Affordances of interactive fiction

Some important concepts to remember when thinking about story telling are the affordances and constraints that the medium permits. Contemporary forms of storytelling were limited to print and text forms. As technology developed, however, new forms of ergodic literature and storytelling became an option. One of the early forms of digital ergodic literature came in the form of interactive fiction. This medium provided an interactive way for the user to follow a story, and have their choices influence the outcome of the narrative. This format of storytelling implemented a new array of affordances authors had while creating a story.

One important affordance provided by interactive fiction gave the user an interactive interface where they could almost “talk to the computer”. Prior to these text based adventures, typing to the computer and having it return a logical response was unknown. This affordance allows the audience to see and do what they want in the order they want. This is closely related to the notion, prevalent in ergodic literature, of nonlinear storylines, where a narrative isn’t always told in the same order. In interactive fiction, the user controls what happens, which may cause parts of the narrative to be missed or done out of order.

While nonlinear storylines can be seen as a benefit of the medium, Nick Montfort notes that it also is a constraint on creative control from the writer’s side. Instead of telling the story in the way the author envisions, the user can receive the information through the way in which they explore the world.

Along a similar line, interactive fiction (and all ergodic literature) has the affordance of making the user a “player” instead of a spectator. When reading a text, the audience is confined to watching events unfold, whereas interactive fiction places the reader directly in the story and gives their decisions weight on the outcome. Another affordance that is less thought of is the ability for interactive fiction to be experienced several times. While texts follow a linear narrative always ending in the same way, interactive fiction provides branching story routes leading to new encounters and experiences for the player. In some interactive fiction writers and developers put Easter eggs, hidden object or place that is not essential to the completion of the game, in the game which began in Adventure by Warren Robinett who left the first Easter egg in the form of a secret room containing the message “Created by Warren Robinett”. This game, inspired by Colossal Cave Adventure introduced the notion of experiencing components of a game in a different way to find trophies or collectables, giving the audience another experience of the game transitioning far away from linear narratives. Ultimately the numerous affordances provided by interactive fiction became so different from contemporary forms of storytelling that the line between game and story became blurred.


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