Playing Easy to Get

Pastamancer character The Kingdom of Loathing (KoL) is a a freeware game that is a text and stick-figure adventure game. It was brought out by Zack Johnson and Josh Nite of Asymmetric Publications. The game has been in a beta-test for the last couple of years but was officially launched on 9th June 2005. To play, all you need to do is register and create a character from the 6 classes available: Seal Clubbers, Turtle Tamers, Pastamancers, Saucerors, Disco Bandits, and Accordion Thieves. I’m a Pastamancer named NobleNoodle (see pic). The game is set in the Kingdom of Loathing, where everything was boringly peaceful until a Naughty Princess arrived and made trouble. Monsters started crawling the Earth, along with even larger monsters who ate the other monsters. Each player is an adventurer acting on behalf of the Council of Loathing. Each player travels around the kingdom, looking for battles, by clicking on images of the crudely drawn map. I went armed with my Ravioli Hat and Pasta Spoon and hit a sleeping Knob Goblin Guard. I was successful and earned meat (the game currency) and 1 Sarcasm. The game is easy to play and gives immediate pleasure — I was addicted pretty quickly.

The screen is set-up with a drawing of a map in the center. You click on the map parts and when you enter a particular territory you get a drawing of a monster and a text description of the battle. I then select from drop-down menus what action I want to take, which then triggers a screen that tells me if I am successful or not, or if I need to keep fighting. I’ve always got the option, though, to run away; but this option comes with jibes of being a sissy (yes I ran away once, but it was a ferocious Asparagus Can in the Haunted Pantry). Trivial Updates to the left of the main screen let me know changes to the game: Procrastination Potion, for instance, can now be used in combat. There are other features, such as chat facilities. As a beginner though, I am not able to take advantage of the chat feature until I prove I am literate at the Altar of Literacy. The Ghost of English tested me on my grammer. I triumphed, and now I can avenge the Death of English.

Comic of Loathing pic from their websiteIf you haven’t guessed already, it is a parody of RPGs and MUDs. There is also an ‘official unofficial’ fan site, with details, hints and a comic version of the game called The Comic of Loathing. The comic continues the RPG paradoy but extends it to the life of the players, the process of writing and comics.

Another Spoof is an ARG (alternate reality game) Seen Steve. It is described by Carie Ward on the argn website as follows:

Seen Steve is a brilliant parody of the ARG world. So far it has encompassed Acheron, Art of the Heist, BLARGS, The Beast, Chasing the Wish, The Flaming Heart, gAIMs, Gypsysoft, I Love Bees, Lockjaw, Our Colony, Perplex City, RedKore, and Seen James - just to name a few. As a bonus, it also has ferrets and pixies which are near and dear in everyone’s heart (or at least they should be).

The game has been keeping a fast pace. In just four days, players at unFiction have discovered nine(!) different websites, several different emails, and have had IM conversations with two different characters. The plot seems to be that Sarah’s fake-boyfriend Steve has been sent into the future (where he now makes AIs) while her ex-boyfriend, Jake, has cursed her into going mad. Meanwhile, the vaguely threatening -The Hateful- (don’t ignore the peripheral hyphenation) has taken up position as the requisite evil overlord.

The trailhead, or entry-point, is -The Hateful- blog; with PM (puppetmaster = game manager) posts; and of course Steve and a countdown to 80 years away! The ARG has finished, but you can read over the unfiction forum (player forum to share and disseminate game events).

Jeremy has discussed the computer game parody in Strongbad’s Emails, and he has discussed the Dinasour comics issue that parodies CYOA. alhtough it is not a spoof of an arts-type (but that is the point), I include in this gladbag Peter Norvig’s The Gettysburg PowerPoint Presentation. I’m sure there are tons more great spoofs out there that I have forgotten or do not know about. I do want to know more though. Spoofs are an excellent teaching tool because they facilitate an ‘open’ mood in the student (humour is relaxing and mentally stimulating) and highlight the tropes of an arts type; and they’re just darn fun. Know any good spoofs of ANY arts type: interactive drama, interactive comics, interactive cinema, film, tv shows, computer games, botfiction, advertainment, ALife art, blog fiction, cross-media storytelling, email fiction, epoetry, hypertext fiction, locative arts, mobisodes and so on…?

4 Responses to “Playing Easy to Get”

  1. 1 Jeremy Douglass

    Christy, I especially like the point about spoofing as teaching tool - you are really assembling a lot of approaches with practical value for the classroom.

    In general, I agree parody and farce lowers the barrier to entry to a new technology, game environment, etc… an additional reason is that the fear of failure or demonstrating ignorance is not as great when pratfalls and awkwardness are part of the form. People are less embarrassed to trip and fall while attempting a clown-themed obstacle course than a military-styled one. In the humorous obstacle course, their failure can also be interesting and entertaining.

    This is one of the reasons why I think Douglas Adams was a natural author for interactive fiction - his style was sarcastic comedy, which made him uniquely suited to writing entertaining error messages. This followed naturally out of the Infocom house style - if people are going to be stumbling around making mistakes a lot while using a system, they might as well have fun doing it….

  2. 2 Jeremy Douglass

    On your call for more satire: lately I’ve done some reading on
    David Byrne’s PowerPoint art book and it began as a light satire while promoting yet another satire - and morphed into something more serious:

    “A while ago, I decided to base the book-tour readings from my pseudoreligious tract The New Sins on sales presentations. I was going for a fair dose of irony and satire, and what could be better than using PowerPoint and a projector, the same tools that every sales and marketing person relies on?”
    - Wired Issue 11.09 | September 2003 - Learning to Love PowerPoint

  3. 3 Christy Dena

    I’m adding Foom and TextModeQuake to possible entries as satires. While they do not try to satire quake as such (as far as I can tell) they tend to satirise graphic engines, the immersive aspects of FPS games, the seriousness of FPS games.

  4. 4 Jeremy Douglass

    Worth mentioning that the art of satire is well developed in IF - currently 105 indexes as Satires in Baf’s Guide to IF - and, as it notes, often the butt of the joke is another IF game, which is interesting….

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