Art in Competition

One of the questions I semi-routinely get asked on interviews about interactive fiction is whether I think the annual IF Comp is a good thing for the community. I find the question hard to answer: the competition is so essential to the community identity that I have a hard time imagining it away, and besides, my opinion wouldn’t change anything; it’s like someone asking whether the human body would be more aesthetically appealing if it didn’t have a spine.

Nonetheless, I’m constantly conscious of the con arguments brought up a few times a year: that the competition siphons off attention from other games released at other times; that it produces a trend towards small games rather than epic works; that there is something wrong or unfair about the voting scheme (opinions vary on what that might be); and — my least favorite — that “real” artforms, like novels and paintings, are not produced primarily for competition, and that therefore competition is an unhealthy or unnatural context for artistic production, and we’d be better off without it. (Here we touch another of my pet peeves: people who make sweeping statements about “real” art are usually talking about [what they know about] commercialized artistic production in the early 21st century. I run into something similar with freshman mythology students: they’re often convinced that “originality” is the defining feature of good art, and so object to the fact that ancient authors reused mythological material. Their conceptions about literature have been shaped by market forces and copyright law in ways they don’t recognize. They also, if pressed, don’t have a very clear idea of what originality means, other than perhaps refraining from reusing the same plot and cast of characters from another work.)

Lately I’ve been reading two books that have helped clarify my visceral sense about this problem into something I can articulate.

One is Videogame, Player, Text, a collection of essays including work by Marie-Laure Ryan (of Avatars of Story fame) and Nick Montfort.

The other is Martin Revermann’s fantastic book on performance criticism of Aristophanes, Comic Business.

Revermann spends a fair amount of time talking about the context of dramatic production in ancient Greece: usually a head-to-head competition between three plays, produced at considerable expense and underwritten by the state, in which the winning playwrights received negligible prizes but substantial rewards in prestige. Winners were determined by the votes of a small number of judges, not of the whole audience, but the audience’s reaction could have a major effect on the success or failure of a play. What’s more, it could be assumed that most members of a given audience had not only seen the other plays in the same competition (so that, for instance, Aristophanes could put a joke into Frogs at the expense of his rival Phrynichus, who was appearing at the same festival) but also that they were familiar with the same basic canonical body of plays produced over the previous decade or two. This meant that there was lots of room for metatheatrical humor — i.e., jokes about theater and theatrical production, about specific playwrights and actors, and about the conventions of the genre. It also meant that new works tended to be somewhat innovative (in order to stand apart from the work of other playwrights) but only somewhat: really unusual experiments would have been risky.

In fact, this sense of drama as a competitive form was so ingrained that even when the Greeks began to stage revivals of Aeschylus — reperformances long after his death — they seem to have done so in competition form: Revermann speculates that Aeschylus’ work was sometimes put up as a guaranteed winner against a couple of newer and presumably lesser plays, and that on other occasions multiple troupes of actors performed different Aeschylean tragedies and the competition was then about which troupe had done the best job. People came to the theater to be entertained, to receive insight both personal and political (Aristophanes received rewards and a rare repeat performance of Frogs because the audience thought so highly of the advice he gave), and to be part of a community experience of art. Part of that experience entailed comparison and judgment.

I mention all this not because I think IF has achieved Aeschylean or even Aristophanic greatness, but because some details of this description sound quite familiar. In IF, too, the default mode of production and experience is through competition — see all the mini-comps, the Spring Thing, the one-room game comps; even the IF Art Show is competitively structured. Nay-sayers argue that this is because the community is rankings-crazy, or because authors get so woefully neglected on non-competition releases. But I am starting to suspect that there is another reason: some of us enjoy playing IF more when it appears as part of a competition.

Enter the second book. Nick Montfort was kind enough to send me a copy of Videogame, Player, Text, and (from obvious motives) the first part I read was his piece on Savoir-Faire. In this essay, he argues that interactive fiction is particularly well-suited for collaborative play; while he focuses most on the puzzle side of this and the experience of shared solving, it is also true that IF is particularly suited to shared interpretation. If I read a novel on my own, I may miss some nuance, but it is unlikely that I will accidentally fail to see large swaths of text. Playing something at the same time that a bunch of other people are playing it, and comparing notes and thoughts with them, is a more enjoyable experience for me than playing a game on my own. Witness the fact that I usually manage to get through most of the 30-50 competition entries in a month and a half, while at other times of the year I might play one new game every few weeks. This isn’t because I’m making a superhuman effort at comp time. It’s because I’m more interested at comp time. And I don’t think it’s because I have a bloodthirsty sensibility and enjoy watching people’s hard work get trashed. On the contrary, the games I especially look for in reviews are the ones I liked myself.

I also find that I remember these games better, and for a longer period of time, than those I play alone; that I have more detailed ideas about how they work and why; and that they have a greater effect on my own writing.

But what about the (possibly) negative aspects of competition, like the fact that comp winners tend to be those games with some ambition, but not necessarily the very most daring or experimental?

This is a sore spot. Every year, people gripe about the competition’s failure to recognize the games they liked best; and if you look back at the competition rankings for years past, you will almost certainly find some works now touted as canonical greats or groundbreaking experiments but that placed 10th, 13th, etc., behind other titles you’ve just about forgotten. At the same time, there is a sense of frustration in some parts of the community (read the ADRIFT forums, for instance) that IF has gotten away from purely trying to be fun, that a high degree of polish is expected, that we’ve forgotten what a good old-fashioned text adventure is supposed to be like, and so on.

Marie-Laure Ryan also has an article in Videogame, Player, Text, in which she suggests that the problem with digital storytelling is the relative lack of material that falls between popular, story-light videogame and elitist hypertext concept-art. Literary hypertext, in my experience, tends to be more abstruse than the most experimental interactive fiction. I often walk away thinking that the work made no sense at all (having eschewed traditional narrative forms to the point where it is hard to extract any meaning, and I am frustrated by having to construct all the significance myself from assorted fragments — I could do the same with a pack of tarot cards, or a selection of ten ‘I’m Feeling Lucky’ hits, or my neighbor’s garbage). Even when that doesn’t happen, I usually find that I appreciate what I read/experienced more as an idea than in execution. This is the point of concept art, to convey an idea and then stand back from it; and yet I feel cheated. I like craft, the effort and technique that go into making an idea into a thing of content and substance. In my more pugnacious moods I doubt whether there can really be art without craft. But we are now wandering into a theoretically dubious thicket of personal prejudice.

At any rate, Ryan’s argument is largely that digital story-telling needs more of that middle-ground stuff, the stuff that has a decent story, that brings in some ideas from both the hypertext world and from the video game world; the kind of thing, in fact, that the IF competition tends to reward. (She also suggests that The Sims are a good essay in this direction. I’ve never been that impressed by the narratives that arise from playing The Sims, but I also haven’t played some of the more recent editions which introduce more interesting goals. But if I had to put my finger on what is narratively lacking in The Sims, it is precisely the sort of thing that text delivers best: dialogue and the life of the mind. It always frustrated me that most of my time playing Sims was directed towards activities that I don’t really enjoy in real life — making them wash their dishes, say — but that when they did things I do find interesting, like reading books or having conversations, this content was presented in a vague iconic form to which I had no direct access.)

All right, so I’ve argued that competition constitutes a superior context for player reception than a context in which people play individually at different times; this doesn’t explain the relative non-success of things like the IF Book Club, which in theory give people a chance also to play something simultaneously and discuss it. The same idea gets brought up every year or 18 months, I’d guess, but always tanks after a month or two due to lack of participation. I suspect the problem is the ongoing nature of the project, or the fact that a voting competition gives people a direct personal stake in the outcome that they don’t have when it comes to playing book club selections. At any rate, there seems to be a functional difference.

I’ve also brought forward the hypothesis that competition-based art encourages the kind of highly polished, middle-brow work that Ryan thinks is particularly lacking in digital story-telling in general. I’m less sure about this, but I think it may be true.

If so, I’m not sure whether the fostering of the middle-brow is a purely good thing. While I agree with Ryan that artistically-ambitious-yet-broadly-accessible interactive storytelling is desirable on the larger scene, IF internally needs to have a full spread of its own. Of course, the competition doesn’t exclude people interested in writing pseudo-hypertext or old-fashioned dungeon crawls in BASIC; they may or may not place well, but they also may or may not mind that fact. Some authors are not discouraged by low placements and return year after year anyway, figuring that they are reaching some portion of the audience and that that is enough for them. There are also other venues, like the IF Art Show, which put the emphasis on different things. I was sorry to see the Art Show on hiatus, and glad it came back this year, because I think we need it. It gets less attention than the main annual competition, but it’s valuable as a context for experimentation.

I’m not sure there’s a compensating context for pure-game works. Do we need one? I don’t know.

It’s also unfortunate that there seems to be such frustration about what does get produced. I encounter a lot of rants about literary artsy IF, and a lot of rants on the other hand about the staidness of IF and its failure to get more narratively ambitious, and I find this both confusing and sad. While there may not be a range of customized comps to support it all, there is both literary/experimental and old-fashioned game IF produced every year, usually with some gems in each category — and thus, to my mind, no need for either side to get worked up. So I wonder whether things like the annual competition and the XYZZY awards give a false impression of consensus within the community, and suggest to people with different tastes that they are alone in their opinions.

Maybe it’s a good and timely thing that we have IFDB, which is designed to give a more nuanced view of who liked what, and why.

The bottom line is, though: there is something quite deep-seated in the community culture that inclines us to receive IF in a competition context, and I think that’s not wholly bad. On the contrary, the trend may be linked in some non-accidental ways to the nature of interactive fiction. Obviously, this isn’t the only way IF can be received, and it was once commercially viable as something played by individuals (though even in Infocom days I quite often played with a friend or relative, or compared notes with other players). But perhaps IF is a form whose meaning is best understood communally rather than individually — much as a live theater experience is shaped very much by the reaction of the rest of the audience. Part of what makes that possible is having special times set aside when lots of people are playing the same IF at the same time, and a context that motivates comparison, discussion, and personal investment in one’s preferences.

29 thoughts on “Art in Competition”

  1. Is there something inherent in IF that makes it a good fit for competitions, more so than other art forms? It’s hard to say. As a plain ole player during a comp I can also be a judge and have a real impact on the outcome. Maybe I would find it equally satisfying to sit on a jury for films or art pieces premiering at a festival, I’ve just never done it.

    I suspect the real reason I like the IF comps is that they help me finish games. I hate to say it but sometimes IF–with all its specialized language and constraints–can feel like work, more so than reading a book or playing other kinds of games (even MMORPGs that are famous for the grind involved in leveling don’t have to be work if you’re playing with people who are creative and fun). There are some great classic IF games I never completed because I got stuck and promised myself I’d come back “later”. The comp deadlines, and then the raft of fresh reviews and discussion that comes after, are good incentives for me to push through and play games to the end.

  2. Hmm. Do you think this “work” quality is something that we should try to change about IF (by making it more accessible in some respect), or do you think it’s an inevitable feature of the medium?

    Personally, I think that is part of what appeals to me about IF: the sense of some actual accomplishment, the sense that I have gotten something done, is something I do not get from playing Solitaire for three hours or solving sudoku puzzles or playing The Sims. So it’s a low-guilt form of entertainment. But possibly this is crazy.

  3. Well, we may mean different things by “work”. Yes, IF can be a bit harsh on beginners, more so I think than other computer games, because you can’t just jump in without a manual and poke at the game and learn by trying things out. When it comes to text, there are just too many things to try. So it is work, and involves some serious delayed gratification, to learn how to play IF.

    But I’ve played these games for quite a while, and know the conventions, and still it takes a lot of patience and tenacity sometimes for me to finish a game–more than I have to exert, say, to enjoy a very difficult book where I might need to keep consulting some *other* book to even understand it. Maybe it’s because IF tends to move in fits and starts: you make some progress then stop, work out a puzzle, progress and stop, progress and stop. All the puzzles can’t be fantastic and it takes patience sometimes to keep going, to trust that the story unfolding will be worth it.

  4. I think the work involved in playing IF is something that we should be moving away from in some games at the same time that we develop it’s complexity further in other games.

    The requirement for creative thinking and puzzling out a situation somewhat as if the game world has real rules that tend to fit together in a certain way can be very fun and is probably one of the major appealing elements for longtime IF players.

    On the other hand, it is also one of the primary deterrents to new IF players, I believe, if they even start playing at all. The standard IF interface is a lot to get one’s head around, the use of interpreters is a major barrier, the lack of visually-conveyed spacial knowledge is disorienting, and the guessing the verb problem is greatly intensified for players who are not used to IF conventions.

    So, to return to my main point, removing some of this work might be a very useful way to bring new players into the world of IF as well as create a slightly different sort of game that would not necessarily be inferior in any way to standard IF. Facade might be a good example of one path in this direction. Choose your own adventure “IF” is, in my opinion, a poor example of removing the work because they are an entirely different sort of thing than what we usually refer to as IF.

  5. #1 on my list of Things That Make IF Seem Less Like Work would be an automap. In every IF game that has a map of any size I usually have to expend about half an hour drawing out a map.

    This can be enjoyable if I’m in the right mood, but typically it’s just the pre-work necessary before I can get down to solving the puzzles.

    I also notice a considerable drop in my personal workload in one-rooom games. I think it not coincidence that a number of the IF games that hit “mainstream” are one-room games or games where no map is required.

  6. Hm. I hardly ever draw maps, but usually find it unnecessary; but I agree it is tedious if the game is big enough to need one.

    I’ve seen a few recent works that included a (partial, non-spoilery) map as a graphic, accessible with a MAP command; that, I think, is a pretty nice touch.

    I suppose it might be possible to create something that drew a map in a window as you explored. I worry a little about the amount of screen real-estate involved, though.

  7. And speaking of the balance of work : fun in IF games, I know for some people the comp deadlines can make playing the games *less* fun. If you hurry through and use walkthroughs and hints in order to come up with fair rankings and reviews, there’s the danger it will get all dutiful. I find that I play the best games in the comp way too slowly to be a perfect judge.

  8. If there’s a substantial map I will nearly always miss at least one exit if I try to keep it in my head. Completely missing a location is one of the most frustrating ways to get stuck on a game.

    Zork Zero’s solution of the automap only displaying with the MAP command was reasonable. (I vaguely recall you could also click on a room on the map to go there.)

    Regarding your main topic: from my rememberances of before the competition came around, the number of longer works wasn’t that much higher, but more attention was paid to them. When Curses came out the group was filled with hint requests for months; pretty much everyone played it. A new game was an Event and everyone piled in.

    The same thing was true back in my Prodigy days (1992 or so) with the Text Adventure Buffs; we didn’t have a lot of new material, so every new game was a treasure.

    Now, even substantial works seem to have a giant yawn of apathy attached. I’m not sure if the competition is to blame. There’s certainly more games to choose from than there used to be; I think there may be an attitude of “why should I play random person X’s game when I have known-to-be-high-quality games A, B, and C in the queue?” It’s simlar to moving from the three-channel universe to the 300-channels-via-satellite one, except our numbers aren’t large enough to sustain this sort of split and keep a sense of community.

    This has been brought up many times before and there’s been attempts to remedy it (like the Book Club or the various review sites). Still I feel like the problem has gotten worse over the years rather than better.

  9. Hmm, I had always attributed the failure of the Book Club as a failure in administration (i.e. me) rather than a complete failure of concept. The concept contributed, but isn’t the whole story (vaguely like the failure of CMP). I think there is a way to run a successful book club type of thing, but I’m not sure exactly how it would work. I have some ideas I might try again some day, though. And we’ll see how Club Floyd works out, too.

    (Also, I find solving Sudoku and Solitaire generally exactly as guilt-free as playing IF, but Sudoku generally has a lot more consistent feedback and progress than IF, so I tend to prefer it.)

  10. Now, even substantial works seem to have a giant yawn of apathy attached. I’m not sure if the competition is to blame. There’s certainly more games to choose from than there used to be; I think there may be an attitude of “why should I play random person X’s game when I have known-to-be-high-quality games A, B, and C in the queue?” It’s simlar to moving from the three-channel universe to the 300-channels-via-satellite one, except our numbers aren’t large enough to sustain this sort of split and keep a sense of community.

    I suspect that is true for most games. On the other hand, Last Resort got a fair amount of feedback last year — I had the impression that a lot of people were playing it at once. So apparently it is possible to get these things rolling. (Moments out of Time 2 was greeted more silently, but I wonder whether that arose from a combination of interpreter problems [I couldn’t get it to run on Spatterlight] and confusion [people not being sure whether it was necessary to have played the previous game].)

  11. Hmm, I had always attributed the failure of the Book Club as a failure in administration (i.e. me) rather than a complete failure of concept.

    Interesting. What in particular do you think went wrong with it?

    I wasn’t just basing this on you specifically — I also meant things like the intfiction forum’s game of the month scheme, which as I recall lasted for exactly one month before collapsing into nothingness.

    Has Club Floyd been announced to the wider world, incidentally?

  12. If the book club was to survive in its original form, it needed to be able to survive months where the selected game wasn’t very popular so that it could get on to games that were. These things fluctuate, and you need some mechanism (or sheer doggedness) to get you through the dry spells.

    In general, it is clearly more fun to play a game when other people are also playing it than it is to not. The trick is to find a way to assemble people who have: a) not played the game in question, b) are interested in playing the game, and c) have free time to play the game at more or less the same time. These things fail because one or more of the above fail, and after they fail once, it’s hard to regain momentum to try again.

    As for Club Floyd, I have no idea. It’s listed at
    but don’t know whether she officially announced it in the newsgroups or something.

  13. Re: Last Resort

    I jumped in to play Last Resort when it was released because the author was very active on r.g.if: he asked for feedback and was actually revising his game in response to people’s suggestions for how to tweak the timer, make puzzles fairer, etc. I felt I was part of making it a better game.

    He also disabled the game’s hint system so people would post. I bridled a bit at that but maybe it also helped generate discussion.

  14. I enjoy the yearly ‘competition series’ of IF. It’s like following a tour, whether it’s like a hippie jam band or a contract bridge club scene depending I guess on the games you play. I think for this hobby community it’s a good thing.

    However it does seem to me that games released outside the comps don’t get much discussion on the newsgroups or forums. One thing that could serve as a counterpoint to the mass of the competitions (and so maybe give new games a bigger splash at release) is if authors released their games under an imprint, or even through a ‘publisher site’ that could hype the game a little bit — give it some identity and heft. This might not necessarily require editorial vetting, maybe just a shared interest in the kinds of games you’re producing — puzzle-y games, art games, narrative games, funny games. Some or all of the above. IFDB accomplishes this to a certain extent — it puts ‘new listings’ on its front page, but they may not stay their very long as people add reviews.

    Club Floyd is a great idea, but it kind of illustrates a point about how people discuss IF — there are many separate communities, like ifMUD, RAIF, ADRIFT forums, and I don’t think more than a few people frequent all these places. I know I’ve tried to spend time on ifMUD but it’s never really clicked for me – is CF an ifMUD-regular sort of thing, or is it open to the general public?

  15. I wouldn’t say that ClubFloyd is strictly an “ifMUD-regular sort of thing,” as it’s been mentioned in a few other places and we’ve welcomed non-regulars who’ve shown up to play. I make no effort to hide the transcripts from search engines, and I do fully hope that authors will find the transcripts helpful. We’ve even had authors show up and watch as people play; as long as they’re not disruptive I think that’s a great idea – and I’m sure it’s fascinating from the author’s perspective to hover over the shoulders of strangers while they play.

    I think the group dynamic has thus far been good with little outside advertisement, and we just haven’t felt the need to promote it further. While half a dozen people playing a game works rather well, if twenty-five people showed up to play it would probably be mayhem. Nevertheless, if you want to join in, the fun is presently occurring on Sundays at 9pm GMT. We were on hiatus during the IFcomp, but we’ll start back up this coming weekend.

  16. One thing that could serve as a counterpoint to the mass of the competitions (and so maybe give new games a bigger splash at release) is if authors released their games under an imprint, or even through a ‘publisher site’ that could hype the game a little bit — give it some identity and heft.

    I don’t know. I’ve generally been leery of suggestions like this in the past, because as soon as you have any sort of identity associated with the site at all, you run the risk that sometime, for some reason, someone is going to have to turn a game away — because it’s not tested enough, because it’s not a puzzle game and the site is for puzzle games only, because it’s pornographic, because it’s in Swahili, because it only runs on a Commodore 64 emulator, because it contains a soundtrack consisting of unlicensed clips from the White Album. Whatever the reason for turning something away, you then have gripes and complaints and grumbling and charges of cabalism and elitism and sniffiness.

    It gets even worse if you have a site where games do have to pass some kind of minimal beta-testing examination to be listed — and yet that is the kind of pseudo-publisher that I would be most likely to frequent myself. But I think any such system would cause hard feelings sooner or later, for someone.

    It might, of course, be a worthwhile idea anyway. But I’m not sure.

    The “bigger splash” might be possible in other ways, though. I’ve noticed that a lot of authors are hesitant about marketing their games at all: the freeware IF community has an (I think rather appealing) culture of authorial modesty, and grandiose claims about one’s own work would be seen as tacky. But this means that some people announce games without even a premise or teaser, with barely any description at all of what the game *is*, so that it’s hard to work up any excitement. Unless I know the author’s previous work, a bare announcement saying “My new game X is currently in the unsorted directory of the IF Archive and will eventually move to [URL here]” is not going to get me that intrigued.

  17. You think a site that promoted tested games and didn’t promote untested games would be bad because it might *hurt the feelings* of people who wrote untested games? Why do we care about the feelings of people who don’t test their games? Everyone should test their games. And if they think they have a good reason to not do it, surely they can do without the tested-games-promotion-site’s help.

    I would think that a competition would be *more* likely to hurt people’s feelings, because each one you hold guarantees that someone will come in last. But as we’ve seen, authors who write games that come in last are the ones that seem to be the most immune to having their feelings hurt.

  18. You think a site that promoted tested games and didn’t promote untested games would be bad because it might *hurt the feelings* of people who wrote untested games? Why do we care about the feelings of people who don’t test their games?

    I suspect the painful cases would be much more like the experience of people who place around the *middle* of the competition: the author thinks his game is pretty cool, cool enough to excuse a few rough edges; whoever is running the site disagrees; it’s not really a clear call; the game is excluded; the author feels that the reason might be because the person running the site has unreasonable expectations, or only really accepts submissions from a certain clique, or has undisclosed biases about what sort of content a “good” game should have.

    I also didn’t say it necessarily be bad. I think it’s more one of those cases where the results for the community would be both good and bad, and I am not sure whether the positive would predominate.

  19. Well, OK, I will admit I was thinking of something more objective, fairly inclusive, and universally obtainable with some effort. Something where you *could* get accepted if you wanted. If it was more nebulous then, sure, there could be well-founded hard feelings. But I think those could be surmounted by someone who wanted to do it. Of course, I don’t think there’s anyone who wants to run it, so I suppose it’s a bit moot.

  20. Hm. I guess my take is that the imprimatur of this pseudo-publisher wouldn’t be valuable unless it did in some respect separate the wheat from the chaff — but that would probably enforcing not-completely-trivial standards of quality.

  21. Maybe my personal experiences can shed some light on the IF Comp phenomenon. They can, if a lot of other people had similar experiences, but frankly, I don’t know if that’s the case. Anyway, here goes….
    I enjoyed playing Infocom’s games in the 80s and was sad to see them go. After Infocom’s Lost Treasures, I assumed the genre was dead and I’d never see a text adventure again. Then the Internet came along, and probably sometime in the year 2001 it dawned on me that I might be able to find some text adventure info on it. I was pleasantly surprised–shocked, actually–to discover:
    1. The genre had a thriving community
    2. New, quality games were being made
    3. Things like TADS had been developed
    4. It was no longer called a “Text Adventure”, but “Interactive Fiction”, and
    5. It had been inexplicably taken oven by British people.

    After poking around the Web, I learned of the IF Comp (via Baf’s Guide) and deemed that to be the Center of the IF World. So that’s my point. For whatever reason, I think a lot of people assumed the Comp to be the Center. Other candidates–the Archive itself, or the newsgroup–are too intangible.

    Although I don’t have too much time to devote to IF, I want to see it thrive. So I gravitate towards the IF Comp, where I can see metrics of the health of IF itself: actual numeric figures of entries, judges, and prizes. And I can contribute to those numbers and reward good games as a judge. (Not to mention, it’s a good excuse to play some games.)

    All reasons that, you’re right, Emily, the Comp is an inextricable part of the community. But I disagree that IF in particular lends itself towards competition. Rather, all Art is competitive by nature: a unique accomplishment may be a Beautiful Thing, but it’s not an Art Form until there are others of its kind by which to compare it. And I would argue that a great portion of any individual work cannot be appreciated without comparison to others.

  22. Cautious optimism but still a long way to go.

    Oh, and it should be no longer called “game”, but “literary piece” — some of them, that is. :)

  23. To stray back to the work:fun topic … I’ve been reading other people’s reviews of “Lost Pig”, the winner of the IF comp, and I’m struck by how we all can agree that *polish* makes IF more fun than work. Jason Dyer says “The reason why playing IF feels like work: so many of them have poor implementation.” Doe says “This is what Infocom games had going for them that modern IF often lacks, trust. Trust that the game isn’t buggy, trust that you can work at the puzzles…” And Emily Short’s praise of Pig’s author Admiral Jota as a player–when he betatests a game, he tries EVERYTHING and “is not impeded by his knowledge of standard IF vocabulary” (nice!)–captures just beautifully what’s fun about a great game: “His play-style is a constant reminder that IF can be a conversation between author and player.”

    For me, the work of learning and using all of IF’s specialized language and constraints is worth it in those great moments when I as a player try something creative–something smart or in character or rebellious or just fun–and the author meets me there. Now *that’* interaction :-)

  24. This is a really great article and I think a convincing case for the value of the comp. The reason the comp works and general releases don’t is because it’s an event, we can plan for it, we can look forward to it, we know when it will start and can anticipate what it might be like. When we’re playing the games, we’re playing them together — I think the reviews while the comp was in session added to that sensation and therefore worked out for the better. I think it’s silly to expect experimental works to win the comp, and usually the games that do win are quite excellent, besides. As someone who has released the majority of my works outside of the comp, I can say I am quite comfortable doing so when the subject matter suggests it — adaptations of Dunsany or Lovecraft, for example, will find their audience, nevermind when or how they are released. Slap That Fish was a game well suited to the comp, on the other hand, not because I thought it would win, but because I couldn’t see any reason that people would decide to play it, otherwise.

  25. Another point of view (one I myself hold, but I have no idea if anyone else does) about why the comp is so important is that it makes authors work as well. If you’re writing independently, there’s no deadline, no urgent compulsion to finish and test your game in time. With the comp, you have a deadline. This is similar to Maureen’s logic, I guess, just from an author’s point of view instead of a player’s. I know for a fact I need a strict deadline before I can get *anything* done, let alone IF. Did that make any sense?

  26. It’s really quite fascinating to read this in 2015, I must say, The comparison to live theater is also interesting to consider and, I think, not dated.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: