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Face to Face with Façade! 2/5 at WRT: Writer Response Theory

Face to Face with Façade! 2/5

The madness has already begun. Façade seems to have far outstripped what was foretold…But wait a second, is it a game at all? The narratologists and ludologists have been assuring me that the debate is over, or never happened, but it might be fruitful here.

There are several ways to use Façade. There is the way it wants to be used (as expressed by Mateas and Stern in their own writings). This would be part of the interactive drama school that sees objects leading readers down particular paths.

As a writing tool: Being in Façade certainly has something of the holodeck about it. I enjoy improvising with these actors even as I try to advance the plot in one direction or another. Andrew assures me they are considering ways to allow users to share their favorite scripts. In fact, people have already posted some of their Façade scripts.

My wife points out that people who use Façade this way are not playing the game but playing with (or against) the game, like the little kid that uses the Leggos as projectiles, or perhaps the boy who plays War with his sisters or brothers Barbies. Or what of the kids too old for the haunted house, who run through and yell boo at all the plastic skeletons and try to sneak behind the walls. Or perhaps that is just another use of the haunted house, though not the explicit reason. And then there are tunnels of love…

This strikes me as more in keeping with the other school, loosely known as ludologists, whom Im coming to know as the systems group. These folks focus on the way that an object is used or can be used rather than the way it is supposed to be used. You can see some of this tension, even in supporters, such as Brad ODonnell:

I understand that since this is an academic project, a lot of fun options are unavailable ??? or at least they seem to be (perhaps when my Behind the Facade booklet arrives, I???ll learn better). I can???t encourage their bickering to the point of fisticuffs. There???s no knife in the kitchen, so I can???t stab them myself. Not much hanky panky, although I did once manage to get Grace to trick Trip into staying in the kitchen while I made out with her.

Michael Mateas describes their tactic in First Person as trying to create a sense of agency by balancing material affordances (the possibilities of valid interaction provided by the system) and formal affordances (the possibilities for valid interaction provided by the story). Game players or game interfaces seem to create users/players/readers who are not so easily channeled by formal affordances.

In any case, however people use Façade, they seem to be enjoying themselves or at least finding satisfaction.

Following the lead of Idle Thumbs, well open up this response thread for folks to post their favorite script excertps. Writers Respond Thus:

6 Responses to “Face to Face with Façade! 2/5”

  1. 1 Mark Marino

    Here are some links to scripts I’ve made:
    In this one, I’m playing the improv Party game, where the guests act like people or things and the hosts have to guess. (I’m a roller coaster. I don’t think they ever guess.)
    Here is me as a friend of theirs who has cancer. Perhaps it’s morbid, but I think it proves how self-absorbed they can be.

    Excerpt from Roller Coaster:



    Well come on in…

    Uh, it’ll be just a sec while I go get Grace…

    clickity clack

    (unintelligable arguing)

    clickity clack

    (unintelligable arguing)

    I am going fast

    kind of hilly

    Uh… (clears throat) um…


    I zoom really fast

    Oh, H-mmm (happy smile sound)

    And I have to say, you look great.

    sometimes I go in loops

    Make yourself at home, come on in!

    My seats are sticky

    So, Mark, you can help me understand where I went wrong with my new decorating, ha ha.

    (Trip closes the front door.)

    (MARK sits on the couch.)

    Grace, oh, no, we don’t need to do that.

    my tracks are clear.

    Well hold on, hold on, take a closer look, give it a chance to soak in a little.

    are you tall enough?

    Well, it’s funny how after a full day’s work designing magazine ads, Grace finds the time to decorate… and re


    Ha ha, uhh, I guess it’s just the artist in me dying to get out.

    I bet I can return most of this, and start over again on this room…

    I go fast in places

    See, Grace, everybody always loves your decorating! It’s beautiful.

    I have a lot of curves.

  2. 2 Christy Dena

    LOL Mark. Playing with the ’system’ is fun. The biggest spin-out is if the automated program ever ’synchs’ your world.

    I’ve found that at the last few user-testing talks I’ve been to, the research has been into capturing ‘unintended use’. Although straddling the oxymoronic, the desire to forsee and plan for uses that a device is not intended for is a interesting goal. This is also what botmasters try and do: script conversations that are outside of the storyworld, that were not intended. I find I try and think of the ways that people can joke around with a bot and plan a response. But this can never be achieved. Perhaps this is a influence on why there isn’t much botfiction — bots are treated as a ’system’ to be beaten and played with.

    But onwards with the scripts. I look forward to reading more.

  3. 3 Brad O'Donnell

    The first time I played Facade, a friend who was with me asked, “So, how are you going to play first time through?”

    “I’m gonna break this f***er,” I replied.

    At first this might seem a bit ungrateful, like the child flinging legos. Narratologists might very well be justified to roll their eyes at such a disregard for the intent of a work.

    But my initial strategy for “breaking” it was simply to take the interface’s claims at face value. So I typed what I wanted to say and looked to see if Trip and Grace could tell what I was getting at. And you know what? It took quite a few plays before I gave up on full sentences entirely. That’s very impressive — my desire to interact richly with Grace and Trip atrophied out of a increasing awareness of how few nuances the system actually registered, rather than some discrete realization that the system “needed” curt input (as is the case with traditional text adventures).

    But either way, the eyes roll at me for not playing along, for ruining the mimesis of the generated transcript.

    Once I realized that I fundamentally despised Grace and (especially) Trip as people, the desire to play War with them reared its head. I tried to get them to fight physically, for my amusement. I reasoned that it’s okay if this makes the story end “unsatisfactorily,” because I could always try again. But alas, I could not incite them to great vengance and furious anger. This is partially because Facade is not a God Game, and as such the user is merely another player.

    Again, the eyes roll from my immature attempts to use of the toy I’m given in inappropriate ways. “Oh surely,” cry the hopeful, “we will find salvation in an as-yet-undiscover’d, pristine and cultur’d audience of non-gamers who through their very virtue will maintain a spirit of collaboration with us, the Creators, and who will stolidly resist the temptation to twist and distort the purity of our art to satisfy their base perversions.” (This is an exaggeration on my part, and as such I expect the above quote to be taken out of context and treated as if it’s my main point of argument. Gotta love the Internet.)

    The promise of influencing the story is the hardest one to keep; the more radically I perturb the storyline, the harder it is for the simulation to keep up. Small perturbations should theoretically butterfly-effect the story to pieces. Discarding deviant input just doesn’t seem like the right solution to me, at least insofar as the work’s replayability (rather than its integrity) is concerned.

    For instance, even playing Facade totally straight, one player started suggesting to Grace and Trip that they get divorced, out of pure frustration, ’cause it just seemed like they weren’t listening, and maybe divorce is their best option.

    This doesn’t mean that I think Interactive Drama is impossible — I just think that if the player wants to get bitched-at, outcast, or otherwise punished (while ostensibly doing something meant to entertain themselves) for “breaking character/the rules” or “exploiting the system”, they can get all the eyes they want rolled at them by joining a local tabletop RPG group that takes itself too seriously.

  4. 4 Mark Marino

    > Enter Devil’s Advocate

    I agree with your main point:

    we will find salvation in an as-yet-undiscover???d, pristine and cultur???d audience of non-gamers who through their very virtue will maintain a spirit of collaboration with us, the Creators, and who will stolidly resist the temptation to twist and distort the purity of our art to satisfy their base perversions.???

    Or of course, maybe I’m just testing out the limits of conversational interface. Perhaps those folks on the internet who misquote are taking the same attitude as the player who attempts to break the interface, they are ignoring the interface. (I’m fairly certain I’m not even misquoting you the way you directed.)


    Actually, I tend to play Faade the same way you do, Brad. But I did offer to Beta test.

    This exchange has made me think that one form of the debate between narratologists and ludologists can be more precisely read as the difference between “directed-poetics” and “systematic exploration.”

    The “Directed-Poetics” approach takes Aristotle as its basis and assumes users will also follow directions, accepting the material affordances, the context of the game and how it structures interaction.

    The “System Exploration” approach, or maybe “Explorative Systems,” holds that the work is a cybernetic system (or cybertext) that the user will approach by exploring or testing its limits and reactions in order to achieve some kind of mastery, or, knowledge of its workings (Jeremy has a term for this).

  5. 5 andrew stern

    good discussion! A few thoughts: I’d suggest that any author of an interactive system that offers freeform, open-ended input would be naive to think that players will tend to cooperate or play within what one might call the “proper” or “intended” way to play. More often than not, players will want to experiment, act out of bounds, etc. It’s usually more fun; authors should support and reward that player behavior.

    That said, it’s also nice if the system rewards you for playing along. Perhaps after trying to break the f***er a few times, players will try to play in-bounds, to see what becomes possible. Facade falls short too often on not handling in-domain input well enough, so players too often end up resorting to screwing around to make something more interesting happen. I’d suggest that’s a shortcoming of the particular implementation, not of the form (or this form) of interactive drama itself.

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