IF Paper

I spent a lot of time playing the Interactive Fiction games and I would like to write about them for my final paper. I am a huge fan of RPGs and games in general, and Interactive Fiction seemed very similar to these types of games. Since we have not yet had the chance to talk about Braid, I don’t know if it falls under the same kind of category as Violet or the other Interactive Fiction games we have played, but if it does, I would also like to write about it. I’d like to explore narrative as it appears in games and/or interactive format. I am especially interested in how narratives are uncovered and presented to readers using this type of platform.

In Another Castle

While playing Braid, I was struck first by the similarities between it and Legend of Zelda. In both games, your hero must rescue a princess by completing puzzles that can be extremely complex. You have to use keys to unlock doors and there are monsters there to get in your way. Braid, however, introduces a whole new complexity in the form of time manipulation. This aspect of the game makes it incredibly challenging. It was challenging to me, in any case. Like a lot of the interactive fiction we played before, such as Bronze, there are obstacles you have to pass in order to reveal more of the story lines. In Braid, it appears that you have to collect puzzle pieces, put the pieces together, and then a picture will be revealed to you and will show some sort of story element. Unfortunately, I myself have not been able to put an entire picture together yet, however, in some of the picture frames, I see an image of a man (sometimes more than one) and  a woman drinking wine in a field. These pictures appear to be related to the narrative told in the little green books before each adventure behind the doors.

What also strikes me is the fact that there are several narrative outside of the game narrative (the game narrative being the one in which you have to rescue a princess who always seems to be in another castle). Tim, the character in the game, also seems to correspond to Tim in his primary world. If we think of the game (the one we play in as Tim) as a secondary world, then the primary world would be TIm’s world in which his girlfriend and family exist. In this world, it seems he is struggling with issues such as stressful parents and an increasingly fraught relationship, but in the game he escapes into a world where only a princess exists. I found it difficult to separate these two worlds, however, because we are told that he tells his girlfriend that he must go and rescue the princess, and this obviously upsets her. Is Tim going off to play a game existing in a secondary world or is he going on a real adventure in his primary world? Did the princess exist in his world? Is Tim’s girlfriend just mad at him for playing a game because the princess do not really exist? I think that, like time in this game, it’s more than a little fuzzy.

I have played for a few hours, and I’ve only gotten through six worlds (I’m really trying to get all of the pieces before moving on), so there could be a lot more that I am missing out on that better players have already seen.

The Beast I Couldn’t Find

The genre of Interactive Fiction is something I have never experience before, and after spending a few days trying it out, I have to say that I think it’s frustratingly fun. The first game I played was Violet and it is the only game I have actually “beaten.” I think.

This concept of interacting with a text that has been coded in a way to only respond to certain commands was something I really didn’t understand when I first opened the page to play the game. A blinking cursor and empty white space becomes the canvas for a formulaic, yet inherently unique experience. The fact that you have to enter commands spontaneously ensures that no two people will have the exact same experience. For example, when I was playing Violet, one of my first commands that actually earned a response was “listen.” The more I made my character listen, the more the story progressed, yet when I wanted to enter the hall, Violet would always redirect me back to writing the dissertation. Direction becomes the most pivotal aspect of these games, whether you are literally walking in a specific direction (North, East, South, West, etc) or if you want to move in a narrative direction. I think when we are referring to a narrative direction in interactive fiction, we also have to consider what story we are trying to flesh out, shape, or even discover. Does our character complete his dissertation in the narrative or does he stray away from it to look out the window or listen to the conversation across the hall? The choice in direction, no matter how much Violet protests, is ultimately ours. Yes, there are limitations on what we might do and where we might go, but we decide what we want to do with the agency that is given to us. I think this is just like those choose your own adventure books, except now we get to write our own paths.

This idea of writing a path is probably more applicable to the Bronze game. The whole premise of this game is to find the Beast, but I was never able to. I enjoyed this game the most because I felt it was not as limited as Violet and it took a lot more focus to navigate the castle than the one room you are confined to in Violet. I started out trying to enter commands but only when I used cardinal directions was I actually able to get to the Entrance Hall. From there, and for about 20 minutes I ran into a lot of dead ends in other rooms and dark places with weird sounds I could not, for the life of me, “examine.” What was really interesting was the point in which I was getting past dialogue between my character and the Beast of the castle. By going in and out of the same room over and over, an entire thread of the narrative was displayed. This narrative was clearly written into the code, but how I accessed it was probably not the way you were supposed to encounter it; then again, if this is a “choose your own adventure story” that choice was perfectly fine. There are also mini puzzles; one is literrally a puzzle with a missing piece which is locked in another cage which you need a key but the key is nowhere to be found. I was also able to “acquire” a object in the story. I picked up the shackle which later made noise in the dark place with the leak. Maybe I’ll go back and try to find the key and the Beast again, but this time I know to draw a map! If you’re literally going to be exploring a text, it only makes sense to map it out, right?

Death by Writing

In Bill’s final scene, there are three different actions that I found to be evocative: the first action is Bill’s willing approach to the three vets drinking wine and his admission of being a writer, the second is his decision to go to a club with the vets, and the third is his voyage to Junieh.

Bill has been running from his book as well as his loved ones for all of this time, and he has done everything in his power to be forgotten. The extreme measures Bill takes to get away from all that he once held as familiar suggests that he’d rather be alone then be recognized as a writer, yet, when Bill approaches the vets and introduces himself as a writer. Though  he refuses to say just what kind of writer he is, he has behaved in a manner that is inconsistent with his previous paranoia. I wanted, at first, to say that it was just the alcohol and pain that drove him to make that admission and engage the three vets, and that could be the case, but what threw me off was that little passage about Bill’s love of doctors.

He had a big chesty laugh that Bill liked. Bill’s first wife despised him for liking doctors because she thought he was contriving to outlive her (207).

By mentioning that Bill had a special fondness for doctors, I thought his approach was one of necessity, not only for his health, but for his spirit. Despite the fact that he is running away from people he loves, and is trying to be forgotten, he still seeks out companionship of other people. It’s not that he doesn’t want to be with other people, it’s just that he wants to be stripped of his former identity. He doesn’t want to be “that kind of writer” (205). Being around people who do not know who he truly is seems to alleviate some of the stress he feels as a famous author. Scott, Karen, Brita, and even Charlie put pressure on Bill that he just cannot handle. He sees his perpetually unfinished work as a failure and that failure is reflected by those he sees around him because they are the ones who know him the best and know what his work should be. They are constant reminders of what he has created and what he is trying to escape. The vets are a neutral party, a new beginning. I think this is why Bill decides to go into a crowded place where there are tons of unfamiliar faces that he hopes to meld into. It’s a way to distance himself from what he once was: an isolated celebrity.

After finding out his diagnosis, Bill knows that he has two choices: to live or to die. He could go to a doctor or he can continue on in pain and die. Bill chooses to suffer and die, but I am not so sure I understand why he makes this decision. One possible explanation could be that he really wants to take this voyage to Beirut and that he is so driven by this idea that he suppresses his own wellbeing. Going to a doctor could expose his true identity or make his trip impossible. Another possibility is that he thinks he can survive the trip.

Inevitably, Bill chooses to go on his voyage and die. It is significant that any form of identification is literally stripped from his body (217). He dies anonymously and he dies because of his work.

It was writing that caused his life to disappear (215).

Writing, it seems, is this act of terrorism for Bill. It literally terrorizes him, makes him paranoid, and drives him to his death. I think that is most explicitly shown in his final scene.

Celebrity Dickinson

After reading John Cawelti’s article The Writer as Celebrity, I started to think about how I as a reader respond to the “celebrity” author. I think the distinction between fame and celebrity, as Cawelti notes, is very important.

“Celebrity is brief and intense; fame tends to be slower in growing and is relatively permanent” (Cawelti 164).

Famous authors are those we can almost always recognize even though we may not have read any of their work; Cawelti notes famous authors such as Wilde, Poe, and J.D. Salinger. I think also of authors such as Shakespeare, Dante, and Homer. All of these authors carry a “brand name” but it is important to note that their fame is something that they have earned, whether they like it or not or sought it intentionally.

If we look at authors like Poe and Dickinson, we can see that their celebrity was largely a posthumous creation. It is not the author who decides that they are a celebrity (at first) but rather the reader. It is unlikely that these authors would have anticipated their fame, so I am inclined to believe that “fame” and “celebrity” are created not by the author but by the reader.

If the readers or the consumers of literature are the chief deciders of celebrity, then can we really blame a famous author for her popularity resulting from obnoxious books about sparkly vampires? While I can’t stand those books, I’m going to say no. While some authors embrace their celebrity and milk it for all it is worth, we have to remember that these authors would be no where without their readers. I think this is truly a reflection of how powerful the readers can be in shaping the popular literature that we see in the bookstores. The influence of the reader on the celebrity author can either be a motivational factor in the production of their work, or it can be completely ignored as is the case with J.D. Salinger.

Writing is Neutral?

“Writing is that neutral, composite, oblique space where our subject slips away, the negative where all identity is lost, starting with the very identity of the body writing,” (Barthes 141).

Wrong. Writing is that biased, composite, defined space, where our subject presents itself, the positive where all identity is found, starting with the very identity of the body writing. Right? What I am writing at this moment, as an author of a blog, is not neutral nor can it ever be viewed as neutral. Barthes may like to believe that The Author is dead and gone and in its place we have this idealistic neutrality where every text can be freed from the limits that Authors place upon it, but that is simply not the case. Authors cannot be removed from their work, even if they exist incorporeally or as anonymous or unnamed attachments. The fact of the matter is that words do not simply appear out of thin air, even if they float around like the colorful dots of We Feel Fine. Every one of those dots represents and author. Every word that is written has an origin and an agenda.

The Author, when believed in, is always conceived of as the past of his own book: book and author stand automatically on a single line divided into a before and an after. The Author is thought to nourish the book, which is to say that he exists before it, thinks, suffers, lives for it, is in the same relation of antecedence to his work as a father to his child (Barthes 145).

If you believe in the existence of The Author, and I certainly do, then you may believe that the author is always present in the text and has some sway over it or some influence in its construction. Authors would not exist without text and text cannot exist without some kind of author. Someone has to write to codes, the epics, the novels, and the laundry lists. Someone has to take the pictures and upload them. These are not random acts, even if these authors want to create something random. Creation, or writing, is bound by its execution: we make decisions before we type something out, we calculate how we are going to randomly arrange those random lines of English Syllabi, and so on. The product may end up being something unexpected, but that does not automatically remove the author from the creation of the work.

A Conventional Love Story

Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler is, in my opinion, a very conventional love story complicated only by narration. This idea may at first seem absurd or even contradictory if one considers this novel to be a convoluted mesh of unrelated story after story paired with fragmented bits of a narrator’s prolific stream of quandaries and consciousness. I certainly viewed it as such for quite a few chapters, and I throughly despise this novel for what I would call its “tedious narration.” But whether or not I like or dislike this novel is irrelevant. What matters, I would think, is what we as readers can or can’t collectively draw from this novel. Did we all discern the same thing about “You” and “I” and Ludmilla? Why not? What disagreements might arise when one student decides there is one narrator and another decides there are multiple? How do we decide authority in this novel? Who gets to make that decision? Does it even matter that any of us understand or purport to understand what is “going on” in this novel? Is this simply a novel meant to be “different” so the author can feel like a special little snowflake? Maybe. Maybe not. I suspect those of you reading this can deliver a gradation of answers.

I found the following quotation to be resonant of my experience with this novel:

“To read properly you must take in both the murmuring effect and the effect of the hidden intention, which you (and I, too) are as yet in no position to perceive. In reading, therefore, you must remain both oblivious and highly alert” (Calvino, 18).”

I tried to make sense of what I was reading from the start, tried to pinpoint key characters and ground myself in something more “solid,” but that ended up being a futile effort until I encountered the character Ludmilla. The entire story felt like a murmuring of hidden messages that I could hardly keep track of, let alone attempt to deduce some greater meaning. Up to that point, I assumed the narrator’s “You” and “Reader” referred to me, that the narrator was trying to include me as a character in the story. But I am not a “young gentleman” interested in a girl named Ludmilla. It was at that point (see pages 29 and 45) that the “You” and “Reader” became gendered and I was comfortably able to disassociate myself with those titles. “You” became just another character in this novel, no different than Ludmilla. I might as well have given “You” a name. Perhaps William or Thaddeus or some other ridiculous trapping to distance him from me. The same can be said of the narrator, “I.” “I” could be Bob the narrator or Fred the narrator or something like that. The point I am trying to make is simply that these are still just characters in a novel. “You” is just a figure attracted to Ludmilla and trying to make sense of a series of unrelated books. The core of this novel (as far as a I have read, which is only to Chapter 6) seems to be a love story between a man and a woman. I hardly find that aspect of it to be unconventional. Perhaps that is just a simplification, but it is certainly how I have made sense of the novel so far.