Recently I’ve been looking at academic papers available at the Association of Computer Machinery portal, checking out what various scholars and conference-attenders have recently had to say about interactive fiction. (Note that while you can register with the site for limited free service, full access is by subscription, so your best bet is to access it through a registered library.)
It turns out that what these papers have to say is often some variation on “here is why conventional interactive fiction doesn’t live up to its promise: …”. They have different ideas of what that promise is.
One take on this:
Nicolas Szilas, Jason Barles, and Manolya Kavakli: “An implementation of Real-Time 3D Interactive Drama,” Computers in Entertainment, Vol. 5, January 2007, article no. 5.
Szilas, Barles, and Kavakli argue that conventional IF (like many other forms of computer game and computer literature) doesn’t go far enough in allowing the player true agency. They want the player to be able to do “anything”, and they propose a couple of example games in which the player is allowed to articulate semi-complicated things to the other characters.
In practice, the “anything” that the player can do is just as as limited by their world model and UI as it is in anyone else’s game/electronic literature; the textual part of the output, at least, reminds me a bit of Chris Crawford’s storytelling plans and in particular his mechanical Deikto language.
Some sample transcript:
You decide to start a riot against Nelson.
Jack to Malcolm: I want to start a riot against Nelson.
Malcolm to Jack: You should start a riot against Nelson.
Jack to Malcolm: I have a problem to start a riot against Nelson: the gate is closed.
Malcolm to Jack: The gate is closed because you haven’t got the hook.
You decide to get the hook.
You ask Malcolm: Do you have the hook?
Malcolm to Jack: I haven’t got the hook.
It goes on in that vein for quite a while, with entertainingly inane questions and answers between Jack (the player character) and Malcolm and the other NPCs, until the player has acquired a book of rhetoric from one of the NPCs, enhanced his abilities in spoken persuasion, and persuaded other characters to join his cause. He then succeeds in starting a riot, and wins.
There is something kind of charming about this, but I don’t quite feel that it is in all respects a step in the direction of greater literary value, or even greater agency. Most of the things the player gets to do with his newfound agency are, after all, pretty minimal in terms of plot significance — it’s basically about solving a bunch of linearly organized puzzles to progress through a predefined plot to a single predefined ending; the same format as quite old IF, but with puzzles with more social content.