Every year, a number of game designers and storytellers share new works through an annual Interactive Fiction Competition, IFComp. Interactive fiction is, broadly put, any type of story that allows the user to take a role or control the narrative experience. There are several interfaces for this type of narrative: parser based IF uses verbs and nouns as a way to enter commands, and parses them into action, while hypertextual IF offers links and is often compared to Choose Your Own Adventure books. I’ve talked before about how platforms for interactive fiction can be great in the classroom: Inform 7 is a natural language tool for parser IF, Twine is a great tool for hypertexts, and Inklewriter creates CYOA style texts easily. If you are interested in exploring the potential of interactive texts or electronic literature, the entries in IFComp can provide lots of inspiration.
One of my favorites was Ade McT’s challenging text parser game Fifteen Minutes, described by the creator as a game in which “You have fifteen minutes before the Principal expels you from the cosy world of academia and into the cold harsh reality of the real world.” Thankfully, the realism only goes so far, as you are in fact trapped in a room with a time machine and thus facing a Bill & Ted-esque opportunity for academic redemption through the actions of your future selves. A more realistic (almost painfully so) entry is Simon Christiansen’s AlethiCorp, which isn’t immediately recognizable as IF as it presents as a corporate website. The details are great: the copyright is 2054, and in order to get to the heart of the story you first have to create an account, fill out a “job” application, and start diving into the politics of the site. There’s even an internal university with corporate training.
This year’s winning game, Sean M. Shore’s Hunger Daemon, is a funny and accessible parser fiction game centered on problem-solving and an uncle’s cult of black-magic users. It’s a classic text game, and it reminds me a bit of the Infocom Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but with the humor of a good episode of Supernatural. In a more serious but still science-fiction direction, Lynnea Glasser’s Creatures Such as We offers a Choose Your Own Adventure-style tour through a future that also serves as a powerful reflection on the isolating and connecting powers of technology. It also offers some great layers of metagaming and commentary on dating simulations that could make for some interesting class discussions.
For a complete guide to almost every game in this year’s competition, check out IF guru Emily Short’s 2014 roundup. You can also dive into the Interactive Fiction Database and find works in any genre or subject you can imagine.
Have you played any of this year’s IFComp entries? Share your favorites in the comments!