Getting Lost in Interactive Fiction

I read Nick Montfort’s history; I read the instructions; I played both The Dreamhold and The Warbler’s Nest.  Flashback to my Grandfather’s computer: MS DOS commands and floppy disks.  I’ve played interactive fiction before.  Of course, I didn’t know its name; it was just another digital game among Wheel of Fortune, Monopoly, Golf.  I didn’t like it then; and I didn’t like it now.

I started with an open mind: when I got stuck, I made a map; I read the directions again; I tried unusual commands; I asked the game for hints.  I still could not find my way through Dreamhold’s halls or the second egg in The Warbler.  I got frustrated.  I walked in mental and virtual circles.  Too many choices and nothing visual or physical I could hold on to.  Then I recalled that I had felt blind and lost before.  So I quit.

According to Montfort, Interactive Fiction evolved to incorporate graphics and some even became adaptations of popular novels (3).  This sounded like a promising upgrade; after all, who doesn’t like a book with illustrations or a movie adaptation of a book?  “Hard core” literature critics or book fans may argue that looking at pictures or watching a film “dumbs down” the content and “spoon feeds” information to a participant–as it foists the artist’s and director’s interpretation of the work into our minds and leaves little room for personal interpretation.  However, these add-ins and adaptations can also enhance the reading experience for the veteran and scaffold it for the novice.

Thus, I decided to take IF for one last spin.  I found a version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy IF Game that supposedly had graphics.  This certainly would made things easier–or so I thought.  The interface was more appealing: constructed like a hand-held game console, I felt more at home clicking the cardinal direction-buttons to give travel commands and typing into a single bar instead of a large empty screen.  Only 15 moves later, I was still wandering in the virtual dark and could not find my way out of the first room.

I can appreciate IF’s simplicity and its art in the digital genre; however, my brain cannot “get into” this type of game.  I can easily become spiritually lost into a physical book of just words–where my mind decides what to see and can pick up on the subtle hints the author scatters among the leaves.  However, everything is there in plain, physical sight and the story is decided.  I don’t have to do any work; I just have to accept what’s there.  I take comfort in this constancy.  The awareness of my physical and mental presence dissolves as I simply take in the words on the page like breath–instead of the constant mindfulness and thinking I engage in solving the mysteries of Interactive Fiction.  This uncertainty and unknown makes me feel physically lost in a digital realm.