September 23, 2004

IF Essays, New and Old

by Nick Montfort · , 3:48 pm

Recommended reading: “Descriptions Constructed” by Stephen Granade, a just-posted close-up look at IF output text, and “Crimes Against Mimesis” by Roger Giner-Sorolla, a broader essay from 1996 on what can go right or wrong in IF, still worth a read today. More on these two below…

Stephen Granade’s recent essay “Descriptions Constructed” explores texts in interactive fiction that are traditionally called “descriptions,” and are associated with rooms, objects, and characters. This was the topic of this discussion on GTxA, which Stephen participated in, and of Rob Wheeler’s “Mapping the Tale: Scene Description in IF.” Stephen focuses on how descriptions do other things besides describing, however. Particularly, he looks at how they indicate the context, draw the interactor’s attention to different aspects of the world, and relate to the player character’s level of awareness, Stephen chose to write in the “craft” tradition, and for that section of IF Theory – “I won’t be talking much about the art of description-writing,” he writes. He doesn’t directly compare the ways description functions in novels and other narratives to the way it works in IF, but he looks at many IF-specific effects of descriptions. The essay’s many examples help to show how descriptions can influence the interactor’s behavior (that is, the input, or actions), not just the interpretation and understanding of the text. The topic has been much on my mind recently as I work on IF and think further about the relationship between discourse, narrative, and the IF world model.

I’ll also take this opportunity to plug a much earlier essay, Roger Giner-Sorolla’s “Crimes Against Mimesis.” Roger makes numerous interesting points: the split between kleptomaniac “game protagonist” and the “story protagonist” whose role the player is supposed to play, for instance, and the discussion of how fundamental attribution error relates to the player’s identification with the PC, both in section 6. This essay was one of the high points of mid-1990s USENET discussion, following Graham Nelson’s “The Craft of Adventure” and “A Bill of Player’s Rights.” When I considered how the riddle, and things like diegetic levels and the transgression of them, might help make IF more understandable, it was, in part, to try to classify a variety of “mimesis-breaking” phenomena that all seemed to be problems, but not problems of exactly the same sort. (I don’t actually use the word “mimesis” in Twisty Little Passages, though, in part because I’ve tried to suggest more specific positive qualities of IF; also, the term brings up the specter of the opposition between mimetic and diegetic – showing versus telling, basically – which isn’t something Roger writes about.) Since we now know where early ludologist Mary Ann Buckles is, I might as well report the result of the easier search for where Roger Giner-Sorolla is.