The 2005 IFComp, Text Adventures, and You

The 2005 Interactive Fiction Competition has begun. Let’s talk about text adventure games.

Interactive fiction (“IF”) games, to me, encapsulate all the potential of gaming. It is, almost, a hybrid medium, combining the best (and sometimes worst) features of games, short stories, poetry, and puzzles. What I find incomprehensible is that so few people play modern IF games.

You can go to just about any gaming magazine or weblog and read people complaining about the cookie-cutter, corporate nature of most releases. But when was the last time you played an IF game?

It’s time to fix that. Here is my challenge to you. Go to the official IFComp site. Download the games. And play just one. Play more if you want to, but play at least one. If you’re a game blogger, my challenge is a little more specific: play one IFComp game, and write about it. The contest doesn’t end until November 15th, and I don’t want to bias the judging, so the challenge is to publish a review or article after the competition ends. So you’ve got plenty of time. Pick a game at random (if you register to officially judge, their web site will even present you with a randomized list), play it for two hours, write an article about it, and publish it on November 16th. Give me the URL, and I’ll link to it.

I’ll even extend this offer further: if you don’t have a weblog of your own, write an article or review of one of the IFComp games and send it to me, and I’ll publish articles that meet some minimum editorial standard on Tea Leaves. And I’ll figure out some cool thing to donate to the IFComp organizers for use as a prize in the competition.

If you’re interested in participating, please drop an email message to tleavesweblog -at- gmail (dot) com. Or, if you have a gaming-related weblog, tell your readers that the IFComp has begun, or link to this post.

But whether or not you decide to write about them, I urge everyone to get out there and try some of the IFComp games.

Why do I care about this? Think about the nature of modern amateur-written IF games. They represent the vision of one person. The very nature of how they are developed gives them a unique style and voice. None of this is any guarantee of quality, of course; every year there are plenty of games in the IFComp that are terrible. But when you find a gem – I’ve mentioned Hunter, in Darkness before, as an example – the memory will stay with you forever.

One of the weaknesses of modern commercial videogames, as a medium, is that too few of them represent individual vision. By and large, they are the product of teams. Teams are not bad; they allow you to create projects that are simply beyond the scope and ambition of one writer or software developer. But the nature of team development means that compromises are inevitably made. Team-designed games are not necessarily better or worse than a game designed by one person (dare I call them “auteur-created games?"), but they are necessarily different.

The IFComp is one of the best ways I know of to find games developed by a single person. Every year, the IFComp makes me smile. Every year, I’m glad it exists. If you play some of the games, I’m betting you’ll feel the same way. Go there now, and download the games. It might be the best decision you make all week.