command lines: chapter 4

With some free time over the holiday I’ve finished Jeremy Douglass’ dissertation. Chapter 4 is taken up largely by close readings of several works, and I have somewhat less to comment on here.


Here CL considers what it calls minimal works, to describe the essential of IF (241).


Typing at the command line is primarily a site of anticipatory or prospective closure – an attempt (which may be frustrated) to discover or solve the gap between the current state of the simulation and its next state. [244]

Compare this with the new design notes for Deadline Enchanter, and DE’s possible “projective fiction”. I wonder if DE is not so unlike interactive fiction as may be first thought.


CL goes on to examine tense and person in IF.

First and third person IF tend to complicate the narrative and functional relationships between interactor and protagonist by their nature, opening the distance between the two as separate selves. For this reason, first and third person increases the need for a framing tale to capture the separate self of the interactor in the diegesis; these modes thus encourage narrative elaboration. This is not to say that such elaboration is good or bad, nor must it follow that the minimalist mode of IF (second) be the dominant mode. Still, the fact that second person is by far the dominant mode might be telling about the general relationship of IF to framing complexity. [265-266]

You know, I’m still not convinced that first and second person in IF are really so different (in terms of complexity of the relationship between protagonist and interactor).

I’m perhaps as far from an English major as you could get, so my ability to understand the root cause of the dominant mode in fiction, third person (compared to IF’s dominant second person), is limited.

Whereas it’s easier to write IF in second person, maybe it’s easier to write fiction in the third person? That doesn’t feel right though — in fiction it seems to be more about convention.

Yet social convention is not so far removed from the function of physical technology, if not convention (i.e., what is possible with the tools).


CL takes a brief detour into talking about interactivity (273), dispels some myths about IF’s relationship to graphical computer games (278), discusses “time fiction” and time-loop fiction, and then makes a close reading of three works: Aisle (287), Shrapnel (309), and Rematch (324). The diagram of possible commands in Aisle is particularly cool (297).

Somewhat disappointingly CL does not essay a conclusion, though really each chapter is more self-contained than leading up to some grand thesis. And of course the works cited is a great reading (and playing) list (369-383). You easily could make a self-study course out of that list alone.

I’ve found CL to be instructive in many ways. As a historical and theoretical work to be sure. I think it’s also answered the question of whether I would want to spend several years writing something comparable — and I believe the answer is no! Even though I did enjoy reading it. I would much rather be making games than writing about them. However some of this goes hand in hand with making games, does it not? Maybe not for everybody — time will tell.


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