IF As Literature

One of the issues brought up during the IF panels at Pax East was the problem that IF games, though popular as hobby, academic, and amateur projects, have not been commercially successful since the fall of Infocom in the late 80s.

Don Woods noted in the panel, “Could the problem be that we still think of them as games instead of literature?”

I think this is a core problem. Newer IF games are addressing this central issue: with the rich stories of novels and console games, it’s no longer sufficient to tell us we need to go into the cave to kill the dragon. Oh – and solve these puzzles and navigate this maze on the way. Never mind graphics; iinteractive fiction needs to be able to compete with both the commercial game and the novel in narrative depth and complexity.

Thinking of Interactive Fiction in literary terms certainly seems like a step in the right direction. And the genre has been moving in this direction. English departments seem to be fostering the study of IF.

But many of the IF developers in an earlier panel spoke of IF in relation to commercial games rather than in relation to the novel. Perhaps this was a matter of setting—the convention was a gaming conference after all. But IF is really a form between literature and games, perhaps it’s time to lean a little more heavily on the side of literature. Making the puzzles and —God forbid—mazes part of the narrative is certainly a step in the right direction.

Remind me: who said we need puzzles at all?