First, before I tackle the question of whether or not a narrative can be interactive, I want to first define the two words using dictionary definitions. Merriam-Webster defines interactive as “mutually or reciprocally active” or “involving the actions or input of a user”. These definitions describe two aspects of interactivity.1 The first definition suggests that the object must respond reciprocally to be interactive, while the second definition says the user must be able to manipulate something.
Now with this framework laid, Zork and Cup of Death can be assessed as interactive fiction. I also want to include the vast experience I’ve had with other video games, because I believe they will compliment these two text-based media well.
First, unlike a normal essay where I would write about the book, the characters, and the author, I am going to talk about my experiences with the two narratives. The thought process is different from the perspective that, “Twain wrote the novel this way so that…” rather than “I decided to call the police when the Shino piece was stolen.” This first difference indicates something unique about these works of interactive fiction: everyone’s experiences are different based on the choices they make. Zork has even more options than Cup of Death this leads to many more different experiences for the user. In Zork you had the ability to explore and figure out what to even do.
Both of these narratives allow the user to make his or own choices to what the characters do. Cup of Death allows the reader to turn to different pages, while Zork requires the user to input all the commands. These would follow one of the definitions of interactive since the user is inputting something into both of the systems. While this simple example satisfies one of the definitions of interactive, but it doesn’t necessarily qualify as “reciprocally active”, therefore that part of the definition should be analyzed more thoroughly.
The biggest thing I noticed with Zork and Cup of Death was limitations in choices. For instance there are only so many pages you could turn to in Cup of Death, along some of the choices were black and white such as the choice to go into the “DANGER! DO NOT ENTER” room on the ship or not. Zork had fewer limitations in this sense, but there are still only certain objects you can manipulate and certain ways you could go. I would like to qualify these limitations as degree of freedom or lack there of. To clarify, Zork, has a higher degree of freedom than Cup of Death does. However, out of all the video games I’ve ever played, I think Grand Theft Auto has the highest degree of freedom. In that game you have the ability to do virtually anything: driving cars, robbing people, getting a girlfriend, working out, buying clothes, flying a plane, etc. The game is almost has so much freedom, you could play for your own motives and make your own story within the parameters of the universe of the game. This is different from the two narratives we are examining for class, which do not react in the same way. The authors make you follow a certain set of paths to some extent, which is certainly true in Cup of Death.
The limitations cause the narrative to not fully reciprocate the actions. So in this sense Zork and Cup of Death are not interactive. However, they could be considered partially interactive, but this should be considered a continuum based on the number of choices the reader or user has. Zork would fall much closer to fully interactive, and Cup of Death would be closer to a traditional novel.
Gillian, Shannon. Cup of Death: Chooseco, Waitsfield, VT, 1985.
Zork I: The Great Underground Empire. http://www.xs4all.nl/~pot/infocom/zork1.html