Compared to the visual and technical complexity of modern video games, digital interactive fiction can at first glance seem simple and mundane. Their core gameplay is easy and intuitive to learn: read a passage, select an option to continue, rinse and repeat until you reach an ending to the tale. Anyone who has ever read a choose your own adventure book, or arguably even had a conversation, can do it. Whether in spite of or due to this simplicity, interactive fiction has blossomed to include a large body of unique works.
Some works of interactive fiction don’t stray too far from the medium’s core gameplay, adding interest through narrative and writing style. Two examples of this are Miss No-Name and Queenlash, two award winning titles from the 2021 Spring Thing Festival of Interactive Fiction. At first Miss No-Name comes across as a fun innocent story about a popular kid in school trying to learn more about a loner in their class. Players can approach this objective a few ways, most of which are hinted at being more or less effective by situational context. As the story unfolds it becomes clear that what seems like the “right” way to approach getting to know this shy classmate is not always the most effective. This adds to the mystery of who Miss No-Name is. Not only is her identity unclear, but her preferences are abnormal. The length of Miss No-Name also works in its favor, as players can go through all the options and endings in a relatively short period of time. This provides a satisfying conclusion to the piece’s mysteries, which increases player satisfaction.
While it does not have the benefit of brevity that Miss No-Name does, Queenlash is a highly effective piece of interactive fiction in its own way. Instead of the narrative being its main draw, the writing style of Queenlash is where it shines. With long poetic passages, Queenlash is more of an immersive experience. Readers are surrounded by long walls of text using words that seem archaic and foreign, appropriately for a narrative set 2000 years ago. The story is one many people are familiar with, the rise and fall of Cleopatra VII. Unlike Miss No-Name, where the hyperlinks take players is not always clear cut, though there are still clues. For example, in a conversation where several people are being discussed the words that serve as hyperlinks have some connection to one of the subjects. This conveys to the player that these links will take them to a passage from that subject’s point of view, or go into more depth on their past or motives. It is a more effective way of getting to know the characters that feels more natural due to the hyperlinks being part of the conversation. This makes the story feel more personal than if choices were simply reactionary.a
Authors of interactive fiction have done an impressive job of embellishing and adding to the core gameplay of their medium, further inspiring other authors to evolve their own works. The pieces examined in this post are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to creative ways interactive fiction authors embellish their work. Pieces like Depression Quest combine their written components with impactful visual effects and sounds, while others like Some Space incorporate complex puzzles and code. For anyone who considers interactive fiction to be a lackluster part of the digital landscape, I hope this post will make you reconsider that stance and give interactive fiction a try.
Queenlash, Miss No-Name, and Some Space are available on the Spring Thing Festival of Interactive Fiction 2021 Website.
Depression Quest is available on the official Depression Quest website.
Depression Quest. Zoe Quinn, Patrick Lindsey, and Isaac Schakler, 2013. http://www.depressionquest.com/dqfinal.html
Miss No-Name. Bellamy Briks, 2021. https://www.springthing.net/2021/play_online/MissNoName/index.html
Queenlash. Kaemi Velatet, 2021. https://www.springthing.net/2021/play_online/Queenlash/Queenlash.html
Some Space. Rittermi, 2021. https://www.springthing.net/2021/play_online/SomeSpace/index.html