If you’re already reading the Interactive Fiction Technology Foundation’s blog, we probably don’t need to convince you that interactive fiction is a worthy and valuable art form. No one can dispute that it’s textual. But can it be literature?
Many people approach IF through gaming. That makes sense: it first emerged into wide public consciousness with Zork, which was marketed and sold as a game to people who wanted to play computer games. It’s easy to consider traditional, puzzle-heavy text adventures as simply textual versions of adventure games (or, if you wanted to be more historically accurate, you could consider adventure games to be graphical versions of text adventures). And even as less puzzle-focused interactive fiction has become fashionable, nobody has sought to escape the “game” label. Choice of Games sells IF to the mobile gaming market, but Charity Porpentine Heartscape still is considered a game-maker when she shows her Twine-based art in the Whitney Biennial.
Still: since when have “game” and “literature” been exclusive terms? Visual novels and dating sims are very obviously the literary and gamified sides of the same coin, and they’re sometimes considered interactive fiction (confidential to visual novel people: call us!) We’re all familiar with Choose Your Own Adventure novels, and it’s impossible to look at one without realizing that a Choice Of Games game borrows many aspects of their format. (There’s even been a successful “choosable-path adventure” Hamlet retelling, To Be Or Not To Be.) But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Experimental writers have several times tried creating a “novel as card game,” printing text on cards and letting people shuffle the story into different orders. (There are similar projects that are sold as games, not experimental novels: think Dixit and Rory’s Story Cubes.) And aren’t riddles, one of the oldest types of games, also a form of literature?
While we necessarily recognize that interactive fiction is usually categorized as a form of “game,” we think it’s important to consider it as literary work as well. Whether a technology for creating interactive fiction is mostly used by hardcore gamers seeking the most punishing, unforgiving puzzles, or whether it appeals more to those working in an artistic context, we’re excited to provide support.