Transcriptions Discussion Group

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Interactive Fiction

Reader Packet

for the

Transcriptions Discussion Group

March 2004

Our discussion topic for this meeting focuses on interactive fiction, both as it has been defined narrowly by the interactive fiction community as "IF" - a parser-based story system - and as it has been framed by larger debates over interactive narrative and how interactivity might be reconciled with narrativity.


OUR PRIMARY TEXT is Nick Montfort's Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction. Montfort’s project in chapters 1 and 7 is largely an act of introduction and public history, combining discussion of specific texts with an account of their lineage from the 1970s to the present. Chapter 2, "Riddles," draws on Sanskrit, Latin, and medieval riddles to situate the "aesthetics and poetics" of IF in a deep historical tradition of language arts.

SUPPLEMENTAL READINGS include several passages from the writing of Chris Crawford, whose skeptical critique of IF is grounded in an understanding of interactivity as "a conversation." Unlike Montfort, who sees interactive fiction as a 40 year old medium with a multi-millenial tradition, Crawford argues that interactive narrative will remain unrealized until character and plot have been abstracted into a conversational physics which is generative of drama.

THE APPENDIX includes a few pages from Firth and Kesserich's "Inform Beginner's Guide" and Crawford's "Soft Math" to demonstrate particulars from the logics underlying these systems. These logics are design philosophies, which in turn reflect underlying aesthetic ideologies. Of particular note: The parent-child relationships illustrated in F&K's diagram correspond to the principles of database design discussed in our department's database conference several years ago and since explored by a number of departmental projects.


NICK MONTFORT is Ph.D. student at the University of Pennsylvania and the coeditor [with Noah Wardrip-Fruin] of The New Media Reader. His Twisty Little Passages (2003) is the only critical volume on IF currently in print. He is also the author of several interactive fictions written in Inform, notably "Winchester's Nightmare" (1999) and "Ad Verbum" (2000).

CHRIS CRAWFORD, a former game developer, became a popular author and circuit lecturer on computer game design before developing a more general interest in theories of interactivity in software design. He is an interactive fiction skeptic, and promotes his patented Erasmatron software project as the future of designing interactive narrative.

ROGER FIRTH is a writer with a British software company and maintainer of one of the three largest IF resources on the internet. Co-editor SONJA KESSERICH is a freelance composer and record producer based in Spain. Both are interactive fiction writers who set out to write an accessible introduction to complement the The Designer's Manual written by Graham Nelson, the originator of the Inform language and an Oxford professor of mathematics.


Crawford, Chris. The Art of Interactive Design: a euphonious guide to building successful software. San Francisco: No Starch: 2002

Ch.1 : "What Exactly is Interactivity?" pp.2-12.

Ch.16: "Soft Math" pp.195-202.

Ch.28: "Interactive Storytelling" pp.339-346.

---. The Video Game Theory Reader. Ed. Wolf & Perron. New York: Routledge, 2003.

Ch.12: "Interactive Storytelling" pp.259-262.

Firth & Kesserich. Inform Beginner's Guide. St. Charles: Interactive Fiction Library, 2002.

Ch.4: "Reviewing the Basics" pp.9, 44-47.

Montfort, Nick. Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2003

Ch.1: "The Pleasure of Text Adventure" pp.1-35.

Ch.2: "Riddles" pp.37-63.

Ch.7: "The Independents" pp.193-221.

Table of Contents


IF History

Montfort, Nick. Twisty Little Passages.

Ch.1: "The Pleasure of Text Adventure" (1-35)

IF’s early history as story and game, some theory of its form.

For IF in narrative theory terms, see:

Ch.7: "The Independents" (193-221)

IF’s recent history is as an artistic community.

Ch.2: "Riddles" (37-63)

Riddles are the historical precedent and aesthetic model for IF.


Interactivity Hasn’t Happened Yet

Crawford, Chris. The Art of Interactive Design.

Ch.1 : "What Exactly is Interactivity?" (2-12)

The best metaphor for interaction is a conversation.

Ch.28: "Interactive Storytelling" (339-346)

Interaction is a process of abstraction away from fixed subjects

towards interplay of plot forces.

---. The Video Game Theory Reader.

Ch.12: "Interactive Storytelling" (259-262)

"Interactive" media forms have failed to realize true interactivity


Logics of Interactivity

---. The Art of Interactive Design.

Ch.16: "Soft Math" (195-202)

Modeling by approximation is more utilitarian than precision.

Firth & Kesserich. Inform Beginner's Guide.

Ch.4: "Reviewing the Basics" (9, 44-47)

The IF world consists of objects in parent-child relationships.


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