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Videogames Meet Literature for Interactive Fiction

By Betsy Mikel in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 7, 2010 7:40PM

The next Chicago IF meeting is Thursday, Sept. 9.
Although Chicago boasts a good selection of genre-specific book clubs and reading series, there’s always room for something new in the literary scene. Enter Chicago Interactive Fiction. First, what is it? The short version, according to Ed Blair, a Chicago IF member: they’re “computer programs designed to tell a story and allow a human to affect the course of the story, with some limitations.” The Gameshelf describes it as a “curious cross-medium blending videogames and literature.”

Will Crowther, who created Adventure, a game in the ‘70s based on his spelunking adventures, is credited with the founding of IF. It’s is a like a Chose Your Own Adventure book, but it’s a computer program. Instead of turning to a different section of the book to continue, you type a command. The introduction of graphic-based games offered new opportunities for IF, but the medium continues to be text-based, just like the Adventure original. The medium usually attracts techies, early adapters and programmers - people who know how to manipulate programs so that they’re more intuitive to the rest of us - so IF is gradually becoming less and less restricted by technology. “I'm hoping that certain advances will open the field up to new voices,” said Blair. Some of those advances include Inform 7, a programming language for IF that is based on natural languge, the rise of browser-based IF, and groups like the Chicago IF Group that are getting together and generating new programs. "I truly think that IF is still in the infancy of what it could be, and I think there's just so much literary potential there that hasn't been tapped yet," he said.

And what do people actually do at a Chicago IF Group meeting? They meet monthly with a few topics on the table, which range from programming to what they have been playing to challenging puzzles. Their meetings are free form (much like IF itself). A lot of IF is figuring out what the rules of the program are and then figuring out the right way to move the story along.

Really, the best way to understand IF is to try it out and read more about it. So check out a video that explains IF, past winners of from the annual International Fiction Competition or Ed Blair’s blog post on Chicago Underground Library blog about the history of IF. Or, stop by the Chicago IF meeting on Thursday for the chance to chat with the group about what they do.

Chicago Interactive Fiction meets September 9 at Filter, 1373 N. Milwaukee Ave. at 7 p.m.