Transcript of Sept 13 ifMUD Discussion on Game Audience

DavidW asks, “Is the start time for this chat at 3pm? Like, now?”
DavidW says, “Our substitute host, Zach, got called away by work, so I’m pretty sure we need to be self-starting here today.”
streever says, “”Sorry! I accidentally said that in lounge; did a typo”
streever says, “”Allen please don’t eject = forcibly, I promise to wear the proper tie next ti= :(”
DavidW asks, “Today’s topic is: | Games and Audience. What adjustments do authors need to make for different audiences (for instance — but not limited to — IF novices)? What assumptions are authors making about audiences, perhaps without even realizing it?”
DavidW says, “I know a lot of older IF assumes that the player already knows all the conventions of compass movement and ‘inventory’ without bothering to explain any of it, and that some newer IF at least tries to explain it in a help menu.”
DavidW says, “And of course, with AIF games, there’s an expectation that there’s going to be sexual content.”
streever says, “Some games have back stories and context that isn’t ever mentioned in the game; sometimes deliberately to create confusion, & other times because of an assumption that the player is familiar with the historical setting”
maga says, “well, I think that one of the silent expectations of a lot of IF is that game-players are a very similar kind of person to game-authors”
DavidW says (to maga), “oh, that’s true.”
maga says, “and efforts outside this – children’s games, for instance – are relatively rare”
DavidW says, “I would mostly expect my players to know about, say, Star Trek, and not have to explain it.”
maga says, “on the one hand I think this is a good thing, because when there’s a big disconnect between the author and the audience, it’s easy for the authorial approach to become clueless or patronising”
streever says, “my least favorite thing in historical settings is when authors have characters explain basic things in dialogue that no one would ever explain”
DavidW says, “I have the suspicion that the reason I never got very far in Slouching Towards Bedlam was because I was somehow playing it the wrong way, and I’ve never quite clued in what the *right* way was.”
maga says, “and on the other it can be kind of limiting”
DavidW asks (of maga), “mm, this reminds me of the ‘glove compartment quandry’ — can the author assume that the player knows that cars have glove compartments, or does the author have to explicitly mention the glove compartment so the player knows it’s there?”
streever says, “I want the author to note everything that I can interact with, until I realize that those things might be present. It’s hypocritical, but it sums up my feelings when I’m playing IF”
DavidW says, “I’ve seen this as a pants pockets issue too.”
streever says, “I love finding out that things exist by guesses on my part, I get to feel clever”
DavidW says, “Like, I know pants have pockets, but in a game, you better mention the pocket is there.”
pollux says, “Every pertinent detail should be explicitly mentioned, although you may have to look at something more or less closely to be told about it.”
streever says, “but I have also felt really frustrated when they weren’t noted and I got stuck”
maga says, “in general I think you don’t want to hide important things unless you don’t want the player to find them for some reason”
K-Y says, “maybe the takeaway is that the audience is people who like to guess things”
maga says, “but this itself is a kind of game etiquette that newer players are not necessarily conscious of – the ‘scour the text for mentioned things’ approach is something you have to learn”
DavidW says, “yeah.”
DavidW says, “Some games will put the interactable items in boldface text, but that’s not standard.”
K-Y says, “at some level, parser IF reduces to hiding information”
DavidW says, “Perhaps it could become an option one could turn on, but I’ve never ever seen that done.”
K-Y says, “and that has always been the appeal and the problem”
DavidW asks, “Perhaps this is a good time to seque to choice-based games and what their audiences expect or look for?”
DavidW says, “I suppose ‘play as is’ without needing an interpreter, might be one expectation.”
DavidW says, “(and I’ve quite forgotten how I learned about parser-IF interpreters)”
pollux says, “Well, the browser’s javascript engine is definitely an interpreter. It’s just one you don’t need to think about.”
Deesix says, “Whom The Telling Changed let you configure the highlighting of words.”
DavidW says, “I know I’m sometimes annoyed that there are choice games I can’t play offline. Not sure if that’s belongs here or not.”
DavidW says, “And I’m used to having scrollback in games, and many choice games that are paginated don’t support that either.”
streever says, “I don’t know what to expect from choice IF yet.”
DavidW asks, “Replayability, maybe? Maybe not a lot more than parser-IF, but a bit more?”
streever says, “Yea, actually; the more I’ve seen the more I’ve experienced that. It’s a different replayability, at least.”
DavidW says, “yeah.”
streever says, “In a lot of parser based IF, I’m replaying to win.”
streever says, “With choice, I’m replaying to get a different perspective (usually) and less to find an optimum win”
DavidW says, “And in choice-IF, one replays to see all the variations.”
streever says, “Oh, that’s one expectation actually; I don’t expect optimum win situations in choice IF”
boucher says, “It’s always been bragged about, that literary IF is one of those things that, like non-interactive literature, requires your imagination to fully blossom. But that’s the problem. Everyone has a different imagination, and some may even be lacking in imagination in certain ways. Whenever you’re relying on the reader to fill in the blanks, the blanks will be filled in according to their personal experience.”
DavidW says (to boucher), “oh yeah, we should talk about that a bit. Echo Bazaar, for example, requires the player to fill in the narrative — and I just couldn’t.”
streever says, “I had that problem with one IF piece that everyone else loved. Vespers, I think it was called”
streever says, “I enjoyed it, but the ending was not what I expected, and I was really frustrated by it”
DavidW says, “And, well, I didn’t have much chance to play Versu‘s games, but that also had a bit of ‘do I need to fill in the gaps of the story myself?’ in it. In my opinion, anyway.”
Deesix asks, “Is attention supposed?”
DavidW says, “Dreamhold is another game where the author doesn’t tell you everything and, as a player, one might feel a bit cheated at that.”
DavidW says (to Deesix), “Rephrase, please? I don’t know what you mean.”
Deesix says, “Sorry. I mean, attention to detail and focus on the task (in this days of multitasking and so…)”
streever says, “I think it is more so than in graphical games”
boucher says, “Yeah, probably. I wonder what the alternative to a basic assumption like that would be. Like, maybe offer a verbosity level between brief and verbose that means ‘remind me occasionally'”
Deesix asks, “Or, how to adapt your work to people casual players that give a try for 15 seconds?”
DavidW says, “Well, in a parser-based adventure, you certainly have to read the text to be able to figure out what to do. That’s, uh, not always necessary in a choice-based adventure where you can pay less attention and just click away until ‘something good’ shows up.”
streever says, “I have played a few parser games that tried to replicate the ‘hud’ experience”
DavidW says, “Alex tells me HUD means Head Up Display, but that leaves me still clueless.”
streever says, “Oh sorry, I mean the heads up displays in a lot of graphical games that point you towards goals”
streever says, “Little read-outs that keep you moving toward a specific goal”
DavidW asks, “Like a to-do list?”
streever says, “Yea, and distance/heading to your goal”
streever says, “I’ve seen that feature replicated in a few parser games (the new Bibliophile) for instance”
DavidW says, “Believe it or not, I’ve played very very few modern graphical games.”
streever says, “it lets you think less about the environment and mapping, because you just have to keep following the ‘instructions'”
streever says, “it’s effective if you aren’t paying attention, but I feel like it leads me to not pay attention in the first place”
DavidW says, “mm. interesting.”
DavidW says, “I rather like it when games offer goals lists.”
streever says, “I like them when they are unobtrusive or feel thematically signfiicant”
DavidW says, “But usually, such lists are small and don’t provide any instruction on how to accomplish the goals, so I think one still must pay attention somewhat.”
Roger says, “Hmmm how do we feel about in-game mapping vs out-of-game mapping”
streever says, “As an expectation, I don’t ever expect in-game mapping anymore, but I certainly did when I first came to IF”
DavidW says, “The recent Introcomp winner, The Cuckold’s Egg, has a convenient notebook with player goals in it. It feels natural.”
Emily says, “I generally prefer not to have to take notes while I play because I’m often playing sitting with my laptop in a situation where notetaking is annoying. games that require me to make a map are a problem that way”
Emily says, “(that said, I have a decent memory for IF maps, so it’s usually only large-ish games that are trouble)”
Emily says, “but I welcome games that provide mapping directly, especially if they can make it look non-hideous”
DavidW says (to streever), “oh. I think IF doesn’t normally do mapping because historically it’s been difficult; our tools don’t make it easy at all to provide it to players.”
DavidW says, “I think the ADRIFT system is the only IF system that usually offers a map of some sort.”
streever says, “Yea, it was a silly expectation, to be honest. Now I’m fairly used to not having it & memorizing the directions. I usually am not playing with a notebook either, but I may keep notes in a text file or something as I go”
Emily says, “I don’t know that it’s silly — I think it does make the game easier for people who are not part of the hardcore audience”
DavidW says (to streever), “It’s not silly to want in-game mapping.”
Emily says, “certainly people told me that the map made Counterfeit Monkey more appealing to people who are only borderline IF players”
streever says, “Well, I mean, I feel silly about expecting it now, having played so much more IF and seeing how rare it is.”
streever says, “I loved the map in Counterfeit Monkey, though, that was one of the earliest IF works I really got into”
Roger says, “There’s been quite a shift about the availability of a community for hints and walkthroughs, but maybe that’s so old that itself is obsolete”
DavidW says, “The CM map was quite lovely.”
streever says, “it set the bar pretty high for the next few games I played”
Emily says, “one thing I’ve noticed about the Choice of Games games is that they seem to straddle the line between game and personality quiz, which in one sense makes them very adjustable for the audience, but only within the parameters that the author has thought of”
DavidW asks, “The make-choice-then-explain-why-you-made-that-choice bit they seem to do?”
Emily says, “well, somewhat”
Emily says, “but also that it feels like for at least some of the audience, filling out what your character is like is actually *part of the fun* rather than just a preliminary”
DavidW says, “huh”
DavidW says, “I never thought of that.”
DavidW says, “There are webcomics where the cast pages have copious details about the characters’ hair colour and age and so on that, I guess, have to be considered part of that webcomic’s experience.”
streever says, “I haven’t played CoG, but I’ve definitely enjoyed creating/customizing characters as much as the game I played with them”
streever says, “it’s not IF, but I think I preferred that aspect of Skyrim to anything else.”
Emily says, “with some character creation systems there’s definitely a self-expression possibility going on”
Emily says, “(that was extremely badly phrased, but what I mean is: there’s some creative enjoyment to be gotten out of making, say, a Sim that looks like your roommate and has the same faults)”
streever says, “definitely”
DavidW says, “I can easily understand that sort of PC building when there’s a visible avatar representing the character in the game, something to actually look at. It makes much less sense to me when it’s entirely in text.”
Roger says, “In some ways it’s kind of surprising that it isn’t a standard thing to offer naming/sexing of characters in IF as a matter of course”
streever says, “I find the experience of pc building to sometimes be a primary component of IF, choice-based and parser-based”
DavidW says (to Roger), “AFGNCAAP became the standard instead. :)”
maga says (to Roger), “I wouldn’t say so; it’s the exception rather than the rule in most game genres”
Emily asks, “didn’t the Eamon games let you have a character that carried over from one adventure to the next, that you could name yourself?”
streever says, “my in-game decisions, my actions, all feel like they are me building up the personality”
DavidW says (to Emily), “So I’ve heard, yes.”
Roger says, “Well, if I had to guess, I’d guess it’s both the generic PC thing, and also the default legacy coming out of dead-tree CYOA”
Emily says, “also, at this point if I let the player determine things about the protagonist, I think I’d feel the need to allow for options other than M/F”
DavidW says, “mmhm”
streever says, “I think too that letting the player dictate who the character is in IF poses challenges to one of the standard conventions of IF”
streever says, “in most IF, you’re sorting out who you are as you play and learning things about the character”
Roger says, “I guess I’m thinking of, hrm, some of those Final Fantasy games I think, which are all ‘Enter thy name'”
Emily says, “certainly a number of my games would not make any sense if the player were allowed to change the protagonist”
K-Y says (to Roger), “that is the one genre where it is the most useless”
DavidW says, “I remember one game, The Recruit, I think it was, where there’s a prologue sequence of joining the space force, and you building your character during that.”
K-Y says, “the result is an entire game filled with dialogue that is written to carefully avoid saying your name”
maga says, “I think that in games generally, allowing major character-definition choice limits what you can do narratively with the character to a massive degree”
K-Y says, “‘hey, it’s you, that guy'”
Emily says, “possibly contentious idea: games that are primarily power fantasies should allow for adjustable protagonists in order to acknowledge the possibility of anyone being a hero. games that are primarily about a character experience should be as particular to one characterization as possible.”
maga says, “that seems reasonable”
Deesix says, “I think that another possible assumption (in parser-based IF) is that players has good vocabulary and typing skills. Think, for example, of young people on screenreaders that barely know the spelling of some words. Some systems includes spell-checking/auto-correction that can help.”
maga says, “(so part of my issue is that I am not all that interested in making power fantasies)”
DavidW says, “(aside: I always loved how they sidestepped the issue of PC gender in Hollywood Hijinx: ‘Of all our nephews and nieces, you were our favorite.’)”
Emily says (to maga), “no, me either”
Emily says, “I guess the flip side of trying to adjust your game to the audience is trying to make sure that the audience self-selects properly, by communicating clearly what kind of experience it’s going to be”
DavidW says (to Deesix), “That’s a reasonable point. Someone who doesn’t know what nouns and verbs are will be at a disadvantage with parser-IF.”
maga says (to Emily), “so an awful lot of my thinking about author-audience relations is phrased in terms of establishing mutual respect through a series of trust-offerings”
maga says, “and giving the player a good idea of the kind of experience you’re offering seems like an important part of that”
Emily says, “that does seem to make it important to get the options right, if you’re allowing customize-protagonist-to-be-you as an opening”
Roger says, “Relatedly, as problematic as score can be, I do like it as an indicator of how far along I am within the narrative”
K-Y says, “hmm”
DavidW says (to Roger), “Same”
Roger says, “It probably says more about me personally than I’m comfortable with discussing to say that choosing eye colour and choosing gender are both at about the same level of import to me”
maga says (to Emily), “well, it’s a kind of steering process, rather than a ‘work out the full range of what players want and then give it to them’, but yes”
K-Y says, “it seems to be that the commercial game industry runs on a model where somebody who wants to play a game sufficiently will adjust their expectations to be compatible with the game”
Roger says, “Well, that’s market capitalism all over, I think”
K-Y says, “IF on the other hand has never been overtly about fully disclosing why you want to play the game”
Roger says, “Cover Art is a big part of setting expectations and we all owe Emily a debt for bringing it back into vogue”
K-Y says, “because all you have are the story twists and ending setpieces and it makes no sense to give that away”
DavidW says (to Roger), “agreed”
DavidW says, “I’m just very glad IF exists. I would be very much sad if it did not.”
Roger asks, “Anyone have any bright ideas for the applied homework segment on this theory topic?”
streever says, “Oh; maybe we’re past this already, but I did want to say I played Wildflowers by Carolyn VanEseltine, as kind of a warm-up”
streever says, “It’s a ‘diary’ game, written initially with a plan to be kept private & never shared with the public. Besides the unintentional attempts at meeting player expectations, largely it seems to ignore them.”
Roger says, “Hunh”
DavidW says, “I haven’t played it yet.”
Roger says, “good counterweight for all those games planned to be released, but then which never are”
streever says, “I really enjoyed it, I’d recommend it. I don’t want to spoil it, so I won’t say more, but I think it incorporates a lot of what we talked about today.”
Ghogg says, “applied homework could be simply ‘write something as newbie friendly as possible'”

2 thoughts on “Transcript of Sept 13 ifMUD Discussion on Game Audience”

  1. One could of course bundle a dozen or so of games, and choose the appropriate one based on the self-selected character of the player. That way one could give a character experience to an adjustable protagonist.

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