Friday, 17 October 2008

Trends in Nerdish Pursuits - or, I wonder if Emily Short and Ron Edwards have ever met?

As well as playing RPGs, I sometimes like to dabble in the playing and writing of text adventures, or 'interactive fiction' as I believe the kids are calling it these days. The developmental paths of interactive fiction and RPGs are surprisingly similar, and it makes me wonder if we can't draw any half-baked and ill-thought out theories from this odd fact.

RPGs and IF, how similar hast thine development paths been? Let me count the ways:

A. RPGs and IF followed an exactly similar career trajectory - namely, they started off as the prevail of a small group of nerds, suddenly enjoyed a growth and boom period in which some of their most famous examples became household names, before finally coming up against the oncoming wave of console/video gaming and falling back from the universe in fear and confusion. Then they went back to being the prevail of a small group of nerds again.

B. RPGs and IF followed a broadly similar design trajectory - namely, they started off emulating simplistic 'fantasy fucking Vietnam' dungeon crawls, then gradually broadened their purview to include the more epic, the more personal, the more experimental, and the more unusual. This had the unforeseen consequence of splintering their fanbases into 'old' and 'new' and 'I like both' schoolers.

C. RPGs and IF followed a vaguely similar theory trajectory - namely, progressing from 'gamist' puzzle-orientated approaches to more 'narrativist' story-telling play. (God, how I loathe those terms, but they do get the point across.) This coincided with a mysterious name-change in both cases, from 'text adventure' to 'interactive fiction', and from 'role playing game' to 'story game'. (The cynic in me puts this down to people feeling ashamed about playing things called 'text adventures' and 'role playing games'.) It also coincided with a greater degree of player freedom and power, moving away from the GM is God/Designer is God starting point and ending up in a more airy-fairy world of non-linearity, narrative control, and 'plot'. (Compare Galatea with Zork, and the The Mountain Witch with Basic D&D.)

I wonder why this should have been the case. Do all nerd pursuits follow these paths? (Not that these trajectories were bad - I like both Galatea and The Mountain Witch.) Half-baked and ill-thought out theories on the back of a postcard. Or, alternatively, in the comments.

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