command lines: chapter 2

Picking up where I left off:


Chapter 2 is titled Implied Code, and following on section 9 in my previous post, CL essays an expanded discussion of the term. Implied code is in part made up by a guessing game as the interactor plays the game, so one of the first acts of the game is to teach, in some way, the interactor how to play the game itself. CL mostly uses video games as its examples. While I don’t think there are not any IF games that include in-game (diegetic or perhaps extra-diegetic) tutorials, it certainly seems far less common in IF than in AAA video games — probably because of the amount of effort involved. Far more common is an out-of-game (extra-, or in the case of simple instructions on how to play IF, even non-diegetic) tutorial contained in a HELP or ABOUT menu. Perhaps this is because, as CL intimates, the tutorial process is implicitly built into IF in a unique way:

In comparison to the contemporary narrative videogame, one might say that contemporary narrative IF is almost a tutorial genre, in that works tend to end at the moment that mastering the interface concludes. In contrast, we might rather say that IF does not seek an efficient resolution to the problem of how, but rather seeks an evocative exploration of the problematic of how; this is its primary design space. [81]

Once again I’m bothered by what seems to me a confusion of mastering the interface. Maybe this is related to how a narrative game is usually not a fast-twitch exercise (though compare against hybrids like Indigo Prophecy). Isn’t it possible to learn the interface in IF, learn the central mechanic of the work, and then use that as the mode by which you explore and experience the work? In this situation the tutorial is over at a point where we typically think of tutorials ending; that is, early in the IF.


CL mentions Leather Goddesses of Phobos in talking about “implicit configurative acts” [80], where at the beginning of the game the player chooses their gender diagetically (that does become an easy word to throw around, doesn’t it?). Compare with the original version of Aaron Reed’s For Whom the Telling Changed.


An implication model inverts the commonly emphasized sites and roles in interactive new media art and digital storytelling. In interactive simulations such as IF, “interaction” normally describes a process during which the interactor acts to intervene (via the parser) in the simulation. While outcomes are the result of a negotiated and cyclical communication process, the simulation or storyworld serves as the object of negotiation, the locus of all outcomes, and the ground against which the figure of the interactor performs. The converse of the interaction-simulation model is one of implication-cognition, which shifts the primary ground of discussion from the simulated space to the human mind while emphasizing the experience or reception of the work over its performance or construction. Through this lens the work rather than the user is now the primary actor. [97-98]

From this ground CL launches into the implied author, implied reader, and by extension the implied code. To be honest to fully understand this I’d have to sit down with a stack of books as tall as Frankenstein’s shinbone.

However I think CL’s choice of the word ‘intervene’ is an interesting one, for there is intervention in IF only to the extent that the interactor creates the stream of fiction in their mind. There is no simulation like where some researcher would input some variables into a feedback loop and let it rip.


In “Beginning to Theorize Postmodernism,” Linda Hutcheon grapples with competing terminologies and theories of postmodernism by considering a generic trope in the contemporary novel that she terms “historiographic metafiction”: a generic tope that subverts generic tropes from within, whose hallmark is the difficulty readers and critics have in classifying it, and whose preoccupation is the continually emphasized presence of the past. This past is always engaged through a critical reworking, never a nostalgic return. In this sense of history-writing, we can begin to see an analogy to the explorations of the interactor excavating the logic of the code. Interaction could be described as a kind of re-construction, re-creation, or reperformance of the actions originally imagined in the code. [117 — emphasis mine]

I don’t see it as a kind of re-construction at all — isn’t that exactly what it is?


CL goes on to a close reading of Andrew Plotkin’s Shade (expanding on an article from Second Person). What’s really great about this part is the commentary on some of the Shade code.


The precursors to contemporary gamebooks may have been the nonfiction instructional series TutorText, whose first volume The Arithmetic of Computers was printed in 1958. Fictional gamebooks did not appear until 1967, when Raymond Queneau of the OuLiPo group published his short story “Un conte à votre façon.” [142]

Also compare this with Julio Cortazar’s novel Hopscotch, published in Spanish in 1963 and in English a few years later (though this isn’t CYOA or a gamebook per se).

You can find more about TutorText at the awesome site Demian’s Gamebook Web Page.


Strangely, the use of the term ‘person’ in language studies does not correspond to its use in visual studies. Most games studies discussions use ‘person’ in the visual style, corresponding to the viewpoint of the player. The first person camera is the most immediate, providing a view from the eyes of the avatar with little more than a hand of the avatar-self encroaching on the image. The third person camera is more mediated and distancing, as when the separate self of Lara Croft or Master Chief46 is displayed on screen and followed through the game world by a cinematic crane shot. The function of this mediacy is complex, but one effect is that greater immediacy imparts greater immersion.

In language simulations such as IF, gamebooks, or RPGs, this process works differently. Rather than the process of simulation occurring as if from the player’s viewpoint, the simulation is addressed to the player from the simulator (“You are in a maze of twisty little passages”) creating complimentary thoughts in the mind of the player (“I’m in a maze!”). Second person narration (“You are”) evokes first person participation (“I am!”).


In both the textual and visual case, the game system describes an inhabitable experience through assertion (second person) for the purpose of the player’s participation, identification, or immersion (first person). We can conclude that the “first person camera” as it is discussed in games studies and the “second person narration” of RPGs and IF are not in fact two categories, but rather two perspectives on the same category of simulated immediacy. This immediacy is distinct from the more mediated “first person narration,” which creates much the same distancing effect as a “third person camera.” It does this in much the same way, by introducing a separate self into the frame. [144-145]

I’m not so sure it’s as simple as that. For purposes of showing the parallels in perspective between FPS and 2nd person IF I agree — however the ‘you’ of IF can mean the player, the protagonist, or some combination of the two (hypothetically — I can’t think of a game at the moment that’s like that).

In summary, simulated immediacy is a formation with respect to agency and desire, neither comparable across apparently parallel grammatical construction (first person game [!=] first person prose) nor comparable across identical visual composition (Terminator POV [!=] Half-Life POV). Instead, superficial structural similarities disguise surprisingly profound disjunctions, for it is the continuity or discontinuity with agency and desire out of which strongly parallel aesthetics emerge in overtly dissimilar works. [151]

Regardless, this is an engaging idea.


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