I started playing an IF game called Lost Pig (http://www.grunk.org/lostpig/) because I wanted to write about it for my paper. This lead to an interesting e-mail exchange with the game’s creator, so I thought I’d share. My questions are in italics, and his answers follow. I especially liked how he talked about complicity, which seems relevant based on our discussion of The Barron.
1) I’m interested in the interactive fiction genre. Is interactive
fiction more of a game or more of a story? What makes the genre so
compelling, and why did you choose it as a vehicle for telling your
story? What did the affordances of the genre allow you to do that a
traditional short story wouldn’t? Do you think that your game could
be successful in a different genre, such as a story or a video game?
I think that whether IF is more of a game or more of a story is entirely up to each individual author. Lost Pig is definitely more of a game, but (for instance) Emily Short’s Galatea is more of a story (or rather, several stories, since the ending depends entirely on how the player chooses to interact). One of the cool things about the medium is how it can be used in multiple ways to achieve different effects.
In my opinion, the main thing that games-as-storytelling or games-as-art provide (which IF is especially good at, but which other kinds of games can do too) is complicity. Unlike a novel or a movie, a game requires the player to perform the actions that drive the story forward, and if it’s done well, the player feels responsible for the successes and failures that result. This works with humor as well: if the *player* decides to light Grunk’s pants on fire or to swallow a whistle whole, the result can be more amusing than if they were just reading a static story in which those things happened. And that effect is magnified with IF’s open-ended parser because of the illusion of choice that it provides. The player thinks it’s their idea to burn their pants, even though technically I had to think of it first.
I’m sure that one could create an entertaining videogame or prose story about Grunk. But because of those things, it wouldn’t be Lost Pig.
2) I noticed that you won the 2007 IFComp for Lost Pig. It’s my
understanding that this competition is judged by a bunch of IF
junkies. What made your game so interesting to this experienced group?
Do you think that IF could be a good teaching or marketing tool, or
is it strictly for fun?
I think the thoroughness of implementation was a big factor in Lost Pig’s success. It’s very common, especially with games written by novices, to find that the author hasn’t really taken into account many of the things the player might want to try. It can be disappointing to repeatedly see a game refer to objects or situations that suggest a particular course of action, only to receive a generic refusal because the author hasn’t anticipated them. The two main ways to deal with this are to try to give interesting and appropriate responses to things the player is likely to try, and to try to steer the player toward actions that are likely to provoke interesting and appropriate responses. Lost Pig attempted both, and the reviews suggest that it was relatively successful.
I don’t know about IF being a marketing tool, but I have heard about people using it with some success as a teaching tool. In particular, I’ve read about people using it for teaching language skills: interacting with an IF game requires the player to understand what they’re reading well enough to formulate appropriate responses, or else the game can’t continue. It’s almost like every turn is a miniature pop quiz: “OK, based on what you just read, what should happen *next*?”