Interactive Digital Narrative: History

Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 1.12.24 PM.pngInteractive Digital Narrative: History, Theory, and Practice is an academic publication from Routledge that retails for £90/$123 on Amazon, which is why even though it is completely relevant to me and my work, it took me a little while to get around to buying it. I would guess that most people who write IF as a hobby won’t buy it either, which is in some ways a shame, because improving communication between the hobbyist and academic communities would be beneficial in both directions. But a book priced for academic libraries is not the most accessible way to accomplish that.

Consequently, this is not a conventional academic book review. Instead, it’s partly meant as a high-level overview of the contents for people in the IF community who cannot afford to read the book, or who might want to know what sort of thing is in it before plunking down more than $100 for their own copy. Much of the rest is an attempt to join up what is in the book with what I know about historical and contemporary interactive fiction and narrative games.

That I spend a lot of time pointing out related IF work is not meant as a criticism or complaint about the book’s scope of coverage — which is in fact quite broad — but as an attempt to help bridge community divides and suggest points of contact between hobbyist IF and academic digital narrative.

Finally, there’s a lot of content, so I’m going to take this in chunks. This post starts with the history section.

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Minkette on Escape Room design; Secret Studio

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This post is a two-parter. Recently I went to Secret Studio, my third experience with room escapes; and Minkette, one of the creators of Oubliette, came to the Oxford/London IF Meetup to talk about the design and creation process.

I’d asked Minkette to come talk about the kind of storytelling she does: often location-based, often using physical props to communicate backstory or the flavor of the world you’re in.

She started us off with an overview of related projects, including Sleep No More, Wiretapper (reviewed here), and 2.8 Hours Later, a zombie chase game that runs through London. She also spoke about her own Train of Thought, an experience designed for the Underground, in which participants were able to listen to pre-recorded tracks that were meant to be the thoughts of one of the other passengers in their coach. (Here’s an audience member’s description of that experience.)

Next, Minkette took us through the process of constructing the Oubliette escape room, with lots of pictures of the various props in construction. It was fascinating to see what went into these: Oubliette featured a vacuum tube setup that (seemed to) let you pneumatically send messages to other characters, but that was actually just operated by someone pulling a magnet on a string.

But the parts of her talk that were newest to me were the ones where she talked about the psychological purpose of their design choices.

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October Link Assortment

Upcoming meetings and events:

Wordplay in Toronto is November 7. There will be talks about text-based games, there will be demos of other games, there will be assorted IF folks. I am speaking. Perhaps I will see you there.

Also November 7, London: ProcJam launches with a series of free talks about procedurally generating things. I obviously cannot be there because I will be in Toronto instead, but I know a number of Oxford/London IF Meetup folks are planning to attend.

November 11 is the regularly scheduled Boston IF meetup. I will be there also.

November 29, Oxford: WIP Sharing meetup. If you have a piece for which you’d like feedback, this is a great place to show up and share what you have.

December 12-13, London: AdventureX is a free two-day conference about adventure games, focusing primarily but not exclusively on graphical adventures. Again, there will be some text game people there (probably including me).

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What to play for Halloween?

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Matthew Ritter’s graveyard-exploration piece Boon Hill is coming to Steam today, so if you’d like to celebrate Halloween by wandering around looking at some epitaphs, here’s your opportunity.

If bureaucracy and money issues spook you more than graves, you may enjoy Harry Giles’ ritual for grant-seekers, a liturgy about the process of applying for art support grants. If this sounds incomprehensible: it’s really not. Like a lot of Harry’s game poetry, it encapsulates its critiques of a system into rules and actions.

Or perhaps you’ll like Aevee Bee and Mia Schwartz’s visual novel We Know the Devil. It’s about three teenagers who struggle to be their best selves, and not to leave one another behind, at a camp where possession is a standard occurrence. Also, something of a reflection on community in its more destructive aspects. (Here’s Isz Janeway’s review.)

More in the mood to make legal contracts with demons? Max Gladstone has a new Choice of Games game out in his Deathless series, called Deathless: The City’s Thirst. He talks about it — and the challenges of writing a second work in this format — over here.

The Ritual (Edward Turner) is a comedy Lovecraftian piece where you need to replay to see all the endings. It’s rather sweet, assuming you’re not too bothered by exploding your acolytes and raining shattered flesh over the land. A quick and entertaining play.

I can also recommend any of the Comp games I’ve reviewed in the last week or so, especially Brain Guzzlers from Beyond! if you want goofy 1950s aliens, Arcane Intern (Unpaid) if you want a little witchcraft, Darkiss for an old-school vampire.

Or, again, you might like Tailypo by Chandler Groover, published this month on Sub-Q: it’s a short horror piece. No branching, but a good example of what dynamic fiction can do. (I have a horrible sneaking feeling that I’m actually starting to quite like horror genre IF, even if I’m not really a fan of it in books or movies. And as long as there aren’t any zombies in sight.)

And there’s Anna Anthropy’s Witches and Wardrobes, run earlier in the month: I’m planning to write about this one a little more later. It’s more personal and less suspenseful than Tailypo but unsurprisingly also excellent.

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IF Comp is still running! If you want to get in on the action and vote on some games, you have a couple more weeks to do so. In addition to all the reviews here and at ifwiki, you might enjoy The Short Game’s podcast coverage of the competition.

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