Some more accounts of IF conversations at PAX East, covering a wide range of things that came up in discussions and panels:
The question of outreach was especially dominant — how do we get IF to more people, how do we make it easier to pick up and play, and can we earn money from it?
That last point doesn’t feel as pressing to me as the others. I’d like to see a wider audience; I’m not sure that selling is hugely important. I care most about some other forms of IF evangelism. I gave my pocket manifesto more than once at the convention, but here it is again, for those who weren’t there:
IF has a lot to teach about interactive storytelling, and we should be sharing the discoveries of the last 10 or 15 years with mainstream gaming and interactive literature communities. I was much struck — and a little depressed — at GDC to find that many writers talking about their work for commercial games still very much framed the discourse around what storytelling options are not possible in videogame format.
There seemed to be less focus on what can be done with interaction that is unique and effective: the value of player-controlled pacing to manage exposition; the interesting effects to be gotten from the player/protagonist distinction; the pleasure (for the player) of being essentially an improv actor with a set character; the rhetorical capacity of a rule-based system, as explored by Ian Bogost but applied by him mostly to political and advertising games; the narrative possibilities of short games intended to be replayed (as opposed to the lightly-branching long games the commercial sector typically creates).
The good news there is that there’s an active thirst in the commercial game industry for what IF has to offer. My experience at GDC was that a surprising number of developers had heard of us; a lead at one company even told me that they really want to recruit experienced IF authors and would be interested in interviewing anyone I could recommend. (If you want to know more about that one, email me.) The packed and overflowing IF panel at PAX may be another kind of indicator.
I don’t mean this to sound defeatist, and I think there are a lot of ways we could make classic text-based IF more accessible to new players, and that we’d draw in a lot of folks that way. On the other hand, I don’t expect that IF as such will ever be mainstream in the sense that movies are.
On the other hand: I do think we have a potential role to play in the bigger arena of developing interactive storytelling as a field, and the cultural impact of that will be huge.