Text Games in a New Era of Stories
Name : Chandra Sekhara Reddy
From : India , Andhra Pradesh , Hyderabad
Posted Date : 2014-07-30 03:58:31
Interactive fiction, which once went by the name “text adventure,” is having a moment.
Zork, one of the earliest and best-known text adventures — released for personal computers in 1980 — was given a retrospective at this year’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. A Dark Room, with sparse prose inspired by Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” hit the top of the iPhone game charts in April. Device 6, a thrilling blend of short story and puzzle that features music, sound effects and text that can be followed only by rotating your phone or tablet, received an Apple Design Award last month. Even Twitter, in some ways the defining interactive-text game of our age (what are follower counts if not a scoreboard?), has joined the fun with the account @YouAreCarrying, which generates a Zork-like list of items to any user who types the word “Inventory” at it.
The resurgence of the text game is not sudden. In 2012, Christine Love’s Analogue: A Hate Story smartly turned the epistolary novel into an interstellar interactive mystery to tell an allegory about Korean history. And online hypertext stories written with a tool called Twine have become increasingly popular. At the Independent Games Festival last year, the designer Richard Hofmeier, after winning the festival’s grand prize for his game Cart Life, removed it from his booth and replaced it with the Twine story Howling Dogs, by the artist Porpentine.
A good Twine story like Howling Dogs can’t be translated properly into print. A Twine story might include branching narrative paths like a 1980s Choose Your Own Adventure book, yes, but it also might be merely nonlinear, with the order of the text determined by the highlighted words the reader clicks. Cara Ellison’s Sacrilege, for one, is a raw exploration of female sexuality that also includes some astute observations about male desire.
A more novel, even radical, form of digital storytelling with text arrived last month on the iPad in the form of Blood & Laurels by Emily Short, an author of interactive fiction. Like Device 6, which, when I read it, seemed to herald a new creative template that could be applied to nonfiction as well as fiction, Blood & Laurels is interesting in its own right but even more so for the promise of what might come after it.
Blood & Laurels was written with a software engine called Versu, designed by Ms. Short and Richard Evans, who worked on the artificial intelligence aspects of notable games like Black & White and The Sims 3.
At almost any time in Blood & Laurels, the reader — or is it player? — can press the “Act Now” button to direct the main character to do something or press “More” to keep reading. (At certain moments, the player is forced to act.)
The story is a pulpy one of Roman palace intrigue, with the reader playing as a poet named Marcus whose patron, the general Artus, has decided to challenge the emperor. In one early scene, I could choose among a broad menu of options: asking a character if she was all right, pretending that nothing had happened, eating silently and more. You can try to get Marcus to seduce almost any character, male or female, and he often succeeds.
“Exposition is always a problem in writing, but especially in interactive writing,” Ms. Short said via Skype. “Because people want to be doing stuff.”
Blood & Laurels made me feel more like an improviser than a reader, someone who was asked to perform a role in a troupe, responding to the unpredictable decisions of my fellow actors, who in turn had to adjust to my decisions. Remarkably, when I replayed the game, I didn’t feel that Marcus had become a different character when he decided to, say, betray Artus rather than execute his commands. Instead, it seemed that I was just learning how he might behave differently under the vagaries of circumstance.
Exploring those possibilities is one reason Ms. Short became a writer of interactive fiction rather than of more conventional stories. “I found myself frustrated that I couldn’t write multiple versions of the same scene,” she said.
I don’t want to overstate the merits of Blood & Laurels. Ms. Short is not a particularly fine writer of sentences, even as she has put together an impressively flexible tale. If what you really want to do is read excellent prose, you would be better off buying a book, the kind that comes with pages and everything.
What Blood & Laurels offers is one of those quintessential video game moments, a first glimpse at something on the horizon. Ms. Short says she wants the reader to have a conversational relationship with the story, one in which the book gets to say something, and then the reader gets to say something back, over and over.