Mid-August Link Assortment

Events

August 16 is the next meeting of the Seattle Area IF Meetup.

August 23-24 is Reality Escape Con, an online, free convention about room escape games, organized by the same people who are behind the Room Escape Artist blog.

September 5 is the next meeting of the SF Bay Area IF Meetup.

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October 3-4 is the announced weekend for Roguelike Celebration 2020. The event is moving to a virtual model this year. More specifics about the event can be found here.

Contests

iftf_logo.pngIFComp 2020 is still accepting entries for another two weeks. Authors should register their intent to enter by September 1. The entries themselves are due September 28.

downloadIntroComp, meanwhile, has already passed the deadline for submissions, but you can play the games and vote on them until August 31.

And inkjam 2020 has just recently concluded, with a number of games written in ink. The winners are still online to play.

Releases

Wide Island is a Twine piece by Draconic Chipmunk. It relies heavily on the technique of text expansion: a few linked words will expand into a much longer passage, which itself contains further expansions. Important information about the protagonist, setting, and situation are buried in different parts of the narrative, and the structure means that you might encounter them in any order. The effect reminded me of the telescopic narration in Lime Ergot, where new details constantly encourage the reader to recontextualise what has come before.

I had been reading for several minutes before discovering that the main character was a man with a wife and child. For lack of other information, I’d initially pictured someone demographically more like myself — but that shift felt like an intended part of the reading experience.

There were a few things that surprised me; for instance, several of the links seemed to offer more information on one topic but in fact opened out to talk about something different. But that relative lack of readerly agency also felt appropriate here. Overall, an interesting experiment in hypertext construction. (If this technique interests you, see also stretchtext.)

littlecover.pngThanks to Petter Sjölund, Dan Fabulich, 2lindell, Ed King, jackk225, Kevin Lo, nosferatu-if, OtherOlly, Sabe Jones, Sukil Etxenike, and thehatless, as well as long-term contributions by Dannii Willis and Andrew Plotkin, Counterfeit Monkey is now available in Release 9(!). There is a change log, and the game can be played in-browser complete with the map and all the assorted goodies.

AI and Text Generation

GPT-3 has been available to a limited group of people for a couple of months now, and interesting applications are starting to appear, including a blog that fooled a number of human readers.

Nick Walton, the creator of the AI Dungeon project that used GPT-2, has now set up a GPT-3 version that requires a subscription to access. (Once you have access, you’ll need to go to the settings panel and switch over to the “Dragon” model to activate it, as well.)

On my trials so far, it’s given a reasonably coherent but often sort of conservative performance:

The Dragon model also adds a feature that explicitly logs quests and tracks whether it thinks you’ve completed them or not — more of an attempt to track world state than we saw in the earlier versions of AI Dungeon.

You can also try priming the system with a prompt of your own; it took Counterfeit Monkey in a surprising direction with some torch-carrying sewer-dwellers.

End of July Link Assortment

Events

Aug 1 is the next scheduled meeting of the SF Bay Area IF Meetup.

Contests

ifcomp-blank-screen.jpgIFComp 2020 is accepting entries! Authors should register their intent to enter by September 1. The entries themselves are due by September 28.

A full description of the rules can be found here.

If you have the spare income and the inclination, you can also donate to the IFComp’s fund here.

The September deadline means that we’re still a ways off from playing and voting on the comp games themselves, but in the meantime…

downloadIntroComp will be entering its own play/voting phase at the beginning of August. The last of the entries should be submitted on July 31, and after this, players can check out the games themselves. For IntroComp, the voting deadline is August 31.

 

Talks, Articles, and Podcasts

Ryan Veeder talks about making the classic Taleframe Crocodracula: The Beginning accessible. You can also play here, but the blog post is a delightful read.

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I mentioned Victor Gijsbers’ YouTube channel earlier this month, but he has since uploaded two new videos, both of which are worth a look. Of particular interest to new players is this introduction, which explores four examples of both choice-based and parser-based IF.

Mid-July Link Assortment

Events

July 27 is the next meeting of the Boston IF Meetup.

Aug 1 is the next scheduled meeting of the SF Bay Area IF Meetup.

New Releases

Although things are decidedly slow when it comes to events right now, there are a number of interesting releases at the moment, both in terms of games and online pieces.

https___cdn.evbuc.com_images_104813350_226156754634_1_original.jpgThe first is the online interactive piece The Evidence Chamber by Fast Familiar, which was the team that put together The Justice Syndicate last year. The Evidence Chamber casts players as members of an online jury, attempting to piece together testimonies and evidence to arrive at a verdict. The project was created in collaboration with forensic scientists at Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science.IgeOXM

Yoon Ha Lee has also just released the new game Entropy Soldiers on itch.io.

Play the roles of interstellar soldiers relying on each other to survive after they’ve escaped from the war. Entropy Soldiers is a GM-less narrative RPG that uses found texts like magazine pages to prompt your creativity. (Some sample texts drawn from public domain books have been provided for your convenience.)

Players can name their own price to download and play Entropy Soldiers, and all proceeds from this game will be donated to the ACLU.

promo408-1.pngChoice of Games has just released 180 Files: The Aegis Project, by Karelia Hall.

“As Agent 180, a star secret agent, you’ve never found a problem you couldn’t solve with guns, gadgets, or a devastating quip. But after a personal tragedy sends your life off course, your next mission will test you to your very limits.” 

Rounding out our list, Cait S. Kirby has written a pair of Twine games about the implications of COVID-19 for higher education in the fall. Each game focuses on a single day on campus, September 7, 2020 and October 1, 2020.

Speaking of Twine…

Tools

Twine has released an updated version 2.3.9, which can be found on this github link.

Contests

Screen Shot 2020-07-14 at 9.19.40 PMNext Adventure Jam voting ends on July 23rd. The 8-bit-centric contest focuses on games created using Adventuron Classroom. Seven unique titles are available for play and all are listed as browser playable.

Talks, Articles, and Podcasts

In this brief video, Victor Gijsbers gives an analysis of 9:05 by Adam Cadre. WARNING: SPOILERS ABOUND. If you haven’t played the game yet and want to experience it sans spoilery explanations, you can do so here.

 

End of June Link Assortment

Events

July 4 is the next meeting of the SF Bay Interactive Fiction Meetup.

July 4 is also the final day for submissions to The Next Adventure Jam. The 8-Bit-Centric contest welcomes games developed with Adventuron Classroom. Contest rules are in the link.

https___cdn.evbuc.com_images_104266328_11605589405_1_original.jpgJuly 6 is an online event for those interested in starting and building a career in game narrative. Andrew Walsh and the WGGB work hard at helping new writers find their way into the game industry, and existing writers build connections and careers. The event is free, but does require registration.

New Releases

Unmapped Path is releasing its first game, Night in the Unpleasant House. Writing and Illustration are by Joel Haddock, and the code is being written by Chris Klimas, who has been mentioned multiple times here, as he created Twine. The mobile game is for iOS devices: “a classic tale of revenge, local politics, pseudoscience, questionable botany, love, and loss.”

 

Talks, Articles, and Podcasts

NarraScope 2020 wrapped in June, and the folks at the Interactive Fiction Technology Foundation plan to post a transparency report about the event (similar to what was done in 2019) in the near future. Many of the talks are currently available on YouTube for those that missed them the first time around.

Mid-June Link Assortment

Links below the fold for those who find them useful; the fold itself is here to acknowledge that the movement I wrote about fifteen days ago is ongoing even if media coverage is somewhat decreased; and that the work of change is more important than anything in the rest of the post.

I’ll put this up here, though: if you have not encountered it yet, you may be interested in the itch.io bundle for Racial Justice and Equality.

Continue reading “Mid-June Link Assortment”

The End of May

mennoniteprotesters

At the end of the month, I always do a resource post. This is still a resource post, but it is mostly about non-interactive fiction resources. (IF links still exist, at the very bottom.)

Specifically, it is about resources for white people who want to do something but don’t know what that something could be; or for white people who feel that what is going on right now is an unjustified looting instigated by Black people, but who might be inclined to read some things that would complicate that understanding.

Resources for other white US citizens. Here are some things you should probably be aware of, if you are not already:

To expand a little on that last point, what Oluo says is: don’t put your grief and anger where Black people need to encounter and deal with it. Don’t make it the focus of your social media presence; don’t take it to your Black friends.

There’s a lot to feel right now, and if this is the first time you’re really confronting the enormity of America’s race problem, it can be overwhelming. I have been there; and I know white guilt can do ugly things especially to people who are already struggling with their mental health. It’s useful to remember that being self-blaming about complicity in racism is also not helpful to the people experiencing the racism. (White Fragility is a whole book on this phenomenon.) You do need to address your pain, both for your own well-being and in order to get to a place where you can take positive action. Process it with the non-Black people in your life. Remember your Ring Theory — comfort those most affected by the crisis, dump your own feelings towards the people less affected than yourself.

Here are resources if you want to take financial action:

  • Minnesota Freedom Fund has collected a substantial amount of money to help bail out protesters; while they themselves are not soliciting more funds now, they have an up-to-date list of places that do need contributions. (I’m linking to them rather than listing those places myself because they’re more likely to be able to keep that list current and relevant.)

Here are some more resources if you’re newly educating yourself about the state of race in America:

  • So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo. (Link is to Bookshop, which allows you to order from independent booksellers and not Amazon.) This is a good place to work from if you haven’t done much reading in this space yet.
  • The Case for Reparations, Ta-Nehisi Coates. A few years old, but still in my view a necessary read on the systemic and long-term sources of what is happening right now. This is available online. Between the World and Me is also a solid read, more personal (as the title would imply).
  • The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander. Talks about the prison system and its racial implications, as well as the fact that mainstream thinking a few decades ago were in favour of putting a moratorium on new prison construction. Prison abolitionism is not bizarre and novel idea; on the contrary, it’s an idea that at one point enjoyed mainstream credibility, and could do so again.
  • Lead from the Outside, Stacey Abrams. This is about being a leader and making a difference even from a marginalised position. I found it instructive about being female in a male industry, but I also found the illustrations from her own experience improved my understanding of challenges facing Black leaders in the US. 
  • Algorithms of Oppression, Safiya Umoja Noble, on how search engines and other current technology contribute to racism. Also available at Blackwell’s if you’re in the UK.
  • I have heard good things about, but have not myself yet read, How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi and Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad.
  • Finally: The Master’s Tools Will Never Demolish the Master’s House, Audre Lorde. (Online.) On why white women need to put in the work to research the needs of Black and other non-white women, rather than demanding an education from people already fighting and exhausted. It is an old essay that has not stopped being true. It’s worth reading a lot more Lorde than just this, though as far as I can tell the exact edition I own is out of print, so I can’t recommend you that. But a variety of options are available by searching for Lorde at Bookshop and picking a collection, though. (Here’s Blackwell’s for UK buyers.)

If you’re in the UK and are looking for more on the recent history of racism in the UK:

Finally: one of the most informative things I did after Ferguson was to follow a number of Black activists on Twitter and to read what they were tweeting every day. Sometimes it was sad, sometimes it was funny, sometimes it was angry and confronting, sometimes I disagreed, but it was worth reading. I made a rule for myself not to respond to their tweets. Just read. I’ve subsequently also expanded to try to follow more indigenous voices and other people of colour, but Black Twitter is especially vocal and therefore especially helpful if what you want to do is learn without replying or taking up any time that they weren’t already spending.

A full list would be too much here, but here are some I’ve especially valued. Some of these are activists as their primary activity; others have other jobs or focuses.

I suggested the Twitter approach to a white colleague once, and he was contemptuous of the idea that this provide any meaningful insight. But I’ve found it useful in helping me make an intentional, sustainable, and lifelong change in how I think and act. It is a process, and I still fall short, and have to plan how I will act differently next time I encounter the same situation. That’s how deprogramming yourself from racism goes. But reading the words of Black activists, authors, journalists, and others on Twitter during non-crisis times helps give a sense of them as whole and joyous human beings. I believe that is also part of the understanding we need, an understanding that goes beyond pity for victims or awe at resilience under oppression.

There is so much right now. So much. Systemic racism, sexism, ableism, transphobia; exploitation of labour, and wealth inequality; climate change; the privatisation and militarisation of space; reactionary political movements; xenophobia and violence against immigrants and refugees; massive economic turmoil and the mishandling of a global pandemic. But these things are all connected, they are all part of the same fight. We do not need to choose to be angry only about one, or resist only in one cause — and it wouldn’t work to do so.

The most hopeful thing I’ve seen in recent days has been the refusal of bus drivers to cooperate with excessive or unlawful policing. It reminded me of Gene Sharp’s From Dictatorship to Democracy (Bookshop link, Blackwells link). Sharp studied a series of regime changes, and notes how effective it is when a significant part of the population ceases to cooperate with unjust applications of power. Widespread non-cooperation reduces the risk faced by individuals and spreads the cost of resistance to a larger part of the population. The changing will of a nation shames some of the enforcers themselves into abandoning enforcement.

Can we do this also? Do these methods work when applied not to a simple dictatorship but to a huge and complex legacy system in which we are all at least somewhat entangled?

I don’t know. But these actions are the ones that give me hope.

The society I want one day to live in is very, very different from what we have now. Change is always frightening, but when we think about the human cost of creating a better world, we also need to consider the human cost of delaying it. That cost is currently extremely high, and it is also very unjustly distributed.

Meanwhile, we occupy a moment when “normal” has already been suspended, when the status quo has already fractured. We are never going back to normal, if we can call the situation in late 2019 “normal.” That economic reality does not exist for us to access, even if it were a good idea.

I’d like us to go somewhere much better than the old normal — but if we are not speaking and acting to make that happen, it is very likely we’ll end up with society even worse, because the systems that currently exist are not designed to guarantee the majority of citizens health, sanity, dignity, or life itself. 

In order to change for the better, we need to do three things.

We need to reckon with where we are right now, to be as truthful with ourselves as we can about what it is and how we got here. 

We need to identify what would characterise the world we want to live in instead. We’ll all have different answers, but mine include things like a society in which everyone — every person, corporation, and government — shares responsibility for the stewardship of the planet and for seeing that all people have food, housing, and health care. Those things are not just human rights but human responsibilities, in the sense that we are responsible to and for each other. 

And then we need to think about what systems could provide that world. One of the things that has consistently surprised me in my own reading is that often ideas like prison abolition and universal basic income* have been taken seriously and studied in the past, though they tend to be talked about in US politics as completely radical stuff. (*I realise there are people in the US who would like to bring in a pathetically low UBI and then use that as an excuse to defund all other social safety provisions; that’s not what I’m talking about here.)

There are other ways we could organise ourselves from the ones we have now, and they don’t all involve re-enacting the tragedies of authoritarian communism. Utopia for Realists (Rutger Bregman; Blackwell’s, Bookshop) considers some of the economic possibilities open to us, including more about UBI; Talking to My Daughter about the Economy (Yanis Varoufakis; Blackwell’s, Bookshop) is a short, accessible book about capitalism. Personally, I think a big part of the change is going to need to involve a redistribution from people who have too much to people who have too little; and especially to those who have too little because they and their families and their ancestors have been denied access to the common goods available to everyone else in society, systematically, for generations.

It might feel as though studying alternative economies is a long way from addressing the violence right now on the streets. I’m not saying it’s the only thing we should do. But we will not build a better world if we can’t even imagine what that might look like, if we have no shared vocabulary around the things that might make it better.

I also want to say to other white people that there is indeed something you can do besides “march” or “donate money this one time.” That something is change your life. This is not onerous, but it is long-term. Change your life in ways that are small enough to be sustainable, that lead to a continually growing understanding of the issues, that allow you to speak to other white people who might listen to you, that let you contribute (financially or otherwise) to antiracism on a regular basis, or that give you the knowledge to vote not just in federal elections but in the local ones that often directly influence policing, prosecution, and sentencing. 

Consider what your art says, not just what demographics are represented (which matters) but also what myths it shares and reinforces. Consider your consumption habits, too. This feels more punitive to suggest, somehow, and I don’t mean it as any kind of wholesale censorship. But in the same way that I now flinch at transphobic jokes in 90s-era sitcoms, I also don’t take a lot of pleasure from watching cop dramas. Whatever truths they have to offer, most of them come packaged with a lie about the role of police in our current society. And at least right now, it is very very important not to be misled by that lie. If you find there are narratives affecting your worldview and you think they might be deceptive, consider a moratorium on that kind of story for a while, and see if it helps.

You maybe can’t do all of that at once, so start with the thing with the best effort/output reward available to you right now. Work on that until it’s incorporated into your lifestyle, then add another one.

And now, some interactive fiction links.

Continue reading “The End of May”