Friday, October 5, 2007

An addiction to interactivity

I have an addictive personality. When I get into something, I really get into it. I have a tattoo that is representative of my favorite television show. Yes, that kind of addictive.

That said, when I saw that we would be playing a text-based game and we could CHOOSE one, if we didn't like Zork, I knew I was in trouble. I wrote Adam an email telling him that he would be solely responsible for my downfall because I was about to get back into Threshold for the sake of this class. I was really obsessed with it my freshman year and thankfully met my now-fiance and haven't played for the past three years. But he's living in Seattle now and I'm working two jobs and going to school full-time and there's absolutely no reason for me not to have an unhealthy addiction to something that's not crack.

Have I not been blogging (as if any of you except the professor would notice that)? It's because I've been interacting.

Too much.

Threshold is a text-based fantasy role-playing game. Think World of Warcraft, but without any pictures. There are different races and quests and ways to gain experience points and whatever else. It's not a game you win, It's a game you play. The big deal about it, though, at least for me, is that you're required to be in-character all the time. You get experience points for going around and killing stuff (and at higher levels, other players) but that's not the point of it, because you also get experience points for role-playing. I don't know that there are other games that work that way. The way they tabulate it is that there's a log of how many hours you play without levelling up. They call it "fame" because the longer you spend in the realm, the most people know you and your fame grows and blah blah blah.

This, I am arguing, is a truly interactive narrative. You create a character and before you can reach certain levels you're required to record their history, what happened to bring them to the realm even before you started playing. You pick a race, class, guild and affinity for a certain deity (of which there are 12). All of these decisions effect the game and how you interact with other characters (who are actually other people playing the game). Your character has a story and you extend it by playing with other characters. Yes, you can fight orcs and demons and sewer slime (though when you're just starting it's a lot safer to go for the chickens and stuff, and even they can be a challenge) but some people just spend most of their time in the tavern drinking (the game automatically slurs your speech when you drink) and might sometimes pair up to go on quests with other players. You don't get experience for the quests, once you solve them. It's just a mystery that you have to figure out, like where all the children in the city are disappearing to (when you come across a house made of candy where there's a witch, it becomes fairly obvious) . You form friendships with your guild-mates, make enemies, and sometimes there are city-wide disasters (the latest seems to be that the city is being overrun by vines that suck power out of everyone. the explanation seems to be that the gods are unhappy...) that require people banding together to fight it.

My character is Byx. She's a catfolk and grew up as a merchant and has recently joined the psion guild. She is obsessed with research because her goal is to know everything. There are libraries in the city that actually have huge text files in them, which are sometimes helpful on your quests, but mostly are just there for information's sake. She spends a lot of time there. She's also a really touchy-feely drunk, but will only drink when she's challenged to a contest. She has four older brothers, so she's more that slightly competitive... Ok, you don't care about my character. But the point is that I have one and she's got history and she's having relationship problems right now and is trying to decide which deity to devote to (there is an option not to devote at all, but you have more allies and access to better armor and stuff if you do) . You can't just PICK one. It has to go along with your character's personality and there are churches that will turn you away depending on what kind of fame you've gathered.

This is like... having a frame-work for a choose-your-own adventure, but then having to write it while you read it. There's probably a better explanation for it, but that's how I'm seeing it. Also, there's more than one person writing the story and everything connects and just....!!! This is my justification for my obsession. It's for class and it relates to class, I promise!

I would write more, but this weekend is double experience points and I have to get a move on. I really do mean to post about my project idea, which is like this, only decidedly more dorky (if that were possible).


Mike K said...

I currently have an addiction to the Straight Dope, as in You can ask any question of any type and get dozens of responses quickly by people taking it seriously. There's topics from God and politics to hand moisturizer and "proper" heights of lawns. It's a never-ending slew of thought-nuggets to chew on.

In fact, I'm going to go post right now on the thread entitled "What's your biggest internet time-waster?"

Adam Johns said...

There's lots to comment on here. But let me begin with a tangent.

One of my favorite semi-sarcastic definitions of "Novel" is: "A long piece of prose fiction, wherein something is wrong with the ending." People complain about endings -- whether they are occasional readers, obsessive nerds, or literary critics.

This takes me back to Bakhtin, briefly. He argued that one thing distinctive about Dostoevsky's novels (Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics) was that the endings were open, not closed: the world of the novel has more possibilities after you've left it, rather than less.

One thing I guess I'm trying to do in this class, which you're helping bring to the surface, is find a way of talking about interactive ("open") narratives -- you're helping to point out some relationships between open games and open narratives.

"It's not a game you win, It's a game you play," as you say. CYOA books have (to the extent that anything in them is deliberate) have similar ambitions on a smaller scale.

So does Danielewski, I think...