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?
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)
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.