November 10th 2016
Brief reminder: The Imzy IF Community
Imzy is a link-, media-, and post-sharing website built around the idea of positive, well-regulated and kind communities. Going forward, I’m hoping to bring more activity to Imzy’s IF community and build it up as a safe and welcoming place for IF’s increasingly diverse authors and readers to come together and organize events, discuss IF, and encounter one another.
Imzy has only recently left its closed beta, too, so now everyone who wants to can read and join the community here.
September 30th 2016
IFComp '16: Review Notes
The Interactive Fiction Competition is once again upon us; the deadline for submissions is today, in fact.
This year, I’m busy. But I did promise I would make an effort to review some of the games. As is tradition, before we see the list of comp games, I thought I should take a moment to go over my approach to reviewing these, partly to set expectations, and partly because no collection of comp reviews is complete without a self-important essay talking about the correct way to write reviews.
I am writing impressions, not full reviews. Unless I’m really taken with something, don’t expect 2000-word rundown of what it’s about. I might group some pieces into smaller roundups of capsule reviews, even.
I am probably not going to get through the entire comp. The number of entrants last year was huge, and unless an enormous drop-off happens this year, it’s unlikely I’ll have the time to go over everything.
I am doing this in no particular order. If your title or blurb really grabs me I’ll probably get to your thing first, but otherwise I will be playing things in a random order.
I will be following the two-hour rule for judging, but I won’t guarantee it for reviews. Which is to say, if I want to keep playing past two hours, I’ll mark down a judging grade for your piece and get back to it, and review it after I feel like I’m done with it.
As a final side note - I might be covering IFComp elsewhere as well, in which case I’ll be forgoing writing about certain games in here in favor of that, though I will probably go back and write some additional notes to cover stuff that I didn’t think was valuable in a review aimed at a more general public.
Review scores are bad, but I think a grade is useful for summing up how I feel about something, especially for people who don’t want to read the full review because they don’t have the time or want to go in blind. So I’m going to be putting grades into one of three categories:
- Exceptional: this piece is an instant classic that everyone should play;
- Recommended: this is a good piece doing interesting things;
- Not recommended: this piece is either significantly flawed, or doing something that will only appeal to fans of a particular subgenre.
There are four additional categories that I don’t really expect to encounter, but want to bring up ahead of time for the sake of thoroughness:
- Broken: I wasn’t able to view most of the content of this piece, or the effect was seriously hampered, because of technical issues; ie, I wasn’t able to really play this. I’ll probably just write that as a side note to another review.
- Objectionable: This piece seems to espouse, support, or normalize a viewpoint that I find deeply objectionable (eg racism, misogyny), which for me overrides its technical or literary merit, if any. I might write at length about it, or I might not, but the bottom line is I wouldn’t recommend it to someone without a very large caveat.
- Category Error: Even though I promote a fairly broad definition of interactive fiction, this piece doesn’t seem to belong here.
- Won’t review: For some other reason, I can’t or won’t review this, for instance if it’s exclusive to some platform I don’t have access to.
I am not interested in how well something meets the (sometimes-arbitrary) trad-if standards of whether something is interactive enough, “polished” enough, or IF enough. Instead, I’m interested in what a piece has to say, and how effective it is in saying it, in terms of its content and interaction. I’m not interested in re-litigating whether dynfic or hybrid IF are interactive fiction (they are), but I am interested in whether a particular story benefits from a given format. I’m not concerned with the (somewhat calcified) standards of world model architecture that have been extremely prevalent in criticism within the IF community over the years, but I am interested in the ways the parser, trait-based narrative, and cybertext toolkits can be semantically productive.
This isn’t to say that I am giving traditional parser games a free pass on “mimesis” or whatever, but it does mean that things which are deliberately deviating from this construction will be evaluated on its own terms, and understood in those terms.
I’m particularly interested, these days, in procedurality, prose generation, narrative systems, and dynamic fiction, so you can expect to see a little more attention paid to these subjects or to pieces that give me an excuse to write about them. This isn’t to say that I like those pieces better; just that they happen to fall under my current theoretical and critical priorities. Particularly, I’m looking forward to seeing what people do with hypertext interaction, which seems to fall quite well under the IFComp’s purview.
I took part in the IFcomp last year, and I know it can be a bit of a harrowing experience. I know that it can be a twitchy tug between feeling like you haven’t gotten the attention or recognition you merit, and feeling blown out by too much scrutiny. So it’s absolutely not my goal to shame anyone for the work they put into the comp in good faith, which is why I’m trying to stay away from stack ranking people. Yes, some pieces are going to stand out, and some are going to not succeed. But it’s not my goal here to snark, or to act as a gatekeeper of who is worthy of being in the space.
This is, secretly, the real goal of the rating system: I might give some pieces little more than a sentence and a rating. I’m not sure if that is a good balance to strike between staying totally silent about something because I don’t have anything too positive to say, and writing a full-on negative review (and I reserve the right to write negative reviews if I think they would be interesting or useful). But I’m not trying to turn anyone’s creative failure into entertainment, here, which I think is the standard you have to apply. At the same time, I do want to at least mention every game I get around to playing.
Above everything, I implore authors to remember: Your value as a person is totally orthogonal to your creative success. This is not a competition to determine how much you matter or how good you are.
July 14th 2016
On Community, Anger, and Broken Stairs
This post is in reference to recent events on and around the Euphoria &if channel; it’s not really of interest to people who don’t have that context. Some community issues have to be addressed, but I don’t want to expand the circle of anger by supplying a recap. Chances are, if you need to read this, you have context already. This is the second post I am making on this issue, this time regarding my own personal thoughts and feelings on the community.
In the original incident that prompted this discussion, back in 2015, Vaporware was in the wrong. And Peter Piers is in the wrong now for defending him. I am not going to apologize or equivocate around the issue of transphobia.
More to the point, I am not going to treat a deliberately hurtful comment made explicitly to test boundaries as an honest mistake. The response to a boorish transphobic joke was, as far as I am concerned, entirely appropriate.
Vaporware is someone who has admitted to being a troll. He explicitly went into a community space not with the intention of participating in good faith, or even having a frank exchange of views, or even protesting what he might see as politically correct overreach, but with the intention of stirring shit.
This might be written off as a lapse in judgement, but the reality is that it’s part of a pattern of callous, disrespectful, and nasty behavior on his part, going back a couple of years now.
I don’t relish putting all this out in the open, but I have to extend my displeasure to Piers, too. Besides multiple interactions with him that I find personally slighting, I find his presence in the intfiction.org boards to be constantly detrimental, as thread after thread is derailed by boorish arguments about his pet issues, often coupled with an obdurate refusal to empathize with the viewpoint of people who are unlike him.
That forum has seen declining activity ever since 2014, and frankly a refusal to face quiet toxicity within the community is probably one of the reasons why. Multiple people I know don’t feel comfortable engaging in that space, including myself. The reality is, we have a number of people in the trad-if community whose behavior is persistently inappropriate or hateful, but which we’re used to blocking out or ignoring. I’m not comfortable with the hurtful results of trying to make a tent so big it can include unreconstructed bigots and sympathizers of hate movements; too much of that going around in the games space already.
I have already been avoiding posting on intfiction.org for some time. Whether you agree or not, I have to believe my contributions have value, and there’s not much of a point to posting if whatever contributions I have are seemingly 50/50 to be swamped by yet another Peter Piers derailing, or by yet another idiotic flame war on whether Twine authors deserve respect and consideration, or by yet another incidence of a malicious, longterm troll resurfacing. So I have to join those who already don’t feel comfortable using that forum any more. But I thought it important that I didn’t do it silently; because the reality is that the behavior on that forum silently drives a lot of people away.
July 14th, 2016
July 14th 2016
Changes to &if Policy
This post is in reference to recent events on and around the Euphoria &if channel; it’s not really of interest to people who don’t have that context. Some community issues have to be addressed, but I don’t want to expand the circle of anger by supplying a recap. Chances are, if you need to read this, you have context already. This is the first post I’m making on the issue, which is a statement as &if moderator.
Going forward, within &if, I’m going to be discouraging unalloyed vitriol towards members of the broader IF community. I don’t want to delegitimize the anger that some might express towards certain figures, but I ask that if you are going to express anger, it be your own anger rather than someone else’s. A pattern has developed where person A says something to the effect of “Bob has said some hurtful and stupid things, and I find that upsetting” and then persons B, C, and D choose to take this as an opportunity to dunk on Bob.
Ultimately, regardless of my own personal feelings or whether or not Bob actually is an asshole, this has created discomfort and a less than welcoming environment. In trying to manage the various different functions that &if performs, I need to identify things (in this case, expressing anger and disgust at certain figures) that threaten to overtake the space, and curtail them.
I don’t anticipate banning anyone over this, and this is not a request for people to police their own feelings or self-censor; rather, I want to ask people to be thoughtful of the overall tone of the room before joining in on tearing someone apart, even if that person seems to deserve it. I’m not entirely innocent in this, so this is also a necessary shift in my own behavior. Most of all, I ask that users of &if respond to venting or callouts by being supportive of the aggrieved party, not venomous towards the guilty party. Ultimately, I think that situations where someone is being publicly frustrated or upset are better served building that person up than by trying to tear their aggressor down,
If you feel like you want a space where those expressions of anger are validated, and believe me I feel you, my DMs are open.
Also, to reiterate: There is not, and never will be, any change in policy regarding hateful speech; I expect users to be considerate of others’ identities and humanity, and bigotry will never be tolerated in that space.
February 17th 2016
Yesterday, on &if, someone asked whether we were attracted to IF because of its status as "outsider art."
I don't really want to define outsider art, or get into the discussion over whether IF qualifies. But I responded that I felt I was attracted to IF because it's unsettled.
And then I had to go and write a post about what, exactly, I mean by that.
December 24th 2015
The World Turned Upside Down
The World Turned Upside Down is a tiny bit of parser fiction I wrote as a sort of thank you note/Christmas special. It’s very short and straightforward, so I’ll just direct you to the game page where you can play or download it.
Happy holidays, everyone.
December 18th 2015
Notes on the Euphoria chat
A brief reminder, since I haven’t posted about this on the blog ever since the comp postmortem: the Euphoria IF chat (&if) is still ongoing and regularly active. It’s an open channel, so anyone can join the conversation on Euphoria.
Euphoria is a “a platform for chat rooms you care about”, developed by some friends of mine; it’s a web-friendly, modern recreation of the IRC chat environment with support for threading and other cool features. As before, it’s a public chat that anyone is welcome to join in on.
November 18th 2015
IFComp post-comp discussion this Saturday
I’m trying something new: this Saturday, I’m organising a live post-IFComp discussion on Euphoria. It’s supposed to take place on Saturday, November 21st, 4PM EST/9PM UTC (Or if you like ISO time, 2015-11-21T21:00:00-00:00). We’ll be talking about the comp’s games, organisation, past and future.
Euphoria is a new platform for chat rooms that, unlike Slack and other new solutions in that area, are designed for social conversation rather than team collaboration. It’s accessible, fun, and designed so that multiple conversations can happen in the same space without trampling one another, using threading; I’m really exciting about it, and hopefully this is just the start of using the new &if space for the interactive fiction community.