Thursday, November 4, 2010

IF Blog

In my experience with interactive fiction, I came to the conclusion that it was more of a game than a story. However, all the pieces I read did have literary elements and also were considered stories. IF stories have plots, characters, a main goal/objective, and an overall theme like a regular text story. Yet, the player also has to become a character and interact with the game by putting textual input in the game in order to receive output from the computer program which also is in the form of text. Hence, even if the player is not exactly figuring out a puzzle, he/she is still interacting with the piece and trying to reach an ending like when trying to complete a game. Ramsberg states in his piece “A Beginner’s Guide to Playing Interactive Fiction” that interactive fiction is something in between a computer game and a book. He reveals that the player actually becomes the main character of the story through entering text or input to the computer (Ramsberg 2). In order to understand interactive fiction one must be willing to interact with the piece and, in most games, be ready to use his/her mind to figure out the puzzle or the puzzles that are incorporated. Ramsberg asserts that the way you go around solving the puzzle/puzzles may impact how the plot unfolds within the piece as well as the outcome. He asserts that it is possible that an IF story can take more than one path and it depends on the choices the player makes (Ramsberg 2).Therefore, in some pieces it is like the player determines the plot and the outcome of the story. Hence, not every IF has a puzzle to figure out but every game is like a journey the player goes and makes his/her own choices to reach an outcome.
 Every IF piece has a main goal/objective and the player’s job is to figure out how to achieve that goal. The best way to achieve the intended goal is to read the IF output text very carefully and look for little clues or hints. Hence, the text/story is the most important part of the IF piece because it is the reader’s key to successfully solving the puzzle and reaching the basic goal. However, even if the piece does not have a puzzle to solve, the reader still must figure out what choices to make, what input to provide, and how to get the output or specific ending you want from the computer program. For example in the IF piece Galatea, the player immediately enters and IF room with a talking statue and stays in the room talking to the statue the entire game. However, the player quickly figures out through her snappy remarks/output that she is hard to please. If the IF player decides he/she wants to make peace with Galatea and receive a pleasing ending, he/she will try to use input/text that he/she thinks will result in positive output from Galatea.
In a way it is like a game because you have to use the output that Galatea provides you with to start a new conversation. Hence, you find hints in Galatea’s replies that give you information to work off in forming a new question for her and to keep a positive conversation going with her. Therefore, it is kind of like a puzzle because you have to figure out what to talk about with her, which is basically what she wants to talk about and what interest her most. The only way you can find out what interests her the most is by observing her outputs carefully for hints/details and reactions which reveal how she feels about what you previously said.

When I was playing Galatea, I had a lot of trouble getting her to respond with a positive attitude and to be interested in what I was saying. For example, I tried asking her about life and she responded by talking about a man. Therefore, I realized that she was really interested in this man so my next question asked about him in general. When I first said ‘ask about him,’ she responded with very little text and I was quite disappointed. Yet, I said ‘ask about him’ again and I got more of a response out of her. She told me more about herself and the life she experienced living with the man who constructed her. At the same time, she revealed how she felt towards him for hiding her away and then selling her. Hence, I found a subject to talk about with her by first asking a simple question about life and then searching her output for a subject to ask her about next. Fortunately, she ending up being interested in the subject I chose from her text to ask her about. It was my goal to get her to speak more than one sentence and to start providing me with details of her life story.
 My goal was to discover as much as I could about Galatea and to somehow find ways to keep her interested and to keep her in an ongoing conversation with me. As a result, my ultimate goal was to develop a positive relationship with Gallatea through establishing a successful, life revealing conversation with her. Therefore, this IF piece was interactive and like a game because I had a goal, I had to make specific choices about what I asked her or told her, and I had to look for hints within her text in order to figure out what to say next to achieve my ultimate goal.
            I think the most obvious literary elements in Galatea is character development and character description of her. While playing the game, you are able to develop a character for Galatea. You develop a character for her by analyzing the facts/background she tells you about her life and by the way in which she interacts with you/the attitude she responds with. By simply asking her about her home and her owners now, I easily can conclude by her responses that she is hurting inside. I can tell that she is very resentful towards the man who made her and then simply sold her away. Also, I can tell that she wishes she wishes she could interact with other people and function like a normal human being. She is lonely and desperately yearns for companionship and an identity.

When she talks about home, she talks about how she never really got to see the countryside or much at all of anything outside the home itself. Then she mentions how she was packed away and shipped off in a crate. Hence, this response reveals how she wishes she could go out into the world and experience it because she has been locked up her whole life. Also, by mentioning being shipping off from her home, she reveals how it truly does upset her that her creator gave her up. Therefore, this information about her life led me to conclude that she is a very sorrowful, resentful, and emotional person. Furthermore, when she discusses how her owners do not talk to her and that no one really does, I was able to conclude that she felt as if no one cared about her and she was just going to be lonely and ignored for the rest of her life. Hence, I also concluded that all she really wanted was someone to ask about her and her life and simply show that they were interested in her. As a result, the character I developed for her was a character that may snap and have attitude at times and only wants to talk about her. However, she is this way because she is hurting inside by being traded by her owner, by being ignored by everyone now, and by not being able to experience the world like everyone around her. Therefore, I was not just able to construct a character for her but I was also able to put together her life story with the facts and statements she provided me. There is a story behind Galatea and the player has to find a way to unlock as much parts as possible in order to really understand Galatea.
            The IF piece clearly has a theme and I think it is that you do not really know what you have until it is gone. People should cherish the lives they are blessed with and enjoy every little experience. For example, when I asked Galatea about love, she replied saying that people are idiots when they are in love and that it is not worth it basically. The player can tell that she may respond ‘harshly’ towards love but really she would do anything to be able to experience it even though she knows that it might hurt her a lot in the end. In a way her feelings toward love represent her feelings toward experiencing life. Everyone knows that his/her life may be difficult at times but in the end life is really a blessing and the good experiences mostly make up for the bad experiences. Galatea is a statue who cannot go anywhere or experience anything really; she barely has the chance to communicate with others. Even though at times people resent their lives and hate everything about them, everyone is blessed with the opportunity to live while Gallatea is stuck there by herself as a statue.

            The game element that contributes to a theme is the fact that you have to keep asking about her and finding topics that she will think are interesting, which most likely refers to her own life. The fact that the game part requires you to focus on her and her life emphasizes that sometimes you have to focus on the hardships of other people and what they cannot do or what they do not have in order to realize how precious what you do have truly is. The IF Galatea communicates that one should cherish his/her life and sometimes in order to do that one needs a reality check. Realizing the horrid or sad that lives that other people live or in this case do not live is sometimes the key to realizing the importance of your own life and taking the time to enjoy every little part of it and not taking it for granted. When I began to talk about myself and my own life in the game, Galatea became uninterested. I was clearly losing the game by not asking about her like I previously had.

As a result, I lose because I am sitting there crying and wallowing to her about the death of my sister Jenny. If I really want to win the game, I have to keep the topic focused on her. She loses interest and the game ends. Hence, the ending goes along with the theme that even though life does have some bad experiences, you have to cherish all the good and the life you live in general. Galatea was not even able to experience life and I am sitting there complaining about my own life. Galatea would probably even settle with being able to experience losing someone, just to have the chance to have a life experience in general. Therefore, the story and game elements work together to communicate the greater theme of the story. The game part of the IF piece is to keep Galatea interested or the game will end. The story part of Galatea is learning as much as you can about her in order to develop a character for her through her background history and exposed feelings/emotions. Hence, by keeping her interested and in conversation, you learn more and more about. Therefore, by playing the game correctly, you are able to keep the story of her life going and obtain more details about her to help you understand her better. By developing a better understanding of Galatea and her character, you are able to observe the pain she undergoes by not being able to live and experience and, as a result, you are able to better understand the overall theme. Hence, the game and story elements work together and you need both to discover theme and develop the literary elements (such as character) in the IF piece.
      Furthermore, you choose your own plot and sequence of events by the particular input you provide and, therefore, by playing the game you construct a literary element (plot).You as the player control how the conversation unfolds, how she reacts, and how the game ends. in “The Pleasure of the Text Adventure,” Montfort discusses how the plot in IF is not linear because the reader creates the plot and is able to control how small episodes within the story play out. However, he reveals that the author of the program does know what plots are possible for the reader/player to create because the programmer provides the numerous options to make; you just make the choice of which one (Montfort 7). He emphasizes that the ability to create your own sequence of events provides the player with the ability to discover messages on his/her own through this interaction and it becomes a creative/innovative process. Therefore, by playing the game of an IF piece, you the player is also creating a sequence of events by the particular choices he/she makes and going on a particular path which will provide a certain theme based on the choices the reader makes.

My If is about a character who is trying to find a little girl he was babysitting. The babysitter will be in a lot of trouble if the child is not found quickly because the parents are entirely obsessed with her and would freak out if they found out she was missing or she told them you weren’t watching her for such a long period of time. The girl is five years old, and she has a twin sister too. The two kids and the babysitter were watching Cinderella in the living when one of the girls went missing. There are three rooms- the living room, the girl’s room, and the parent’s room - the parent’s room is not really developed yet though. Summer ( the sister) is in the living room watching the movie, Lucy (the dog) is on Summer’s bed in the girls’ room (also can be conversed with).  The IF player basically can examine all the objects mentioned in the Living room and the Girls’ room to look for Sophia. The IF player also can say ‘talk to’ either Summer or Lucy 3-4 times each and get different responses.
When writing my piece of interactive fiction, I enjoyed being able to create numerous options for the reader. For example, I enjoyed creating a lot of pieces of scenery and different items with detailed descriptions. I wanted to give the player a lot of places to look for the little girl. I found it fun imagining what items would be in a little girl’s room and where she would hide. Therefore, it was enjoyable creating as many items as I could possibly think of that a little girl could fit inside. Also, I liked being able to create Sophia and Summer’s bedroom and set it up how I imagine the perfect room for a little kid.

I made their room so that it had two pretty, pink beds with a beautiful wardrobe in between them. I also created a huge two-door closest that took up an entire wall and was full of toys. Then one wall was entirely covered by a wide window with a pink toy box underneath. I felt like an inertial designer at the time and I found the process of creating the girls’ room very enjoyable. I wanted to create a room that fit the personalities I imagined for the two little girls. I wanted it to be princess-like and perfect looking. I imagined the two little girls to be very well-mannered, spoiled, and mature for their age. However, they really just want to be little kids and be able to carelessly play around. Also, I wanted to create items that would be interesting to look in while searching for Sophia. While looking in them, the reader would also be able to find more items that revealed things about the two little girls. For example, the closet was full of toys and hinted that the little girls secretly played in their closet where they could act like children behind ‘closed doors’.
          However, by being able to create numerous rooms with numerous items within them in which a child could fit or hide, I was able to provide the player with a sense of frustration. When reading a book about a babysitter looking for a child, you do not experience the true sense of frustration he/she experiences unless you are searching the rooms yourself. Also, you do not understand how truly frustrating it is when you are really trying to find someone and no one will help you or give you any hints. For example, when the player speaks to the sister Summer, she provides absolutely no help and just talks about how she will play with Summer later and has no idea where she is. The player experiences how truly annoying and upsetting it is to be ignored even by a child when all you want is some help finding someone. Finding Sophia becomes really important to you because it is the goal of the game. Therefore, when you get ignored by Summer and search through numerous items with no luck, a true sense of frustration is established.

          I found it quite easy to create scenery, rooms, characters, and conversations by simply following the IF manual. However, it was really important to follow the manual exactly and make sure you had all the proper punctuation. If you even forgot a period, it would say you had an error. However, I really never had a problem with missing punctuation because I was very careful and slow when typing in all my text. The problems I did experience were when I played my own game and could not find the characters I was creating. For example, I created a dog named Lucy and I made it so that I could talk to her because I was becoming so desperate in my search. However, when I was in the Living Room, I kept saying ‘talk to Lucy’ or ‘examine Lucy’ and it kept responding that ‘there is no such thing’. As a result, I kept recreating Lucy and retyping in the same exact text. However, I finally figured out I cannot see her or talk to her until I enter the Girls’ Room, which is the room I placed her in.

          I experienced many limitations because I am not very knowledgeable in IF so there were many things I wanted to do and was unable to do. For example, I wanted to make Lucy (the dog) follow me as I walked throughout the Girls’ Room, yet I had no idea to do it. I really wanted to make Lucy the tool to finding Sophia somehow but I was just simply unable to make her be able to move around and really do anything. Therefore, my lack of knowledge of using IF constricted my creativity. If I was writing this story, I could easily have made the dog follow the babysitter around and then make the dog disappear all of the sudden. As a result, the babysitter would have realized the dog must have found something more interesting and by going on a search for the dog, the reader would also be on a search for Sophia. I clearly stated that the dog and Sophia were quite attached and, therefore, the dog most likely would be with Sophia somewhere. It would be much easier to track down a dog than Sophia because I could have used clues such as paw prints, dog toys, or soft barking noises.
     I think I would have had more fun writing this as a story because I came up with the story in my mind and then was so limited by my inability to do anything with IF due to my lack of knowledge. The IF process is just much too complicated and it actually becomes hard to express yourself unless you really know how to work the program. I truly respect anyone who is able to complete an IF game and make it challenging to the player because it is really a hard process. I find it enjoyable to play around with and create a mini-story but creating a full game that is actually complex is way too hard, frustrating, and time consuming.

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