimes the story I want to experience doesn’t already exist so I have to create it myself (for example, The Faeries of Haelstowne should really have been made for television by HTV in about 1978 - but it wasn’t, so I had to make it myself as a parser game).

I have other creative outlets, the main one being (mostly stage) acting (there are a few actors involved in this community, I think). That’s a different sort of validation as there, the audience is right in front of you and can’t get away! (Unless they really don’t mind making a proper scene by vacating the theatre before the interval). In IF the audience isn’t so immediately visible but it is still there and still involved enough to make it feel worthwhile, for me at least.

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Oh yeah, that’s really weird man. I would never do something like that.
*Nils discreetly hides his screen as he loads up IFDB for the 12th time today.

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Started out as a fan of Zork. I was thinking about this a few days ago and found this old Emily Short essay:

And I’ll replicate my comment there, since I think it may answer the question for me, with quotes from several of the things Emily Short wrote:

“Possibly you are tickled by a medium where you can spend half your time writing responses to commands like LICK PARROT. ”

I absolutely do. Perhaps this explains my lifelong fascination with parser IF perfectly. It might also explain why I never finish writing an actual game, but I’ve written a heck of a lot of gracious parser responses and half-finished toys for games. Sometimes I think I would need a collaborator to write an actual game, since all I want to do is write the dead-ends.

…or “Exploration and easter eggs.” Maybe this explains it. That’s what I’m always looking for in a game (and why my other preferred computer game genres are city-builders and the like, and open-world games).

…or maybe it’s neither of those. “…the process of mapping narrative to a space, on which parser IF thrives.” Practically everything is organized in my head in terms of maps; I visualize everything spatially. Perhaps the spatial world-model simply fits my brain?…

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What a lovely sentence.

And now my brain is off chasing a myriad of contexts, histories ans scenarios where this would be a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

That is why I love parser-IF. It can set up the conditions where trying things like LICK PARROT just make sense.

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Credit Emily Short for that sentence! It is lovely, isn’t it.

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I have to reiterate, as a young man, under 18 (though now 53) I bought everything from info com, I loved playing the games, but not neccesarily finishing them. When I came across Inform7, it became both accessible and fun to develop. By nature I am a slow guy gamewise. In my day job I am very high tech, and do incident response and threat hunting for the government. Doing IF allows me to step outside my work-zone, and all, but allows me to tell a story.

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To bump an old topic … I’ll answer the side question “Why do I keep writing?” as well.

I’m reminded of how I wanted to write a game when I was a kid, but I always stalled out on making graphics. For a while I wrote guides for games, as it sort of scratched the itch, but there was a part of me telling some invisible monitor “don’t worry, I’m not trying to write a game.”

I had ideas off and on but that invisible monitor again said “Oh, come on, you could learn something like ALAN or TADS but don’t you want to learn a real language that would be more useful?”

But eventually the guide writing reached a critical mass and I felt I wanted to really do something creative on my own but I didn’t know what.

I tested Wade Clarke’s Leadlight for IFComp 2010 and it brought me back to the community, so I poked at Inform 7, which so many entries were written in.

When I saw how Inform 7 was like natural language, I said–you know, I have to tinker with this, there’s so much I can do. I at some point said “I want to write something like those infocom games, but I want them to be things I actually wrote.”

Part of me has ideas for novels, etc. But on the other hand I don’t know if I’m built for them. I’d like to do it some day. But I remember the John Lennon quote “Life is What Happens To You While You’re Busy Making Other Plans” – and I’ve been fortunate I guess that being able to write stuff in Inform has been something pretty big to happen while I’ve been pushing other plans.

I’m glad I’ve been able to discover this or that weird idea which probably wouldn’t fit into a novel or book of poetry, but I still find it worth sharing and expounding on and, yes, tweaking even after the initial release. There’s the infrastructure to do so, whether it’s with Inform or with Itch.io being able to re-release stuff, or Python to verify certain things about what I’ve written.

I’d like to think I’ve done things that are both worthwhile and which could not have been done in the heyday of infocom, and if any implementors came across my work, they’d be glad someone did/tried it in Inform, even if it wasn’t their favorite thing ever. But I’m relatively sure I’m making stuff that much younger me would’ve appreciated.

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The reasons I started writing interactive fiction were that I liked the technology; I had some specific ideas for games that I wanted to write; and I wanted to create a fun thing for other people to play. The reasons I’ve stopped writing interactive fiction were that I’ve gotten frustrated with arguing with Inform 7 and its poor documentation and support; I’m tired of running into the idea that there are only a few very specific ways in which games should be written; and I’d rather create a fun thing for more than just a few dozen people to play. It was fun while it lasted, but IF as a whole has moved away from where my interests primarily lie.

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