The Fourth Era: interactive fiction or video game?

The next era of interactive fiction, according to Nick Monfort, would give the genre more of a narrative quality and more options in usability. This conclusion to “Interactive Fiction’s Fourth Era” sparked a few questions for me. Namely, how would these new affordances change the genre of Interactive fiction for the better (or worse).

I admit that I don’t have much experience with text based interactive fiction. In fact, I have none besides what was done in class. From my limited knowledge, I imagine the framework of an IF work like a system of tree roots, growing in all different directions and intertwining at points. Choose a root and roll with it. Monfort’s proposed fourth era, however, looks a little different.

I think it would operate a lot like a video game. Maybe too much. The affordances of having┬ámany choices within a developed world, some leading to success and some to death remind me of the mission orientated games – especially when combined with the flashback ability that he suggests. Would this make interactive fiction just a video game that you control with text instead of a controller and joystick? To some extent, yes.

Another part of the fun or frustration is figuring out what the code wants you to say. It is limiting but can be comical if the programmers have a sense of humor. This puts a lot of control in the hands of the creator – I would argue more than that of a mission-oriented video game. Monfort suggests using a narrator in that “uses natural language generation techniques, rather than the fixed orthographic strings that are used in current systems.” From my understanding, this means less controlled responses, more response options; improv I stead of scripted entertainment.

Text-based interactive fiction in this Fourth Era seems more and more to me like a video game without the pictures. On one hand, these changes make interactive fiction┬ámore innovative and interesting for the common users. On the other, this change makes the medium lose some of what defines it: the script, the limited options, the dead ends, the constantly forward trajectory. On whether or not this is a bad thing: I’ll leave it up to the experts.