Archive for the ‘reading’ Category

Robin Hobb at the University Bookstore

Following on the last post, the other night I heard Robin Hobb read at the University Bookstore, on her tour supporting her new book Renegade’s Magic.

I brought the recorder to try it out. I was about ten feet from the podium, and the bookstore is something of a big open space so there was a lot of ambient noise. For the introduction of Robin I had the recorder in my shirt pocket (I don’t have an external microphone yet) and for her reading I held the recorder in my lap pointing up. The PA system for the reading wasn’t very loud — kind of like a little louder than normal speaking voice. The final file was about half a gig of 44.1 khz WAV.

In Audacity I cut out a few spots of the WAV file and used the envelope tool and amplify effect to increase the volume on some points, and the envelope tool to decrease some loud spots, but other than that I didn’t do too much. I still haven’t figured out how much of that works.

I did cut up the file into two parts — so if you just want to hear the question and answer you can skip to that.

Robin Hobb introduction and reading:

Robin Hobb Q & A:

I was impressed by the reading, she seems really cool.


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.

LCRW #21

The zine Lady Churchhill’s Rosebud Wristlet has fluttered on the periphery of my consciousness for some un-specifiable amount of time. I finally ordered a copy, #21, to see what it’s all about. Other than reading Strange Horizons occasionally I haven’t kept up with SF (and most short fiction, really) at all — stopped reading F&SF and Asimov’s ten or so years ago.

A lot of the stuff in this issue has similar flaws. The writing lacks sustain, an emphasis on what’s important, interesting ideas, and kind of jumbles things together in a sophmore creative writing class kind of way. Not that I would really know I guess, I never took a sophmore creative writing class. I just read the stories my friends wrote in them.

On the other hand I think the cover is fabulous (though my friend and his girlfriend turned their noses up at the Xerox — people with taste!). And for the five or whatever bucks I spent I did get a really great story, “The Postern Gate” by Brian Conn. I’m happy with that.

I’ve also got a new subscription to Electric Velocipede but I’m saving that for the plane ride back to Seattle (not to mention an old copy of Fictitious Force sitting at home).

command lines: chapter 3

A little over the half-way point of Command Lines, and we have (I think) a confirmation of the idea of a central mechanic of interaction — but more on that in the final section.


Chapter 3 deals largely with what CL calls the aesthetics of frustration — the art made within the ambiguous possibility space, the gap between the interactor and the IF. It heavily references Espen Aarseth’s book Cybertext among other theoretical works, and this sent me to the intarwebs quite a bit. Some useful background on Aarseth and his idea of textonomy is here:

Cybertext Theory: What An English Professor Should Know Before Trying, Markku Eskelinen

Cybertext Killed the Hypertext Star, Nick Montfort


In running down the wayposts on the road of IF theory CL stops at the book Twisty Little Passages by Nick Montfort (I need to read this — I passed up a copy of it at Twice Told Tales a few months ago, incidentally). Apparently Passages makes the case that IF inherits from the riddle. CL responds:

My first concern is that a work of IF is seldom a riddle in anything but the most extended of senses, although most might be more credibly described as puzzles. This is because the riddle is ultimately a better metaphor for a small group of interactions or even a single interaction within a work of IF. The moment of closure of some state change that the interactor considers a strategic advancement is much like one question that demands one answer. Like the critics before him, Montfort is addressing the multitude of gaps that make up an IF work and characterize its aesthetics. Yet he does not present riddle-books or riddle-collections as an artistic ancestor (which in contemporary culture are generally seen as tawdry affairs), nor any form of riddle-networks (if such things exist and are acknowledged as art) but instead the riddle (singular) in itself. [183]

What to make of this in light of an earlier section of CL, I’ll just requote in full:

When considered as a process in time, the formation of the implied code can generally be described as a coming-into-understanding. In contemporary literary IF,the interactor’s progress in learning to interact is often paralleled by the progress of the protagonist within the work, who also struggles to understand something within the world of the story. Implied code sets the pace of a dual epiphany that is both the climax and the conclusion: the character understands the world in the moment that the reader understands the code, and at that moment the work ends.[62]

At first I thought, well wait a minute, is this not the ‘riddle’, that the interactor understands, at which point the work ends?

But taking this further, there is a difference between solving a riddle and understanding a world (or situation), and in any case, this would be a most liberal definition of a riddle. So there is some bigger central concept that is bigger than the riddle here, though I’m not sure how to describe it yet.


IF and Puppet Theory [186].

CL talks at length about the meaning and definition of the player-character (PC) and prefers to call the PC the protagonist. The protagonist is not a puppet — a FPS avatar, say, where button mashing sends a fairly unambiguous signal to shoot a gun or jump or run. Rather the nature of the command line creates an ambiguous possibility space that denies the validity of the PC as puppet. However CL doesn’t stop there:

The term “player character” is itself wrong, and rather than redefining it in cybernetic terms we should replace it with one that better reflects the ambivalent complexities of IF identification. This suggested renaming might be a self-contradiction, as I strenuously defend the use of the phrase “interactive fiction” based in part on popular use (Ch. 1) but here resist the term “player character,” which also has a strong (if less universal) consensus in practical use. Yet the situation is not exactly the same. First, “player character” is a specific term of craft or criticism, and thus bears a certain responsibility for accuracy (and carries a certain consequence for inaccuracy) which genre labels do not. Terms of craft are also easier to change. Second, the term “player character” strongly implies that the player is embodied by her character, or that the player character is occupied by the player. They term also implies that IF works (which may be played, used, read, interacted with, explored, tested, and so forth) are always played, which is particularly strange in relation to conversational or art show pieces, but generally limiting in even more conventional cases. Third, and most importantly, by implying that the player character stands in for the player, the term implicitly conflates focalization (how the interactor perceives the diegesis) with action (how the interactor affects the diegesis). [206]

The most important bit here for me is whether IF works are always played. The concept of play itself is especially relevant if you’re going to talk about an aesthetic of frustration — but wait on that.


I identify the figure through which interactor agency is focalized as the “protagonist,” or first actor: one who usually performs the interactor’s suggested acts. It might literally follow that multiple such figures (as in Berlyn’s Suspended or Granade’s Common Ground) are “agonists,” but for the sake of elegance we can simply call them “actors”: characters who perform the suggested acts of the interactor.85 Figures who are not conduits of agency therefore need not be called “non-player characters” (NPCs). They are simply “characters,” and describing them in this way helps us to consider the many complex ways in which characters may be partial or contingent actors. [207]

In this sense the concept of agency seems very limited. Any object in the IF by which the interactor achieves an effect on the world can afford agency. What then is not a conduit of agency? Backdrops or scenery that don’t have any effect on the world whatsoever? Is a key then an actor? That doesn’t seem appropriate either.

Other text games have used the term ‘agent’, and while it flows very nicely from the idea of agency, if you say a bunch of agents are running around your IF it sounds kind of cloak and dagger-ish doesn’t it?


Responding to theorists who advocate for a range of interaction in IF beyond that of genre tropes (for example, fantasy or science fiction stereotypes, though CL makes a good case that many theorists have been stuck near 1982 when it comes to analysis of IF work itself):

If we assume that the goal of the design space is to conform to strongly understood, previously available schema and scripts about interaction, then we have in the process implicitly stated that IF can never be accessible or usable on the one hand while still being unexpected, surprising, or unique on the other. We are arguing instead that the pattern of being unsurprising is what causes interaction design to succeed. To restate, accepting the hallmark of successful IF design as “reinforcing genre expectations” might also be positing good IF design as the antithesis of “subverting genre expectations.” To complete the syllogism: if subversion is a hallmark of artful literature, and the truly generic tropes are the opposite of subversion, does this mean that IF is in this sense the opposite of artful literature? [211]

CL then goes on to describe some ways that IF design can subvert genre expectations: by changing the interactor’s script within the process of interaction(by script I think he means the range of interaction, what the interactor can do in the IF), and by scripting for failure of the interactor. CL also defends against the idea that most IF is defined by genre tropes at all.

However, what CL doesn’t talk about, yet at least, is that the goal of the design space doesn’t have to be about genre tropes or transgressing genre at all — but instead about a central mechanic, a metaphor, that allows the player to come to terms with the work, regardless of genre stereotypes or whether it uses equally stereotypical tropes of literary fiction. The mechanic by its very nature imposes constraints and limits, and it’s the author’s job to reveal to the interactor what these are, and equally the interactor’s aim to discover them. Ultimately I think CL implies this idea [219].


Many works of IF create a unified language constraint, combining the description of most individual psychological, social, or physical constraints into powerful, comprehensive systems of constraint that are deeply tied to the concept of the respective work. These systematic sources of constraint might be a special situation of the world or a special condition of the protagonist. Of these two options, the move to formalize constraint in the protagonist is often more effective, as the protagonist is usually the consistent element in an often-varied environment. Yet the distinction is not always clear, as the modeled IF world may in fact reflect the protagonist’s worldview, or some other special property of the protagonist’s mind. Whether the world, the protagonist, or some combination is the origin of primary constraint, a host of foreclosed options may be attributed to a single cause. This single constraining cause then provides a compelling negative shape against which the remaining possibility space may be explored.95 The purpose of these limit-systems is to render the necessarily extreme constraints of the IF representation aesthetic by incorporating them into the diegesis [231]

And here we have it — CL is talking specifically about ideas of disability, literal and figurative, within IF, but you wouldn’t be doing too poorly if you said “a single cause[, a] single constraining cause [that] provides a compelling negative shape against which the remaining possibility space may be explored” was a description of the idea of the central mechanic.

I realize I’m throwing around this term of ‘central mechanic’ without many examples to back it up — I can only gesture vaguely to IF by Victor Gijsbers, Emily Short, Stephen Bond, Adam Cadre. I’m a doctor, not a cybertext theorist! — wait, I’m not a doctor either. Oh well.

This emphasis on the aesthetics of frustration is quite interesting — when we play IF we don’t say it’s frustrating us unless we’re stuck, and I don’t think this aesthetic is meant to apply only when you’re stuck. To adequately describe the experience of interaction it needs to apply when we’re having fun too, and while you may not play something like Galatea like you play Lock and Key, you are equally engaged. It seems odd to me to describe an experience of fun with an aesthetic of frustration. Nor am I satisfied that for some works we engage — with very serious faces on now — and for some we’re entertained. Maybe we can borrow something from drama (as some IF developers seem to be doing — or I should say interactive dramatists), as whether it’s Death of a Salesman or A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it’s still a — well, maybe I shouldn’t go too far.

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.

command lines: chapter 1

I want to say at the outset that part of the problem I have reading a thesis like Jeremy Douglass’ Command Lines: Aesthetics and Technique in Interactive Fiction and New Media is the gap between me and the academy. In other words, I left school ten years ago, and shortly thereafter started swinging a hammer for a living. And last I heard swinging a hammer at a thesis wasn’t a useful mode of reading it, even though it may be not an uncommon form of criticism.

Nevertheless I’m not here to criticize this thesis but to engage with it. As Tank might say, this is very exciting! I’ve added my own section numbers.


First, something from the forward, titled Foreclosure and Interactive Fiction.

Procedural foreclosure displaces this active process of coming into understanding, as for example when the player learns in advance of initial play the optimal method for locating and destroying each colossus (as with a guide, tutorial, or review). Procedural foreclosure changes both the play technique and the resulting procedures of the interactive experience, and thus changes those aesthetic affects that arise procedurally. In the case of Shadow of the Colossus, optimally guided play shortens the length of the work dramatically by omitting exploration in every sense. Forewarned and forearmed, an epic half-hour struggle to subdue a creature fighting for its life becomes 30 seconds of precise and perfunctory execution – an encounter with Moby-Dick revisited by contemporary commercial whale-harvesters [4]

Reminding me once again that I want to play Shadow of the Colossus, I grabbed this quote because I immediately thought of the recent game Deadline Enchanter. If you don’t know, the basic idea in DE is that your protagonist receives an in-game walkthrough. You could say that in DE foreclosure occurs within the process of the game itself. Something I’d like to chew on further at some point.


I want to include CL’s ‘definition’ of IF — though it would be unfair to say that the thesis attempts to make a formal definition of IF at all (at least so far), this is what we get such as it is. IF is:

a text-based narrative experience in which a person interacts with a computer software simulation by alternately typing text phrases (generally a command in the imperative mood) and reading software-generated text responses (generally a statement in the second person present tense) [8]

As a rule CL uses the term interactor in place of player.


Next, I found this fascinating to think about:

“Unlike most hypertext fictions, most IF employ a spatial rather than topical metaphor (in that many individual exchanges produce substitutions of text that correspond to movement through simulated space, not associated topics), and thus are explored in the more pragmatic sense of explore: “travel through an unfamiliar area in order to familiarize oneself with it.” But most importantly, to engage with IF is to ‘explore’ in the most literal sense of its Latin derivation, ex-plorare: “to cry out.” IF proceeds, if it proceeds at all, as a result of outcry – utterances, typed by the interactor, that produce in response a growing familiarity with the simulated landscape.” [12]

Specifically the idea of the outcry, the commands the player types, which CL then calls out specifically as interrogation. Apart from the simply romantic notion of outcry, I wonder: if the work can reveal the landscape in response to outcry, shouldn’t it be possible for the interactor to reveal a parallel landscape in reponse to interrogation by the work? That could take many forms, from what you see in Spider and Web to some of the experiments devised by Victor Gijsbers (such as Figaro). In other words, when the tables are turned, is it still interrogation? What is it if not?

Jumping from this train of thought:


Should IF be understood in terms of a failed relationship to the model of publishing? Perhaps it could instead be represented as an ongoing successful relationship to the model of network distribution, or to the set of logics Alexander Galloway terms “protocol.” (8) The commercialization of IF, while foundational for the later commercial computer games industry, can be recast in this telling as an important anomaly, a brief big-business deviation from the otherwise constant association of the IF genre with individual authors each networked into a kind of literary salon culture. Indeed, as we focus on this version it quickly becomes unclear whether business production methods were ever strongly deviated from the methods of the earlier folk era or the later independent era: a single author laboring for some months, with perhaps the help of a few volunteer beta-testers.[20]

I’m unsure to what extent you can trace the lineage of the IF auteur back to the 70s and 80s, when as I understand it most computer games were written by auteurs in this period — not just IF. In that sense you could place IF auteurs in a tradition of video game auteurs, but is there a true folk tradition of IF auteurship with its own signifiers (assuming I’m using those words correctly!)?


CL really nails my interest in ‘field work’:

Browsing through stacks of critical monographs, piles of papers, and a hard drive of files, I am struck by the infrequency with which I encounter close readings – or rather, close interactions – in relation to these objects: a rarity of extended critical engagements with not only the form but also the texture of IF works as they unfold for us in all their aesthetic particularity. Perhaps this lack is a mere byproduct of our shifting focus away from what things mean and towards a renewed attention to what they do. At times, however, I fear that a deeper prejudice may be at work in our critical community, leading scholars to focus too often on the how of new media at the expense of the what, and in so doing dismiss with perfunctory summary the passions of artists and the experiences of their audiences, precisely as if the work warranted (and indeed, could bear) no deeper scrutiny. I fear the mistake, in other words, of assuming that the enduring importance of new media objects resides always in the ways that they are new, but never in their particular artistic renewals of our continual engagements with lived experience. The great disappointment of new media criticism in the humanities is that much of it is surprisingly inhumane.” [36]

When I say field work I’m hauling in some baggage from geology.

Wallace Stegner said, “no place is a place until things that have happened in it are remembered in history, ballads, yarns, legends or monuments.” Every geological phenomenon we observe and interpret, from a single crevasse splay deposit to a continent-scale orogen, adds to our understanding of geology and of place. In that pursuit, I use a field-based approach to understand the interdependence between structure and sedimentation, and apply this understanding towards solving larger-scale tectonic problems. []

More about this later.


A brief detour through CL’s discussion of the term interactive:

“On the other hand Crawford’s work on interactive storytelling reflects a rigorous demand for some future sophisticated system (although Crawford differs from Lippman in focusing not on character simulation but storyworld simulation). [47]

I’m not so sure Crawford focuses on storyworld simulation in the sense this quote portrays. In fact I think he’s obessed with character simulation, and by a storyworld he means the dialog between the player and the artificial character.


Compare the following with Victor Gijsbers’ recent post ‘The Meaning and the Birth’:

IF is not a videotape of the hour-long session of IF that you yourself may have explored, nor the map you drew to aid your explorations. Neither is IF the complete printed transcript of your session. Artifacts such as walkthrough recordings (of the command stream) and transcripts (of the entire text stream) circulate widely in IF culture, and are important to it, but the transcripts are not themselves works of IF, which always imply procedural and experiential elements that cannot be flattened. Hypertext studies critics and games studies critics are at this point nodding their heads at this familiar purist position on interactive artifacts. A thornier question, however, is “specifically which parts of the total work of IF are missing when we read a transcript?” [49]


A chat client is not in itself a work of IF, yet it can become part of such a work if its command line is pointed towards an interlocutor that behaves in a certain way – and some chatbots actually enable exactly this kind of activity. The relationship of the chat client to IF is not a superficial resemblance. Instead this resemblance goes right to the heart of what we might call the more existential questions about the IF genre and its relationship to both artificial intelligence and roleplaying, that is, the machine and the human. Consider: an interactor engages two interlocutors using a chat client. One is a talented roleplayer and storyteller, who has been instructed to use the conventions of IF in a story in as rigorous a way as possible. The other is a chatbot running a sophisticated piece of IF software, which in addition to its brilliant ability to accommodate unexpected actions is versed in imitating human chat behaviors such as slowness, typos, etc. If the interactor can’t tell the difference, should we then define IF as an experience rather than a digital artifact? More importantly, who in this scenario is trying to pass as what?” [51-52]


In the notes I made while reading near this quote I asked myself, ‘is computational narration and computational presentation the same thing?’. I don’t think I’m alone here when I answer no — look at Nick Montfort’s ‘nn’ system, for example. Here I go back to CL’s provisional definition of IF as including computer-generated narration. In computational terms generation in an IF work can mean a specific thing, that is procedural generation of text, and I don’t think CL uses generation in this way. In CL generation can mean the presentation of the text to the interactor. Does an IF work generate or present text? You (meaning me) don’t wan’t to forget this distinction — it frames the reading, playing, and writing of IF, and an awareness of the frame allows you to step into and out of it understanding the effects.


The first chapter ends with a fair-sized explication of what CL will do in the following chapters, but here’s a last quote from before that part. ‘Implied code’ means what the interactor imagines the structure and content of the IF work-as-source-code to be — similar to guessing the text of a novel in the pages you haven’t got to yet.

When considered as a process in time, the formation of the implied code can generally be described as a coming-into-understanding. In contemporary literary IF,the interactor’s progress in learning to interact is often paralleled by the progress of the protagonist within the work, who also struggles to understand something within the world of the story. Implied code sets the pace of a dual epiphany that is both the climax and the conclusion: the character understands the world in the moment that the reader understands the code, and at that moment the work ends.[62]

I wonder if implied code does not include the idea of a mechanic of interaction then — presumably you want the IF to teach the player the mechanic of interaction as early as possible, quite apart from the exploration of the story world. By mechanic I mean the central metaphor for the interaction.

Good thing I’m not getting graded on this. Quite a fun read so far!

Jeremy Douglass: command lines

A new dissertation on IF by Jeremy Douglass came in over WRT’s wire this morning. With some inspiration from Renga in Blue I’m going to do a serial reading-and-response of it here. More to come soon.

full magazine

I’ve been poking around lately to see the extent of the SF magazine world. This will get redundant I’m sure.

Here’s an oldish list of SF small press stuff and webzines at

The SFWA list.

Yes, the Wikipedia entry.

Found “An Open Source Speculative Fiction Magazine Model” (though I don’t know how open source figures into that, honestly).

That got sparked by Paolo Bacigalupi’s posts on the subject, which you can find through the article linked above.

A half-fluff piece at Speculations, good enough to skim.

Anyway, so the point of this post — here is what I think would be cool: a paying online SF magazine that included IF. Call it a monthly, 1-3 IF works a month, 2-3 short stories and serials, and a weekly column of something, say around 25k words total (let’s be generous and do .05 a word, so $1250, and IF gets a flat rate of $100. Annual budget is $18k — hahahaha).

Maybe the column rotates, first week is editorial, second is SF, third is IF, and fourth is craaaaaazy.

Notwithstanding I have no technical experience to get something like that running, I would like to read something like that. And hey, this is why I get to post it on this thing and not spray it across a forum somewhere.

The magazine gets funded by general donations, and throw in a tip jar for individual stories.

It would need a web-based interpreter, so people could read it anywhere — I wonder how well a web interpreter works on a mobile device.


I just thought this was cool.


I don’t know for sure but I think they’re going to have real-time chat within the text that you’re reading. Or it could just be commenting. But real-time chat would be kind of hilarious to do while you’re reading something. Talk about the ADD generation.

basic bookcase: Downbelow Station

After the first two books off the Basic Bookcase it was looking a little grim for me and the world of classic SF, but thankfully things have picked up with Downbelow Station. Unfortunately it’s only picked up sort of, like a mime caught halfway between falling down and getting back up in null gravity, or something.

I only skipped a few of the later chapters in Downbelow so that’s saying something. While in the first couple of chapters I thought that Cherryh had anticipated the ‘New Space Opera’ by about twenty years, it soon becomes clear that really Cherryh is doing some kind of 70s soap opera simultaneously with HARD SF and a little Rousseain alien culture to mix it up a little. Nevertheless the novel does have its moments.

Bookcase worthy? yea.

There’s a nice bookstore that’s been around for a couple of years in my neighborhood, but I just started going more frequently: Jackson St. Books. Nice SF section, check it out.