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Keyword: A link by any other name at WRT: Writer Response Theory

What is the relationship between a link in a hypertext, a keyword in a chatbot, and an a noun/object in IF? (This isn’t a joke that ends up with talking rope). We might consider this, in light of Christy’s terminology, cross-media poetics.
(IF folks:

One way chatbots work is by scanning input for recognizable words. Chatbot writers cue users by mentioning keywords at the end of sentences, especially the catchalls:
User: mice, mice, mice.
bot: (not recognizing) That’s great. Have you thought about rabbits.
User: Rabbits?
bot: (recognizes “rabbits”) Rabbits are my field of expertise. Let me begin my extensive rabbit thread.

The traditional strategies of IF seem to use similar principles (I’m sure there are many many exceptions. The clunky, though pragmatic, technique inolves presenting nouns as objects at the end of descriptions:
The room is bare. You see a bird, a plane, and a rabbit.
>Get Rabbit

If this were hypertext, I might put a link on rabbit. If I left the underlining on, the user would know the link was there, or if in Storyspace they could reveal the links. Now, in a work like Galatea, noun-objects (or topics) might as well be keywords.

So what’s the difference between the hard-coded, clearly demarked operable link (the one that turns the pointing hand cursor to the grabbing hand cursor) and the noun-object (term?) or keyword. Some might say “frustration,” as they attempt to “get,” “pull,” and “throw” every noun. Others might say it’s opening up the sense of affordances (see Mateas in First Person or Don Norman), though there may be the same number of actual lexias or recognizable keywords. Certainly, the keywords and IF nouns offer the user a greater sense of opportunity and more opportunity for context dependent variation, since every noun is potentially a different path to follow at different moments in the interactive drama or story (regardless of whether or not it is currently displayed).

Hyperlinks are hard wired. Do they have to be (wiki)?

Keywords are perhaps most like unmarked links with multiple possible paths that can only be found by mousing all over the page. Nonetheless, I believe keywords are a little more rewarding when found, thanks to the delay and the shear magnitude of possibilities that the user chooses from in order to receive significant feedback, especially if the IF text or chatbot response is clever at all. Ah, maybe keywords are most like the hidden moves in a game, something that teases you as you seek to master the interface.


9 Responses to “Keyword: A link by any other name”

  1. 1 Adam

    One of Nick Montfort’s points in Twisty Little Passages regarding the difference between IF and hypertext narrative is that the production of language in Interactive Fiction is two-way. As well as the work presenting language to the user as in hypertext, the IF user also presents language to the work.

    Keywords/nouns/etc. are not simply typed in as single words, like a potential mouse click. They are employed in complete sentences formed by the user.

    I think maybe Nick goes a little too far in turning this point into a literary advantage, as IF input almost never takes on a creative form (only a creative function) and much of it is as you say “get [noun]”. Nonetheless it still seems an important distinction.

  2. 2 Dennis G. Jerz

    I like your distinction between creative fom and creative function, but hypertext is all about recognition, at least at first; the hypotheses and pattern-recognition come into play after you’ve clicked the link. The best IF games that have come out recently are much better at avoiding the “guess the verb” trap, even better than many of Infocom’s best titles.

    At any rate, with hypertext getting the text to work is just a matter of finding a link — any link — to click on. Thus, the mental activity of finding the right word that triggers the game’s parser is very different in interactive fiction.

  3. 3 Mark Marino

    Thank you Dennis and Adam. I also like the distinction between creative form and creative function, which have obvious analogs (with difference, of course) in chatbots, although chatbots are less about direction and more about conversation.

    I suppose I see the connection between links and IF input more from the author’s point of view.

    In the case of the hyperlink, you want the person to be able to jump from one lexia to the next. You create a link, which is a potential bridge until activated.

    (As I understand IF) In the case of IF, you want the player-character or interactor to be able to get from one passage to the next. You code in a contextualized response to parsed input, which is potential until activated. When you add an object to your list of items in a passage, cuing the reader, you are in the convention, underlining that noun.

    Perhaps I am painting the orange to look like an apple. Perhaps the spatial metaphor is a poor one since a web page and a passage in IF or even a chatbot response are very different in how they are stored. But it still seems like the term “lexia” could apply to them all.

    One difference seems to grow out of complexity. At any given time in an IF passage there may be hundreds of possible actions. Also, none of these actions have been identified as useful.

    So specifically I want to compare authoring conventions, the material representation of the link and the conventional gesture towards the object that can be interacted with.

  4. 4 Christy Dena

    Excellent topic Mark! It is an interesting question that does indeed slide along my cross-media poetics concerns, and so I’m keen to share some of my thoughts on the subject. As Adam recalled of Nick’s observation, IF (and botfiction) is two-way, it is synchronous communication. But there is a common thread through them all, as you’ve highlighted Mark: the hyperlink, noun and keyword. In the context of ergodic literature, these words share a function: they are all are an illocutionary act. ‘Illocutionary act’ is a linguistic term to describe an utterance that is trying to affect another; they are commands, suggestions, inquiries, vows and so on. If successful it is a ‘perlocutionary act’: ‘a speech act that produces an effect, intended or not, achieved in an addressee by a speaker’s utterance’. Examples of perlocutionary acts are persuading, convincing, scaring, insulting and ‘getting the addressee to do something’. In ergodic literature, the hyperlink, noun and keyword is the system (as representative of the human creator) trying to persuade the user to use a particular mode of interaction. They are basically saying to the user ‘this is how you can change me’.

    I am far from a linguistics expert so everyone feel free to correct me, but here is an overview of how I think speech acts correlate in hypertext fiction, IF and Botfiction:

    Hypertext Fiction:
    Utterance: Rabbit
    Locutionary Act = This link will take you to (further) information about rabbits
    Illocutionary Act = Trying to persuade or command user to clink
    Perlocutionary Act = Causing the user to clink

    Utterance: The room is bare. You see a bird, a plane, and a rabbit.
    Locutionary Act = Rabbit is a noun you can enter to move forward in the game
    Illocutionary Act = Trying to persuade or command user to enter a noun, possibly ‘rabbit’.
    Perlocutionary Act = Causing the user to input a verb with the noun ‘rabbit’

    Utterance: That’s great. Have you thought about rabbits?
    Locutionary Act = Rabbit is a keyword you can enter to continue the conversation
    Illocutionary Act = Trying to persuade or command user to enter the keyword ‘rabbit’
    Perlocutionary Act = Causing the user to input a statement with the keyword ‘rabbit’

    Notice the relationship between the illocutionary and perlocutionary act? But before I go further into how I think this applies, I need to draw the distinction between commands issued by the system and those by the user. Chris Chesher views hyperlinks as ‘avocations’ (they call the user to invoke) and the user’s response of clinking them, ‘invocations’ (they invoke). But, unlike human-human interaction, the illocutionary act in ergodic literature works best when both sides share the same representation of an illocutionary act. For Chesher, the URL ‘names the invocationary act, and performs it’, but so too does the noun in IF and the keyword and topic in botfiction. It appears that illocutionary acts (getting the user to do a particular thing) occur in ergodic literature when the illocutionary force of the system is delivered in the same manner the user can exert illocutionary force. That is, the system offers a hyperlink, verb, noun, keyword and topic as an illocutionary act to instruct the user as to how they can act to change the system. When the user then clinks, or enters a verb and noun or keyword it is the evidence that the system performed a perlocutionary act but also that the human is exerting illocutionary force onto the system. Successful ergodic works have utterances that are illocutionary and perlocutionary, the
    cycle goes round and round.

    Lots of big words repeated here. Perhaps I’ll just say: the system provides a key to the user that they use. Chesher observes that the ‘URL is the key to the invocation, as it is both comprehensible to humans and readable to the machine’. I like the term ‘command’ because it is at once a term used to describe an utterance with illocutionary force issued by a human to another human and to a program and it is the perlocutionary act. Indeed, the use of illocutionary force and the subsequent perlocutionary act in ergodic literature can be seen as a trope, even a command aesthetic.

    Failed interactions:
    Chesher says that a failed invocaton with hyperlinks can happen because of ‘a misspelt address; network overloading; technical misconfigurations’. But with hypertext fiction, IF and Bot interactions, the lack of illocutionary force is a reason for failure. They differ in their capacity to enact illocutionary force (command) and therefore succeed in a perlocutionary act (cause user action).

    The IF command rests between a hyperlink and natural language input. The difference between IF and bots is not in the mode of input: both allow the input text, any text. The IF system responds to a narrow set of inputs and with a narrow set of responses. The bot response is designed to respond to any input because it is meant to be conversational (therefore implying free-will). In botfiction, no input is less acceptable. All inputs are meant to be addressed equally. Every input is meant to have a response that is preferably unique.
    The supplying of information to the user as to how to perform an illocutionary act to cause a change in the system is seen by Chesher as a specific ritual: ‘New media artists prepare special vocabularies of invocations that visitors perform. Unlike useability engineers, they are designing specific, not generic interfaces’. (Invocation, Evocation and Avocation in New Media Art).

    Unlike a failed hyperlink, a failure message in IF can assist in informing the user on how to perform an illocutionary act/invoke. For instance, take my interaction with the ZPlet by Matthew Russoto of Crowther and Woods??? Colossal Cave Adventure at Dennis G. Jertz’s site:

    You are standing at the end of a road before a small brick building. Around you is a forest. A small stream flows out of the building and down a gully.
    >do forest
    That is not a verb I recognise.
    >get forest
    That is hardly portable.

    This feedback helps the user to narrow the field to possible commands/invocations by letting the user know the interaction didn’t work and also gives clues as to what would be a successful input: obeying the laws of physics and using a particular set of verbs.

    The bot can give feedback when there is a failed interaction in the form of offering a keyword or default to a statement that explains how it does not understand. But the bot, because it is meant to deal with EVERY input equally, does not provide clues as to particular commands or invocations. Instead, the system response is to SOMETIMES offer keywords or a particular topic for the user to then use, according to the design employed by the botmaster. Providing information about how the user can affect the system has not really been a convention in botfiction. But, one can see how the use of questions (an illocutionary act) to get the user to answer (a perlocutionary act) was the main reason for ELIZA’s success, in terms of interaction.

    But anyway, I could keep burrowing this topic for days, I mean pages. Any responses?

    Austin, J.L. (1962) How to Do Things with Words, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

    Chesher, C. (2001) ‘Computers as Invocational Media‘ [PhD] School of Media and Communications, University of New South Wales, Sydney (chapter only)

    Chesher, C. (2004) ‘Invocation, evocation and avocation in new media art’ presented at European Association for Studies of Science and Technology (EASST) / 4S conference, Paris, August, published by University of New South Wales

    Chesher, C. (2004) ‘Hyperlink as Invocationary Act‘ presented at ANZCA (Australian & New Zealand Communication Association) Conference, Sydney, 7-9 July, published by University of Sydney

    Searle, John. 1969.Speech acts: An essay in the philosophy of language. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University.

    Note: Clicking on a link or ‘clinking’ is m.c. schraefel et al.???s wonderful portmanteau.

  5. 5 Jeremy Douglass

    Even if the *typical* IF input isn’t creative, the potential that a text might contains unstructured or creative input (PET DOG, REMEMBER MY FAMILY, WHISTLE) colors the experience of the interactor significantly. The point is not that most inputs in a given IF be original in form - it is that, if even a single non-standard input is required to complete the traversal, then the interactor can’t simply operate the text as if by Xbox controller (”N, S, W, UP, GET X, PUT Y IN Z…”) - that is because there aren’t standard buttons or interfaces for what they have to do - they need to first create the button in their mind, then press it.

    When even a single command will be non-standard, the task of reading constantly includes guesswork about potential interaction. And, unlike keywords / topics / links, these may only be impled: (”The dog shifts awkwardly on his chain, and tries itch his back against the post.” > PET DOG “The dog arches into your hand and whines discontentedly as you pat him on the back.” > SCRATCH DOG “Relieved at last, the dog slumps down and falls asleep.”)

  6. 6 Jeremy Douglass

    Mark, it might be interesting for you to consider the case of “Multimedia TADS” (which was originally called HTML TADS) - it a version of the TADS IF language which allows the parser to output (among other things) clickable links, which are interpreted as parser input.

    This is an important hybrid case, because it also makes one realize the difference between NOUN and VERB NOUN interaction. When you click on a RAT, will that click be interpreted as EXAMINE RAT? PICK UP RAT? ATTACK RAT? ….

  7. 7 Jeremy Douglass

    Christy, if it is okay with you and Mark, I’d like to propose we move this comment up to a separate post on the WRT homepage and leave an abbreviated comment here linking to it. This is a substantial response, and deserves its own URL / discussion thread.

  1. 1 at WRT: Writer Response Theory
  2. 2 New Arts magazine in and on Second Life - Dramatech Space

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