Is there a market for Interactive Fiction?

Towards the end of the documentary Get Lamp the question of whether there is a market for IF (Interactive Fiction) was brought up which after having finished the documentary and played three different IF games, I think it is an important question to explore further. In an age where society is consumed with graphics, 3D and overall technological advancements, I find it hard to believe that there could be a market for Interactive Fiction which would be a considerable downgrade from the games that  Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Wii now offer. I have never been a fan of either video or computer games so I am completely clueless when it comes to games, but from watching my brother play his games in modern game consoles I can see that in comparison to IF games these new games are a lot more developed, have more elaborate graphics that are intriguing to the human eye, and the puzzles and riddles that are embedded within these games are a lot more complex.

Along with the question of whether there is a market for Interactive Fiction or not, I also think that it is important to consider if text is in fact dead or lost. In Get Lamp, famous game researcher Richard Bartle states that “text is lost because people just expect computer games to have graphics. And if you want them to play a game that does not have graphics then you have to give them a very good reason not to.” While I do not believe that text is lost, I do think that it is disappearing especially within the new world of the video and computer games. Whereas in Interactive Fiction text commands the game, in these modern games it is the graphics and the voice of the characters that take command of the game. Do I think that Interactive Fiction is a good reason for people not play games with graphics  –  my answer would have to be no because in this modern age as Bartle earlier states “text will always be inferior to graphics.”

Later on in the documentary Rob Griffiths’ mentions that he believes that Interactive Fiction could sell, but I disagree with this statement considering that Interactive Fiction has already attempted to enter the market of the modern video and computer games and miserably failed at least it did when former Infocom implementer, Mike Berlyn tried to invest in it. Also not to mention the fact that people are more interested in 3D and modern graphics more so than they are in text.

Having played three Interactive Fictions games, I am more interested in modern games because I find them to be less frustrating. While I was playing Violet and Varicella, a lot of the times I would get the same types of messages telling me that the game did not recognize the verb that I used or that it did not see what I was talking about. It took for me to write several of the same commands for the game to continue but even then in Violet, I was never able to continue writing or to fully ignore Julia. While in Varicella, I was unable to find a cup of water or any other type of drink for my supposed dehydrated body. I did, however, find Bronze to be interesting and could see why anyone would become engulfed in it. The reason why I primarily liked this game is because I knew that after I found the 55 rooms that I would find the beast. In other words, I liked that I could I foresee the end to the game much like in modern games. I did not like the ambiguity of the other two games.

I think that modern games will always be and are more successful than Interactive Fiction because today society does not appreciate the element of surprise. Rather than imagining a character such as a beast, we prefer to be able to see it and to some extend have our characters in the game have some sort of physical interaction with the beast. We are afraid of involving ourselves with the unknown. It is also customary for society today to link an image to almost everything especially now where our ability to see images is a lot more advanced, and the images themselves are more intricate and detailed.  In general as Bartle states “So when you’re dealing with text it’s really for people who’ve got strong imaginations. The tragedy is that people have strong imaginations; it’s just that they never get to play the text because they went for the graphics first.” Moreover, as I had mentioned above, society is also concerned with knowing that there is an obvious end to something which I feel that certain IF games such as Violet cannot provide gamers a clear ending.

3 thoughts on “Is there a market for Interactive Fiction?”

  1. I agree that it may be impossible for IF to ever make it in the mainstream. But I think one of the problems is that we are marketing them against graphic, visual video games, which I don’t think is fair. Besides the fact that that the video game industry is competitive enough as it is, I think many of the speakers in Get Lamp seemed to insist over and over again that IF isn’t anything like video games. In fact, it’s way beyond video games. One of my favorite quotes from the documentary was something along the lines of “It’s more powerful than any computer. It’s your brain.” IF, like books, offer us something video games can never provide–a chance to fully immerse ourselves into the depths of our imaginations.

    What if we marketed IF as an alternative to…reading novels? What if more and more English professors started including pieces of IF on their syllabi? What if AP English teachers included IF in their curriculum? What if more and more aspiring novelists and fiction writers (they will never die) turned to IF instead of traditional text forms? I think it’s worth considering, since so many people argue that fiction reading needs a revival anyway. If you walk in to any B&N, you’ll see there’s a market for just about any kind of book. Between fiction and nonfiction, there seems to be a limitless variety of genres and possibilities. I can see B&N setting up a small Interactive Fiction shelf, which would look a lot like the video game shelves in Game Stop or Best Buy, and I can see it doing moderately well, just among people who are curious, and definitely if you put it close to the young adult & children’s book section, it’d probably sell phenomenally.

    Another thing from Get Lamp that I thought was really cool was the discussion of IF and the blind community. There’s a market right there.

    1. That’s a great point Lauren, and I think that more aspiring writers will jump, if they haven’t already, to video games to instill better storylines and more captivating text that will ensare the gamer into reading and playing on. Soon more games like Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell will emerge, where the author of the games’ storyline will appear before the title.

  2. Good point on IF and the blind community! I think that IF could potentially be very successful in that community. However, if Interactive Fiction were to be marketed separately from modern video and computer games, I still cannot see it being successful. I could see IF having a cult following at the most and it being somewhat successful in a place like Barnes and Nobles where video and computer games don’t have much a presence. But since IF can’t always only be sold in book stores it would eventually have to sell in mega stores such as Best Buy and Game Stop – I have a hard time seeing people, however, choose IF when just to the other side of the store there are more elaborate, graphic games.

    I know that the documentary said that IF was nothing like video games but how would this be explained to the general public? And is there enough interest in IF to market it on its own? I think that retailers would be fast to market IF with video and computer games considering that even we ourselves are calling Violet, Bronze, and Varicella – games. Where is the line drawn between IF not being a game and it being a game? I’m not even sure that retailers would want to sell IF when when there is the possibility that they could lose thousands of dollars like Mike Berlyn did, or when they have such companies as Infocom as an example of the failure that IF could bring. There is also the fact that people don’t even know about IF. I mean how many of us really knew that there was an annual IF competition?

    I do think, however, that it would be cool if high school teachers and college professors were to include IF in their lesson plans. I think that there is a lot that IF can offer but before its marketed outside more people need to learn about it, and it needs to make a comeback.

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