Eric on Interactive Fiction

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Ask -- "what is Interactive Fiction to you?” Define it and you make it yours.

Interactive Fiction (IF) means the reader becomes the lead role in a dramatic game or story. The reader is the player is the actor. He or she actively drives the plot towards climax using the theater of the mind's eye, by essaying words, and receiving sublime answers. IF is the natural language extension of a machine interacting with a user to create or play out experiences and plots, via any interface. By this definition, IF is not just for 1980's era personal computers like the Amiga, Commodore 64, or IBM PC DOS. IF can, and does, include futuristic games, online websites, and advanced simulators. IF interfaces range from a parsed text terminal to an immersive virtual reality simulation. An Interactive Fiction story is what you make it, with your mind's visualization, imagination, and natural language.

It is a misconception among 'IF purists' that IF cannot use graphics or video. It is true that most graphics cannot compare to reading a great IF text story (or a good book) and using your mind’s eye to 'see' it. But one picture tells a thousand words. The false belief, that IF is just scrolling text, is based only on Infocom’s precedent of starting out that way. Infocom’s game designers wanted full graphics and lots of visual aids, but they were limited by floppy drive size and a lack of graphics on computers. To expand past the floppy drive size limit, and add more story and graphics, Infocom went to great expense to print manuals and add external 'feelies,' posters, artwork, blueprints, maps, hintbooks, and special swag, to every one of their game products. Infocom rebuilt their Z6 format text-parser and used in-game graphics in their last four games. External 'feelies' such as those at, also prevent software piracy, because their clues are often required to win the games, and collectors want the swag as much as the games. Infocom always created excellent graphics side-by-side with their IF games. Recently, independent IF reviewer and author Paul O'Brian won awards with his Earth and Sky trilogy. Part three, Luminous Horizon, adds an excellent digitial 'feelie' comic strip.

IF is more than the interface. IF is the experience.

IF thrives today in different forms and the best modern IF has a growing community (archived) of facile authors and players. IF can have more than one user sharing the same story or multiplayer game. IF -- or portraying IF style natural language experiences -- is imitated in many walks of life, computer games, software simultations, websites, Multi-User Dungeons (MUD's), Massive Multiplayer Online Role-playing Games (MMORPG's), movies, anime, science-fiction, and pop-culture. What else can you think of that is inspired by natural language IF?

--Eric.xyzzy 09:42, 6 Mar 2005 (Central Standard Time)

See also: Theory; FAQ.