What is a game? What is a story? It seems these questions are very easily defined. A story is something one reads, whereas a game is something one plays. Lines seem to blur in the case of what is known as interactive fiction. The principle premise behind this term is that interactive fiction requires a level of human interaction beyond the mere reading of words on the screen. In interactive fiction, the reader must type parsers or click hyperlinks in order for the story to progress.
When one looks at the vast majority of games being peddled by large game studios, no matter the company, there is one common thread that is woven into a large portion of their products: Their games feature characters that are out to do something. They must rescue the princess or defeat the enemy alien legions or save the world from certain doom. The player must get their character to accomplish a series of tasks to arrive at the desired destination.
Pieces of interactive fiction, on the other hand, recount the tales of pirates sailing the stars in another galaxy or of a men trying to return home from war. By typing parsers or by clicking hyperlinks, the reader must get their character to …
I think I might be repeating myself; and it seems only natural. There is a very common thread that is woven through many videogames; and it is the same that is the basis for interactive fiction: story. Both media are trying to tell stories. One is using simple words. The other is using graphics. One side has the reader typing or clicking. The other uses a game controller or a keyboard and mouse.
Given the striking similarities between interactive fiction and videogames, why would anyone want to draw such a distinct and definite line between the two media? The large studios have a vested interest in making interactive fiction a very different (and altogether less valuable) product than videogames. As Porpentine puts it: “Under our capitalist system, to accept other ways of communicating is to devalue the cash value of the communication style learned in college.” The idea is that they are the ones that can make games. Because they have immense budgets and staffs of thousands. They create Games.
By using platforms such as Twine, regular people take some of the power away from the large studios. If we can tell our stories in our own way, we steal a small amount of money from what “is an extremely profitable system.” Giving power to everyone at the expense of a few; which is not usually how capitalism works.
The questions still remain, however. What is a story? What is a game? It seems clear that the basis for many games is indeed to tell a story. Regardless of the way in which the person interacts with the game; they are still interacting. The games people play are not biographies of John A. Mac Donald or Winston Churchill. Kids are not lining up to get the newest copy of Real Crime NYC in which players can hand out traffic violations and toss surly bar patrons into drunk tanks. Most games out there are fiction in one way or another. There is no line that divides games from interactive fiction. Whether it’s the text based Howling Dogs or the newest Call of Duty; videogames are, in point of fact, interactive fiction.
Everything else is semantics.
Porpentine. “Creation Under Capitalism and the Twine Revolution.” Nightmare Mode. November 25, 2012. http://nightmaremode.thegamerstrust.com/2012/11/25/creation-under-capitalism/