Blog Fiction and Good Interaction

Article illustration, theatre icon of tragic and comic masks with command line text reading INTERACTION

Scott of Baboon Palace has an interesting article on Blog Fiction, largely comparing it to IF. Before getting into it, it should be noted that his tongue may be a bit in-cheek - it seems typical of his grumpy schtick that, while posting an article called “Blog Fiction” on a service called “Blogger” his first point is that phrases containing the word “blog” are stupid - serious discussions will instead be about “fictional weblogs.” Presumably, email will henceforth be known as “electronic mail.”

The point is that [such a webblog] could have been fictional, and this phenomenon gets people thinking about adapting creative fiction to this new medium. One thing that inevitably gets added [to fictional weblogs] is interactivity, the bitch-goddess of online art. Before blog fiction there was something called Interactive Fiction.

Scott argues the danger of blog fiction adding interactivity is that it will duplicate the evils of its ancestor, IF, whose interaction (he asserts) is characterized by hoop-jumping (a.k.a. puzzles).

By contrast to this “shitty interaction,” good interaction works like theatre:

…the comments are filled with people shouting “Don’t do it!” And then Alexa doesn’t. The commentators, (the audience), feel like they have some power to give Alexa advice which may affect her decisions, and the “story”’s direction…. Unlike IF’s hoop-jumping, this sort of interactivity is voluntary and rewarding, it’s a donation instead of a cover charge.

Good interaction, in other words, is probably not interaction at all. At least, it is a voice crying out in a movie theatre “Don’t go in there!” At most, it is a poll by the comments box: “Should Romeo marry Juliet (Y/N)” with 51% of the vote determining the direction of the next episode. In other words, it is the mechanism of tree fiction or a gamebook, with agency diffused across the crowd.

Scott is honest about being unfamiliar with the range of IF experiences, but seems to have missed puzzleless IF entirely due to a bad experience with Adam Cadre’s Photopia. For frustrated readers who have decided interactive fiction is a cross between the brainteasers of Nick Montfort’s Ad Verbum and the punitive situation of Andrew Pontius’ Rematch, I would prescribe ten minutes reading Sam Barlow’s Aisle, followed perhaps by an hour with Emily Short’s Galatea. Aaah. No puzzles.

Of course, if the complaint was reversed, then the work of Montfort and Pontius would be the cure, not the symptom.

I enjoyed Scott’s article, even if it was a bit of a screed. His concept of fictional weblogs as both written and published at discrete moments in time (like a performance) is interesting. I’m not sure that he is right - it seems to me that fictional weblogs could easily be written days or months in advance and then published serially later, and then be much closer to the serial novels of Dickens than to improvisational living theatre - but fictional weblogs written in advance might turn out to be the exceptions that prove the improvisational rule that is constitutive of the genre. We’ll see.

Regardless, Scott’s idea of fictional weblogs as live performance helps us understand his view that good interaction is interaction that feels good, in terms of cathartic audience speech, rather than interaction that works well, in terms of cause and effect mechanics. By contrast, the paradigm of IF authorship is very much “write, design, test, publish” - a kind of hybrid between software engineering and the tradition of fiction writing.

Are there different kinds of “good interaction” based on the time-scale - and can these time-scales be brought together?

It seems to me that the storytelling feel/mechanics of tabletop role playing games are the middle ground. For story-oriented role-playing, agency with real player interaction must be possible in the moment, within the framework of a designed story which is the occasion for improvisation.

2 Responses to “Blog Fiction and Good Interaction”

  1. 1 Scott

    I’m a bit surprised — and slightly embarassed — by the attention that post still gets. Yes, it certainly is a bit of a screed. Maybe someday I’ll write a more serious treatment without all the dumb jokes and cynicism. But enough apologetics.

    I disagree that my notion of “good interaction” is like theatre. I’d say it’s more like conversation, which is what I was trying to get at with the Alexa example. I didn’t see her reaction to comments as being like a survey or a mechanical averaging of suggestions, and certainly not like shouting in the dark. She responds as a human to the input of other humans. So much so, in fact, that she’s since disabled comments on her blog because of rampant disrespect and insulting behavior.

    If I were to write that post again, I’d emphasise the conversational metaphor instead of the performance metaphor. The imporant thing, from my perspective, is that it be both discretionary and non-mechanical. I don’t know (or care, really) if this is a theory for “blog fiction” or just an idiosyncracy of taste. What really interests me is how fiction writers can take advantage of the new medium of blogs in a way which is interestingly different from other media.

    Anyways, thanks for the intelligent and considered response, and the curative IF links. I’ll check those out.

  2. 2 Jeremy Douglass

    Scott, thanks for clarifying re: conversation. I think my comparison to theatre and to voting hinged too much on your example “‘Don’t do it!’ and she doesn’t” - a choose-your-own-adventure binary choice, and one that might or might not be planned out ahead of time. I may also have narrowed the discussion unnecessarily to how the next blog installment is written, rather than considering the entire production - do you mean that it is conversational because individual responses in comment threads are part of the work as a whole?

    I’m still prefer the metaphor of a theatrical performeer incorporating ongoing audience feedback, even in a rich way (Comedy Sports?), to the metaphor of a conversation - it seems to me that the many-to-one quality of performance is more present than the one-to-one quality of conversation. But perhaps that only comes down to whether I’m imagine the commenters as part of a madding crowd or each coming up and approaching the artist individually.

    “Both discretionary and non-mechanical” sounds right to me, and is where I was going at the end when I mentioned role-playing - a kind of conversation / theatre-in-the-round(table) - although there the actor / audience distinction is lost….

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