Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Interactive Fiction

“Interactive fiction (IF) is computer-mediated narrative, resembling a fine-grained "Choose Your Own Adventure" story, in which the reader helps to determine the outcome of the story. The classic IF interface is a command-based textual feedback loop: the computer displays a few lines or paragraphs of text; the interactor types a command; the computer describes what happens next, and then waits for additional input.” ( Dennis G. Jerz, What is Interactive Fiction) Interactive fiction can be written using Inform 7 which is a programming software package that allows the creation of interactive fiction. It is a text based interface that allows the programmer to create different scenarios as well as different branches of a story which can then be played to the end user. After completion of the story design, Inform 7 allows publication of the interactive fiction in the appropriate format which can then be used with software programs such as gargoyle.
One such story that can be played by gargoyle is Galatea, by Emily Short, which is an interactive fiction piece that takes place in a single virtual room within the software program. The room is an exhibit and in the room is Galatea. Throughout the interactive fiction story, the player realizes that she is a sculpture that has come to life. The objective of the story is all about interacting with her. Unlike Galatea in most interactive fiction there is usually more to the story than just interacting with one person. You enter many rooms and interact with many people. In Galatea elements of literary fiction are present and therefore allow more options for the player to speak. There is a lot of interaction with non-player characters. Galatea is a non-player character and she is the main interaction in Galatea.
Interacting with Galatea is the puzzle. Initially Galatea is facing away from you, and trying to learn more about Galatea while getting her to face you is an interactive challenge. Some things you say may make her angry, while others might make her interested and make her turn towards you. Deciding what to say or do next is the puzzle. I played Galatea twice. The first time that I played Galatea, all I got was a back view. I pressed her about the artist and she became upset so the game ended and I did not get her to turn and I did not learn much about her.
The second time I played however I did get a front view, and when I talked more to Galatea about myself she seemed to like it. I told her about the job, family, and childhood. After entering the command “talk about childhood” she faced me. She told me about herself, and we even ended with a hug.
 I felt like I accomplished much more the second time when I got her to face me and we created a bond. This was very challenging to achieve however and I had to really think about what I did wrong the first time in order to please her. It was a challenge because she is very temperamental and because you know that there are many different outcomes, not just one. “The results of different discussions can sometimes even lead the user to uncover different stories that, while consistent within themselves, suggest different possible worlds.” ( Emily Short, Galatea) Throughout the game you are striving to get the best outcome while at the same time knowing that you may never get some outcomes, no matter how hard you try. While someone else may have gotten an outcome you have, you may have achieved an outcome that they have never been able to. “Interactive fiction, however, contains not only gaps in meaning, but physical gaps in the text that the reader must fill in. These physical gaps in the interactive text allow such a wide range of explanations or interpretations of the fictional events taking place in Colossal Cave that it often seems as if different readers are not reading the same story.” ( Mary Ann Buckles, Interactive Fiction as Literature) In this way different readers interpret the story in different ways thus leading to separate outcomes within the same interactive fiction.
In Galatea story elements and game elements work together to create a great piece of interactive fiction. However, Galatea is more of a game than a story in which the story elements are learning more about her and how she became to be. The game elements were getting her to talk and figuring out what to say in order to make her turn and face you. The goal of the game is to make Galatea face you. The treasure in the game is having more interaction with Galatea and making her want to talk to you. The story elements and the game elements conflict because the story can get lost and you can start to only focus on the game elements and trying to get Galatea to face you. “Some interactive fiction has a strong story and very little in the way of game-type fun. Other interactive fiction is mainly a game, and the story is so weak it might as well not exist at all.” (Jim Aikin, The Inform 7 Handbook)  Galatea is more like the second one. The perfect interactive fiction is supposed to be both story and game together equally. In Galatea, there is more game then there is story, and therefore, there is not that perfect mix. Both the story elements and the game elements contribute to the reader’s experience. The reader is influenced by the story elements because without reading everything that pops up on the screen the reader would not know how to proceed and know what to do next. The reader is influenced by the game elements because without the goal, the reader would not have a purpose and then would have no reason to play.
The interactive fiction that I wrote contained a Girl Scout learning about camping. My prologue was as follows…. “You are a girl scout excited to start your adventure at camp and earn a badge entitled: Ready, Set, Go Camping! You will complete different tasks in order to complete your badge. Be sure to use words such as Examine. Also talk to the different leaders in each place. What they have to say will be useful in completing your tasks.” I had three rooms, a camp site a cooking room and a camp fire ring. In the cooking room the player makes baked apples and in the camp fire ring the player makes a fire.
Writing interactive fiction opened up creative possibilities because there was more to it than writing a story. You had to be able to know what the possibilities for interactive fiction were and what the possible things someone might type in are. There is also more to interactive fiction than writing a story because of the need for a lot of programming. You could not just start writing, and if you wanted someone to be able to take, examine, etc. something, you had to first state that it was a thing, then state where that thing was and describe it.  I enjoyed the creative process because you wrote the story in a completely different way than you would normally write a story. I liked the programming and I also liked deciding what I wanted it to say when someone typed in a certain command. It was more fun than writing a normal story because there were a lot more possibilities.
The creative process frustrated me because there were things that I could not figure out how to do or took a long time for me to figure out how to do with the programming. “Creativity and storytelling are definitely part of the process, but you’ll also be doing a type of computer programming, ‘Programming’ means you’re giving the computer instructions about what to do?” (Jim Aikin, The Inform 7 Handbook) I could not figure how to get my virtual match to light, and no matter what programming I did, it always told me “That dangerous act would achieve little.” This was frustrating because it seemed like such a simple concept and yet it would not let me do it. Also, I could not figure out how lighting a match is dangerous.
It took me a long time to figure out how to put an ending statement in for each room I had. For example, after you put the pan in the box oven, I wanted a final statement to pop up. After much trying, I finally created a note that you could not open until you had put the pan in the box oven. When you read the note, there was your final statement. This however was not good enough so I looked for other ways to make my final statement pop up. Finally, I got it with a statement that says “After inserting the pan into the box oven:”. Just this little piece of programming took me hours to figure out.
The programming is very tricky to use. If you do not have the correct punctuation, it will not work. Everything has to be very particular for the programming to work. I ran into many problems, especially when I wanted to do “Instead of…” statements. It  took me a half hour to get the right punctuation, just for a little statement. “a single misspelled word or a missing period at the end of a sentence can stop the computer dead in its tracks.” (Jim Aikin, The Inform 7 Handbook)
I was able to express my ideas more fully in the interactive fiction than I was to in a book. I was able to make my interactive fiction more like a game than a story. If it was a book, it would have been all story, no game. However, in the interactive fiction, I was able to have a goal, which was to earn a badge. I was also able to have the player be a character in my story. If I was writing a book this would not have been possible. I was inspired differently then I would have been if I had sat down to write with a pencil and pen. I was able to make my story more game like. Also, my topic and my end goal, would not have worked if I had used a pencil or pen. In a book you follow the same words every time you read it. However, in interactive fiction, you may never take the same path twice. Also you can always change what you want to do, were as In a book there is only one ending. In interactive fiction you can have many endings. “When programmed properly, the plot can change based on what the interactor types.” ( Dennis G. Jerz, What Is Interactive Fiction)
My opinion of interactive fiction has changed from my experience of writing it in such a way that before I wrote it, I did not like all the comments I got. One such comment was “that is not a verb that I recognize”. I did not understand why such a simple question could not be answered.
When I started writing interactive fiction and finally started to understand all of the programming that went into it, I realized why it could not have an answer to everything I asked. It does not matter if it is a simple question; the programming is still very complicated. Also, I gained respect for people who wrote interactive fiction. They must have a lot of patience in order to deal with all the frustrations of creating interactive fiction. I do not know how they do this without throwing their computer out the window. I got very frustrated at times creating my interactive fiction and just wanted to give up. I also look at interactive fiction with new eyes when I play, now that I have created it myself. I now understand better what interactive fiction is and what you are supposed to accomplish when you are playing a piece of interactive fiction.

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