The Interactive Fiction Fund is a patron-supported initiative run by Javy Gwaltney to commission new works of interactive fiction each month. Because of the amount of funding and the timeframe, these tend to be short, choice-based pieces. Patrons get access to each new piece as it is finished, and the author then has the option of arranging to sell it on otherwise. If you too would like access to these when they’re published, though, you can sign up to the Patreon.
So far, there have been five IFF works, one for each month from January to May of 2015.
Operating System (Tanya Short). Contrary to all my expectations about an IF piece, this is in Unity and requires the Unity web player, creating an environment where the text has a monumental quality. I played it back in January when it came out; when I went to fire it up again just now, I ran into some issues, which I think are down to Chrome and Unity not playing nicely, and I will need to put a little more time in to figure out what’s gone wrong. So no screenshot of this one (sorry), and my recollections of content are a bit hazier than I would ordinarily prefer when writing something up. (I’m pretty sure this is a problem at my end, not the game’s.)
However, the core concept involves an operating system being reprogrammed after having adapted to a particular user, a figure for other kinds of loss. Brief, evocative and formally inventive.
Sombra del Sol (Stuart Arias). The protagonist is in some dire trouble, dying, and in this hazy state, floating through memories of childhood; in time we come to understand why and what they’re doing there, lost in the desert trying to cross the border into the United States.
Sombra del Sol uses scrolling as a pacing device, the way some Twine games use time delays to print the text. The resulting flavor is different, though. For me, not being able to see all my possible links on a single screen contributes to a sense of disorientation. I didn’t really enjoy the effect, but I think I wasn’t supposed to. What do we say about a piece that successfully made us uncomfortable?
But these passages are interspersed with recollections of a childhood and a young adulthood in Ecuador. At one point the story links out to Youtube for the Ecuadorian national anthem. Elsewhere, you can click through Spanish to an English translation. These passages kept me with the story: the remembered details about what the family ate and how people interacted, the emotional outburst from the protagonist’s sister that helps to explain what is going on and the family dynamics at work.
Crossroads (Katriel Page). Crossroads is a magical-school story, with stats, executed in Twine. In genre, it reminded me more of visual novels than of other Twine work, and it plays to that sense that you’re gradually choosing a path in life through many accumulated decisions. The core premise is that people’s destinies are tied to their emotional makeup, and the opening stats would seem to suggest that girls are less prone to either anger or despair than people of other genders.
This is a large-ish piece for this series — there are a number of substantial screens of text, and the two playthroughs I did (as a girl and as a non-binary person) had some significant differences. In spite of which, I kind of wanted it to be longer. A great deal of the story is presented through abstract narration, summarizing what you’re learning in your classes or what is happening socially over long stretches of time, where I think the story might have benefited from having these things shown dramatically a bit more instead.
Conversely, my favorite moments were the ones where the world-building showed through in some detail.
The Moon My Destination (Zachary Kay). Spare, melancholy, and backed by a soundscape of emptiness and dust, this tells the story of a person lost on the moon. There are some typos, and the experience is quite linear, with choices focusing more on how you interpret events than on what you do or how the plot progresses.
Nonetheless — through its mood, through the immediacy of the situation, through the late-game dialogue — it communicates the angry despair felt by people who give everything in a cause but are not remembered or acknowledged. Even without the context of a space program, this resonated for me. The reality is that almost any kind of progress requires work and sacrifice from many more people than get their names in the headlines, that failed experiments often make the successful ones possible, that no one ever gets back exactly what they’ve merited from the world. Not getting the golden ticket, the award, the prize, the coveted job title, doesn’t necessarily mean that a person wasn’t worthy of it, or that they wouldn’t have gotten it under other circumstances, or that a given project would have been possible without them. I’m not saying it’s wrong to celebrate stuff that impresses us, just that we should recognize that it’s never the whole story.
(Personal note: I don’t know how we address this on a grand scale, though I do have a small-scale practice that I am trying to adopt for myself, viz, not making sweeping negative statements about past work when I’m talking up some new idea. “No one has tried X” — really? No one, ever? Am I sure? Do I know that they haven’t, rather than that my research just hasn’t turned it up yet? “There are no good examples of X” — according to whose definition of quality? Mightn’t the thing that I’m currently writing off as a mediocre example of X have had some merits, or been groundbreaking in its own time, or at least helped sketch in the outline of the problem? Especially with new design territory, there are usually some not-totally-successful experiments before there are successful ones, and that’s a vital part of the process. Trying to erase that fact is both intellectually dishonest and socially rather horrible.)
Morning Rituals (Lucas J.W. Johnson). Morning Rituals is short interactive horror in which your coffee maker, initially just excessively complex and prone to reordering supplies for you, starts taking over your life with vicious intention.
As the title of the piece suggests, this is one of those interactive works that first establishes a fairly simple repetitive task structure (making your coffee) and then changes it up as new narrative issues arise.
I admit that when I played this I was on my own third or fourth cup of the day, so the bits about jitters and caffeine spikes felt all too familiar to me. There’s also an accompanying music score that gets progressively spookier in its mood-signaling. In spite of that, I tried to play it against the obvious grain of the piece — eagerly playing along with my coffee maker, treating it as a benign assistance device, pretending that it was a sign of empathy when the coffee maker signed me up for a singles site.
It still ended badly for me; of course it did.