Readerly Experiments in Narrative Form

Sometimes people write to me asking for suggested lists of interactive fiction that fit particular criteria. When that happens, I like to publish the results to my blog rather than just answer by email — both in order to establish a resource for other people in the future, and in case commenters here have additional thoughts that might be useful.

Yesterday I was on a panel that included Richard Beard. He is an author of novels (including the OuLiPian Damascus, which constrained itself to use no words not in a specific issue of the Times) and nonfiction, as well as a contributor to PAPERCUT, an enhanced ebook app. Today he wrote to me for suggested IF — perhaps prompted by my vehement assertion during the panel that there’s lots of interactive fiction that is not simply an enhancement of a pre-existing static text:

I’m particularly interested in any experience that is excitingly different from reading a book, but still recognisable as reading (rather than, say, wordy gaming). This would seem to mean experiments with narrative, with new ways of enfolding form and content and new ways of enlivening conventional storytelling techniques.

“Recognisable as reading rather than wordy gaming” seems to me to exclude parser-based works, since those require typed input: probably not a “reading” activity. Otherwise I would include last year’s Map and Midnight. Swordfight., both of which are certainly experimenting with allowing a plot to be radically reshaped (but within a predictable system) by the reader’s actions. I’d also mention Analogue: A Hate Story for its compelling use of a database narrative structure; Lime Ergot for evoking the reader’s curiosity and telling its story through telescoping descriptions; What Fuwa Bansaku Found for its reweaving of translated Japanese poetry into a new story. Alethicorp‘s storytelling via a faux corporate website probably also includes too many non-reading actions.

The request suggests that the writer might not be looking for something like 80 Days, which — though very much an experiment in narrative and remixable vignettes — bears enough game markers in terms of scores and goals that it might be off-putting to a readerly audience. Anything from StoryNexus is probably off the table, thanks to the card metaphor and overt mechanics. The emphasis on reading would also seem to exclude interactive film, interactive audio, and interactive comics.

Even the Choice of Games catalog — though almost purely textual — might seem too game-like, given that there are success and failure possibilities and some stats-tracking is expected if you want to get the best outcome. (Otherwise, as a first taste of CoG for someone interested in readerly merits, my picks would be The City’s Thirst for general prose quality and imagery, and Slammed! for its investment in its character arcs.)

And given the desire to actually try the works in question, I unfortunately also cannot suggest anything from the Versu project, since those apps are now unavailable.

So now that I’ve eliminated many many honorable mentions:

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