IF “Works” as Stories, Narratives, Games

Note: this includes mild “spoilers” to the games on the syllabus, so if you haven’t played them yet or don’t want hints, wait to read my post! 🙂


Montfort does a wonderful job of laying out the surprising number of intricacies in interactive fiction. I found both his video and his “Toward a Theory of Interactive Fiction” work to be very helpful, especially for those of us lacking in knowledge of IF. He explains how the world of IF has been mostly neglected academically, which I found surprising. He also noted that most narratologists don’t consider IF works narratives. This got me thinking about the reading we did earlier in the semester–Aarseth, Eskelinen, and Koster–about narratives, stories and games.


Aarseth said that games and stories have distinct artistic potentials. Koster thought that stories could be part of games but that games needn’t necessarily be classified as stories. Eskelinen said that games “are seen as interactive narratives” and “procedural stories.” With that in mind, look at what Montfort says about IF works. They are not necessarily games, even though they “present a world which is pleasant to explore, but which has no quest or intrigue. There may be no final reply that is a ‘winning’ one, perhaps no final reply at all. Because of this it makes more sense in theoretical discussion to refer to a work of IF.”


Montfort also says that scholars of narratives don’t consider IF works narratives because they lack a time sequence. I understand this, because depending on what you input, you may get a different response, one that does not always work sequentially. He also says scholars don’t consider IF works a story because it doesn’t include the “what” of a narrative–what is considered an “ordinary story.”
This got my head spinning. Interactive fiction, a text-based, interactive world, isn’t even considered a story. Not to mention that in some instances, it can’t even be considered a game. So where’s the hope for any other game to be considered a story?


I’ve been thinking about this for a day or so now and still haven’t come up with an answer. IF works are simulations of worlds. They include interactors (us) and characters (simulated people), inputs, outputs–many of the elements of a typical game. Many of them even have an explicitly stated final reply that constitutes winning or losing. So why aren’t we exploring these works as games?


I played through the three games and found them all interesting in their own right. Aisle was neat, because it presented an initial situation that changed depending on the input. Bronze was probably the most complex, offering 55 rooms and an incredibly complex story (yes, I’m going to call it a story). When I arrived at the treasure room, I came upon a locked cage that had objects I was pretty sure I needed in it. So, I typed “open cage.” It told me I didn’t have the key to open it. Then, I typed “find key.” It responded: “The current problem cannot be fully dealt with until you have addressed another issue; further exploration is called for.” I thought this was really interesting–and now, once I finish this post, I’m going to go find the key.


P.S. For Bronze, keep an eye on the black bar at the top of the screen. It provides a really good compass and a note of how many rooms you’ve explored. I can see how maps/writing out directions would be really, really helpful in this. I kept typing directions over and over, not remembering where I’d been before or needed to go!

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3 Responses to IF “Works” as Stories, Narratives, Games

  1. Sonia says:

    where is the key???

  2. Jason Ko says:

    About the traversal of rooms, it is not necessary to remember the specific paths to certain rooms. The rooms have names, and the avatar remembers the routes from room to room. Simply specify “go to” and then the name of the room, and your avatar will walk there, going through the required rooms along the way.

    As to your discussion of the nature of IF as forms of storytelling, I believe you he stumbled upon the emergent nature of narrative in video games, an aspect which seems to make many people say that games are not narrative. A broader application of this idea is that games are not art. Controversial debate aside, I would argue that this is simply a new form of narrative, as is apt for a new art form. Dance surely does not use the same conventions of storytelling as drama or literature or music, and is still considered art. The aspect of interactivity is what lets games create powerful immersive narrative, even if this style of narrative is not that which would be traditionally referred to as “narrative.”

    It is not that this new medium is not a story, but that story does not yet encompass this medium.

  3. Sonia says:

    Eskelin had said, “Game are interactive stories.” I strongly believe this to be true. While it is true that games do not require narrative to be a game (ex: tetris), most games do have a narrative and that narrative strongly enhanced the story. Montfort says that scholars do not consider interactive fiction works to be narratives because they lack time sequence. While this may be true of some games, it is certainly not true of all. I played and enjoyed Bronze the most. It had an incredibly complex and interesting narrative with a time sequence. Each time she had a flashback, it represented that the said event happened in the past, but she would also usually state something like, “The first time we had a meal together,” or the way she talked about and expressed increasing fondness for the Beast indicated how long she had spent at the castle.

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