Journal #3 – ENGL 335

jan 28/18 • [narrative perspective and interactive fiction]

First, an intro to parser-style interactive fiction.

Parser-style IF, in a nutshell, is the kind where you progress by entering text commands, as opposed to hypertext IF, where you progress by clicking links. I feel lukewarm about parser IF, but Emily Short’s Galatea (which I’d played previously) and Bronze (new to me!) are excellent.

Galatea is essentially limits the player’s interaction to one character in one room, so it’s the conversation that drives the story forward. Except…is it a story? Nothing really happens. At least, not action-wise. Instead, we learn about Galatea, about Pygmalion, about ourselves – if we ask the right questions. It takes a relatively short time to reach an ending, but the game has dozens of endings, and invites you to converse with Galatea again.

Bronze is more game-like. We progress by exploring the world (the castle) and solving puzzles. It takes hours to play through the story to an ending – though there are fewer endings, and the save function allows you to try again without starting from the beginning. What I love about Bronze is how detailed it is, and how revisiting the same rooms or objects after some progress can reveal more information.

This process of gradual uncovering is also present in Queerskins: A Novel. You aren’t told a linear story, you piece it together from the fragments you’re given (fragments from multiple voices). However, Queerskins does not have multiple endings, and you are unlikely to miss information. You choose which order to encounter the photos, diary entries, videos, and audio clips, but it’s still broken up into chapters with everything laid out before you. You can’t get stuck.

The thoughts and questions I’m left with: in the battle between curiosity and frustration, which wins out? Do you find that having to interact with the work to progress makes you more engaged, or do you find yourself frustrated when there is no clear path to the ending? In the absence of a fixed narrative structure, what counts as a “story”? Should an IF work tell a complete story (or at least create a fulfilling experience) in one (or in each) playthrough? Or do we accept that some IF works need to be experienced multiple times in order to feel like you’ve “read” them?

Resources

Emily Short, Galatea (2000-4), Bronze (2006)

Illya Szilak, Queerskins: A Novel (2013)

interesting, tangentially-related reading

Narrative vs. “database” storytelling: Lev Manovich, Database as a Symbolic Form, (Millennium Film Journal, 1999)

Early interactive fiction (parser-style): Colossal Cave Adventure, Zork

My favourite hypertext interactive fiction: Jedediah Berry, Fabricationist DeWit Remakes the World (2015; approx 25 min. Compare this style with something like Bronze to see how exploration/puzzle solving feels different in hypertext)

*if you are interested in interactive fiction, I have lots of thoughts/resources/recommendations I would love to talk about with you.

4 thoughts on “Journal #3 – ENGL 335”

  1. Alicia,

    What a wonderfully detailed overview of these pieces, where had you previously encountered Galatea?

    Your point about asking the right questions is spot on!

    Cheers!

  2. I also really enjoyed Bronze. I would say that this piece was more forgiving since the setting was changing and there was more action- which you mentioned as the key element that was missing from Galatea. I would say they are both “stories” since they move through a number of ideas and positions that eventually develop some sort of character that you are interacting with, but one is much less intriguing compared to the other. Primitive perhaps? but I am sure this could be due to technological developments since the initial publishing of Galatea. I am not sure if you share this memory, but in elementary-age I recall spending WAY too much time Asking Jeeves anything- just because the responce “by a computer” was facinating, maybe this could be said about Galatea in 2000 all the way till 2004?

  3. I found that engagement vs frustration comes from the context that we are “playing” or “reading” in. Personally, I found Galatea to be very frustrating, as I found the conversation prompt options to be unnatural and I couldn’t move within the space as I wanted to. Contrary to that, I was completely engaged with Bronze, both because I found it easier to progress, but also because of the fairytale aspect of it. I cared about solving the puzzles and finding the Beast, whereas I didn’t care about Galatea or her artist.

  4. Oh wow! I’ve never heard of Paser-style Interactive Fiction! Thanks for providing the definition!
    I like how you compare the two Emily Short’s pieces as well as Szilak’s “Queerskins”, especially the time taken to go through each of them.

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