IF in The Escapist

The Escapist, Issue 7, pg 36

A recent issue of hip gaming magazine The Escapist is retro-themed, and comes with a substantial article called “Read Game - Heirs of Infocom, fans of interactive fiction still choose their own adventures” by Allen Varney (Issue 7, p12-18).

The article is geared towards newcomers to the contemporary IF scene, so most of the material is talking points that bring people up to speed. It hits the high notes, however, quickly summarizing a lot of material about IF past and present. It also contains some great examples, a word on the curse/blessing of being a de-capitalized sector of the game industry, and this pithy and provocative observation:

Playing any IF walkthrough makes you part actor, part stenographer, part observer. It’s like watching a really good Dance Dance Revolution player: entertaining, but the experience is completely different from actual play.)

I’m still thinking about that one, but “stenographer” is an interesting metaphor for the practice of playing a walkthrough.

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The Escapist is games publication whose first issue caused a lot of buzz, even garnering comment over on GTxA. It is notable for using a ‘features’ rather than a ‘reviews’ style of writing, as well as for a swanky magazine style of layout and packaging. The IF article is attractively presented on a retro amber screen that accumulates Post-It notes in time-lapse photography fashion as you move through the pages. For those interested in the browsing back-issues of Escapist from a text art / extreme retro perspective, here is a quick selection of articles you may find interesting:

  • The Left Behind (Joe Blancato. The Escapist, Issue 3, p13-15) Discusses the existence and mindset of cultures which stop accepting that “new is better” and become fixated on an old game or genre. While the examples seem to have more of a 5-years-gone rather than a 20-years-gone mentality, it is interesting to think of the IF fan base as the tip of an increasing long tail of similar communities.
  • Save The Role Players (Max Steele. The Escapist, Issue 3, p17-18) Contentious argument that MMOGs are inimical to immersive role play by fundamental design. An interesting take on the (dis)connection between tabletop RPGs and MMORPGs.
  • Player Prompted Paranoia (Allen Varney. The Escapist, Issue 4, p18-22) Discusses the use of wikis, user-groups, forums as a paratext / testbed for the development of a game. The article resonates with ARG design, cross-media issues, and intellectual property concerns.
  • Don’t Roleplay the Bugs - and other lessons of Neverwinter Nights (Max Steele. The Escapist, Issue 4, p32-36) Describes a number of Neverwinter Nights online game modules coded and written to be run by a game master as the equivalent of tabletop campaign RPG sessions. Subsequent player misbehavior and design problems are cataloged, and the failure of the experiment taken to affirm current game design strategies.

When thinking about interactive text from within a games context, many of the pieces are thought provoking - and the connections can be unexpected. In Now Playing - why they’re mining old movies for new games (Issue 5, p10-14) Tom Chick is discussing movie-to-game adaptation, when he suddenly makes this fascinating observation on protagonists and goals:

Consider Taxi Driver, a movie whose message is the opposite of the central premise of videogaming. Videogames are about empowering you, letting you smash things and win, or build things and win, or line up blocks and win. They’re about having control and then winning. But the message of Martin Scorsese’s deeply nihilistic Taxi Driver is that we don’t control our own fate. Regardless of our own determination - Travis Bickle is as determined a man as has ever plowed through a movie - we’re ultimately puppets randomly jerked to some end or another. In Taxi Driver, the confused psychopath becomes a hero by no fault of his own. How are you going to capture that in a game?

The answer is: You’re not. You’re going to make a Grand Theft Auto clone.

My first reaction is, of course, that Taxi Driver (thus described) might make a lousy third person shooter - or not - but it would certainly make a fantastic text adventure game, precisely because total empowerment isn’t remotely the point….

[The Escapist is free for subscription or PDF download.]

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