As most people probably know, video-games have origins in text. Back in the day, text was pretty much all there was. These games are not forgotten, but formed the basis of today’s semi-open world games, forging the foundations of game-rules and game-play. Despite the visual evolution of games, you can still find the origins of text adventures online – which began, and live on as Interactive Fiction. The magical words that spawned a generation, Adventure begins.
You are standing at the end of a road before a small brick building. Around you is a forest. A small stream flows out of the building and down a gully.
My idea was that it would be a computer game that would not be intimidating to non-computer people, and that was one of the reasons why I made it so that the player directs the game with natural language input, instead of more standardized commands. My kids thought it was a lot of fun.”
— William Crowther
There are plenty of these games still online, lovingly curated by people long forgotten in this era of gamification. But they were both romantics and adventurers who helped create the code that today powers the Internet and began the epci adventure we all experience daily as “ICT”.
Despite numerous studies and scholars attempting to find a definition for video games, something that seems to take an extra-ordinary amount of time, money and effort, it seems that no one has managed to come up with one that does more to describe how games feel to players than calling it Interactive Fiction.
I don’t like the idea of Serious Games, as it smells schooly and sells-out programmers like Crowther and fiction writers like Gibson in order to appease the minutia of experts defining them. Most equally they don’t like comics, cyberpunk, steampunk or Buffy. That doesn’t mean they are right.
Can we go back to the origins of the adventure, and find ways of using game-play that doesn’t have to have a ‘sanitised’ label on it? I think so.
Today, this idea of transmedia is being explored taking advantage of new tools – and requires new literacies. It has close relationships with Augmented Reality games and even the what you are about to see more of – devices that augment console game play – like the new Skylanders, where your physical characters unlock pathways and talent of your in-game character (which is marketing’s brilliant idea that sucks). Just for the record, as soon as it say’s “sold separately” you sucked the fun out and I’m not playing. So while I advocate for games, I don’t advocate for this idea that shoving a console in a room creates more motivated and engaged humans.
There are plenty of people keeping the idea of adventure alive — though now is has morphed into “transmedia’ – and these games don’t have to reside on devices most people will associate with games.
Schneider (2005) states that “the readers of hypertexts appear as empowered readers, liberated from the constraints imposed by ‘traditional’ literature – some commentators even raise the question whether the very terms ‘reader’ and ‘reading’ might not have become inadequate for hypertext reception”. This type of reading requires skills not required in traditional reading.
Oh no, so moving from printed to page to ePub isn’t as 21st Century as it seems. In an era of ‘push me’, i’ll do everything read/write technology, it seems that we are no more creators now than when we started, as few people are actually learning how code works, and how to link the medium’s together. I recall the phrase “A good story, well told” by Adam Elliot. To me a this isn’t using one media, or embedding some widget inside another widget, it’s understanding the media itself, and then linking them together to tell a good story. In many ways all Internet media is Interactive Fiction, as reality is only that we experience first hand.
Take a look at The Amanda Project as an example of what I am driving at. The Amanda Project is the first collaborative fictional mystery told across an interactive website, and an 8-book series published by HarperCollins.
Amanda Valentino is the most mysterious, the most magnetic girl you’ll never meet.
How good is that! No it won’t leap off the page and tell you exactly how to use it, you have to figure it out. However, I’ve posted the synopsis video and suggest you look at this post, just to illustrate the link with the original idea of mapping an adventure. Here’s a clip from a teacher talking about the Amanda Project.
It’s worth watching, then going back to the website and pulling it apart. There’s nothing in there that is impossible to re-create. Even if you didn’t use this book, there are plenty of ways to rethink reading and writing. There is a free teachers kit – which if you an educational developer would give you some clues on how you could re-package any story, or perhaps, with a little creativity, create just enough story for another subject. There are so many resources about writing, such as the Sydney Writers Centre that getting started isn’t impossible at all. Then there are tools, such as Inform7, which allow kids to create their own interactive fiction based on natural language.
These things are all games as much as they are books. Even if you’re not yet interested in jumping into Massively Minecraft with us, this post is a fore-runner to where we are heading with our guild. Almost all our players now have the skills to create Interactive Fiction, it remains to be seen if they’d want to. What we know is, that there has to be a constant call to adventure in which they explore their own creativity – and to me, Interactive Fiction is a game, and reading today is not about just about text or where it appears. All we have to do is make it part of the game, to facilitate the steps in the mission and to celebrate the end product.
I take great issue with games, when they deceive kids if the only acceptable meaning is that which the teacher wants, presented in ways they like to mark. My view is that using play as a frame has strong links with the past – and quite happy to say that I believe using and then creating ‘transmedia’ as Interactive Fiction is an approach to ‘digital literacy’ that connects the dots for some students far better than arguing there read/write web is anything more now, that when Berner’s Lee invented it. You have always been able to read write, if you had the literacy of the day.
To figure out what’s next, we have to be willing walk down that road, and find out what’s in the brick building, not wait until some merchant appears from the distance and tells us as we hand over money. Adventure still awaits – and for the most part it’s still free.