IF and Other Media

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June 14, the Oxford/London IF Meetup had talks from three speakers. First up was Tory Hoke of Sub-Q Magazine, who Skyped in from Los Angeles to talk about the process of founding and edition for Sub-Q. She gave us some background on how she got started, how she decided on the pay rate they currently use at Sub-Q, and a bit about the collaborative process.

Next we heard from Derek Moody, whose whodunnitmanor project is designed to facilitate multi-player mystery games, where the author has created clues and information for each player to discover at each turn. Different characters have different expertise, as one might expect in a mystery dinner party set-up, and they can decide what to share with one another during any given turn. When the players think they’ve figured out who is guilty, they can vote — which makes this partly a game of persuasion, like Werewolf, in which the guilty party is trying to pass off attention to everyone else.

Moody also talked about how his system is designed to support players who might not feel sure what they want to do, and how automated features take over if a player disconnects or skips out on the game — always issues in a multiplayer IF context.

Both Derek and Tory are currently seeking writers.

Finally, we heard from Nathan Penlington about his Choose Your Own Documentary project. Penlington is a collector of CYOA-style books — his blog documents many choice-based artifacts of all kinds — and at one point he bought numbers 1-106 of the original CYOA series in a single lot on eBay. When his set arrived, he found that the books contained notes from a Terence Prendergast, and several handwritten diary pages. He became fascinated with the question of what had happened to Terence and where he was now, so he made a documentary about the process of trying to track Terence down. The documentary itself was then performed in front of a live audience equipped with voting clickers so that they could respond to choice points in the story. So, to recap: Choose Your Own Documentary is a choice-based performance that is itself about the Choose Your Own Adventure series, as well as several people who became fascinated with them.

Penlington is a really entertaining speaker, and his topic was both touching and hilarious. He has also published The Boy in the Book about the process of looking for Terence. (I was sufficiently curious that after the meetup I went home and ordered a copy.) Apparently a digital version of Choose Your Own Documentary is in the works. There may even be a revival of the live show. I know I’m not the only person to come away from his talk eager to go to the show if I get a chance.

This Meetup also gave me a chance to ask some questions about the choice-based performance process. I’ve always suspected that choice-based live performances might be rather unsatisfying: if the vote goes against you too much, you might feel frustrated; when it goes the way you want, you might still not feel all that great a sense of agency or complicity.

Penlington agreed that the process might be frustrating for some participants, but that he had audience members who came back multiple times to find other parts of the story with a new audience mix. He also mentioned that, during delays for choice, he could often hear couples and groups in the audience whispering together about what their decision should be. I hadn’t considered that possibility, and it does seem like it would add something to the experience — you’d get a chance at a reflective choice in your friend group, whether or not your votes actually prevailed.

7 thoughts on “IF and Other Media”

      1. Also, in my limited experience of Club Floyd (and less limited experience of reading Club Floyd transcripts), since it’s playing parser rather than choice games, the decisions that are taken are much less at the level of “Should we do this or that?” than “What should we do?” So people are often collaborating on puzzle-solving rather than arguing over which choice to take. And it seems as though, when there’s an obvious branching-point, they often save the game so they can go back and try the other choices later, so you might not feel so snaffled if your choice doesn’t get tried first.

      2. When Club Floyd did try a choice-based game a few weeks ago (Aaron A. Reed’s Choicescript “Hollywood Visionary”), we found it went on for quite a lot longer than we were expecting, because each and every choice ended up being the subject of debate (it felt much more permanent, especially because we were playing in a format that didn’t allow for backup saves). Whereas in parser everyone can usually fiddle with the parser without doing anything that will wreck the game state. So it was actually quite a different experience!

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