January’s Update: A Fragmentary Catalog

January was–and I wince at the past tense, as I barely noticed the last two days of the month passing–a rather fractured month. I spent it caught between a handful of larger obligations and projects, and thus didn’t have as much time to work on one overarching interactive narrative exploration as I’d wished. Instead, I bring a handful of updates and pieces of interest.

As a bit of a joke that suddenly became a fun project, I published the Void Catalog. (Currently, the only working password is “Boethius”; it’s deliberately meant to be difficult to access outside of word-of-mouth and arcane documentation on twitter, blogs, etc., as I wanted to convey the sense of having to do some digging to get at what one wants.) It only exists as an experimental fragment right now, but I’ve long conceived of an interactive fiction piece that was a living library, unfolding slowly over a period of time. I’ve never wanted to commit to monthly short projects on Patreon, because that doesn’t work with my creative model, but in this specific case, the idea sunk its teeth into me and wouldn’t let go. (The Catalog itself is called a variety of different things, depending on the position of the moon and the state of your heart when you access it.) It’s the sort of project I see adding to occasionally, when the inclination strikes and I have the free time to do it.

A lot of intriguing work was released this month that I haven’t yet had the time to dig into. In particular, “if not us” appears to be a fascinating experiment with perspective, and Narthex is a Global Game Jam 2018 project by storytellers whose work I have enjoyed in the past. (Some of the Narthex team also worked on Where the Water Tastes Like Wine.) And GENDERWRECKED, a visual novel about romance, gender, and feelings, is out! All three of these are sitting on my desktop, unopened, while I scowl at my to-do list.

Finally, I’ve been catching up on some of sub-Q’s most recently published stories, and wanted to write a short synopsis of one I found particularly compelling:

Natalia Theodoridou’s All Those Parties We Didn’t Cry At, published at sub-Q, is a speculative fiction story about a universe in which crying suddenly becomes impossible. The narrative flow is broken by interludes where the story asks readers to perform an action of stymied intimacy, weaving the fiction and the reader’s experience together by drawing on physicalized sensations brought on by the text’s prompts but not necessarily connected to the narrative thread of the story. In particular, what Theodoridou does with sound and place and visualization–asking players to listen, to go to a public place, and to visualize–draws on eroding the boundary between digital and physical, player and player character. All Those Parties We Didn’t Cry At plays at what it means to ‘interact’ in an interactive narrative, and seeks to evoke a heightened awareness of space and place while engaging with a relatively linear story and a player’s own memories, the very nature of which are nonlinear.

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Top 10 Interactive Experiences of 2017

I knew I wanted my December post to be a retrospective of the year in interactive narrative, but I admit that felt fairly daunting to me. Top 10 lists in IF/games are sometimes personal favorites and sometimes symbolic of the state of the field. And there is a lot of importance in this sort of curation; here’s a few of my favorite curated lists. But this was a really dark year for a lot of people, and the attention economy felt particularly stretched. It was weird to promote work when it felt like the world was falling apart: I delayed the announcement that my game What Isn’t Saved (will be lost) was accepted to Indiecade for a day because some terrible thing happened. I think it was Flynn getting indicted? I honestly can’t recall. (I just went and looked it up: it was the end of DACA.) It also felt difficult as a consumer to consciously set time aside to immerse myself in a narrative: whether that was a novel, a browser narrative, a short story, or a downloaded game from Steam or itch.io.

There was so much out there this year that I enjoyed, or that I didn’t have time for but I know I would have enjoyed. So this list is ten pieces I loved, that made my year worth it, and which I have recommended over and over to people asking about the most striking, satisfying, pleasurable, or meaningful interactive narratives of 2017. It’s not exhaustive or comprehensive; but these are the pieces released this year that I have found myself most often praising and evangelizing for. Continue reading “Top 10 Interactive Experiences of 2017”

Ectocomp 2017 Impressions: Le Petit Mort

Ectocomp 2017 has just finished, but the games are still playable here. Ectocomp is one of my favorite IF competitions: something about the timing (during/after IF Comp) and the Halloween theme seem to encourage a number of innovative, experimental games. Le Petit Mort is the traditional category: all games in the category must be made within a 3 hour hard limit. I find it makes for interesting comparisons, since everyone is working with the same time constraints and with the same general but broad prompt. So I thought I’d write up my thoughts on this year’s batch of Le Petit Mort games, with some selections from The Grand Guignol (the longer portion of the comp) to come later. A note: I skipped “Civil Mimic” and “Uxmulbrufyuz”, and couldn’t get “Something in the Night” to run.

Continue reading “Ectocomp 2017 Impressions: Le Petit Mort”

Initial Impressions of IFComp 2017

IFComp is a crowded field this year. With nearly 80 entries (some, if I recall, withdrawn at time of this posting) it’s hard to sort through. I’ve curated a list of the interactives I’ve most enjoyed so far, with a couple words on what makes them innovative or enjoyable to me. I might dig deeper into some of these mechanics at a later date, but for now I think it’s most useful to focus broadly rather than narrowly before comp ends. A reminder: you can rate interactives as long as you’ve played more than 5!

Continue reading “Initial Impressions of IFComp 2017”

Action and Interaction in Aether Interactive’s Localhost

This piece contains spoilers for Localhost and will make the most sense if you’ve played the interactive at least once; it can be purchased here.

When Sophia Park and her collaborators released Localhost in August, itch.io praised the piece, saying “modern Twine is defined by Sophia Park and [her production company] Aether Interactive.” Park’s work is at the forefront of a reinvigoration of Twine’s possibilities. Together with work like Porpentine’s episodically-released Sticky Zeitgeist and furkle’s IF SPY INTRIGUE, which won IF Comp 2015’s Golden Banana Award for the most polarizing piece, Localhost and Park’s other interactives are beginning to form what I’ve (rather flippantly) been thinking of as New Twine.

Continue reading “Action and Interaction in Aether Interactive’s Localhost”

Constraint, Coherence, and the Limited Parser

I’ve spoken before about matching interactive stories to narrative platforms, and briefly mentioned experiments with limited parsers. That talk was about how to use a system’s built-in strengths to make your narrative stronger: Twine’s sense of containment, Texture’s high-ask tactile affordances, Inform’s exploration via cardinal directions and world modeling. But limited parser pieces do the opposite: they press against the constraints of parser games, and by doing so, allow creators to tell stories about the frustrations of agency.

Continue reading “Constraint, Coherence, and the Limited Parser”

Digital Labor: A Reading List

I’ve been wanting to dive into questions of how labor intersects with the digital realm for a while, and have had a couple conversations with friends, but the question we kept coming up against was of how to get a sense of the field. My current research doesn’t really intersect with my interests in this sphere, so I reached out on Twitter to ask about resources.

The following list is compiled from that conversation with Cameron Kunzelman, Austin Walker, and Daniel Joseph. Daniel’s portion is directly copied from a document he’s given me permission to share; the latter half is my curation of other recommendations, with links to online versions where possible. (I’m very interested in how work on digital labor gets distributed and who it’s accessible to, but that’s another blog post.) Daniel’s recommendation is to start with Terranova on free labor, Postigo on Youtube, and Küchlich on playbour. (For those who are interested in conversations I’ve had about streaming, the last will probably be of interest.) Both Metagaming and Games of Empire also seem relevant my interests, as does the Burawoy, but that last might be fairly niche and depends on you buying Bourdieu on habitus. (I do.)

Anyway, here’s the list; I make no promises about my ability to update it in the future as I’ve got some deadlines coming up, but I would like to continue to expand it as I read further.