What is interactive fiction? It is a “virtual reality that exists in words.” Basically, the user plays through a book instead of simply reading it. IF is “meant for literate people,” says John Romero, co-founder of iD Software. His was one of 80 interviews conducted by Jason Scott in the filming of his IF documentary, “Get Lamp.”
Unlike today’s traditional videogames, which are jam-packed with high-resolution graphics, text adventure games force players to utilize their imaginations. Also known as interactive fiction, these were the precursors for some of the most popular Role-playing games (RPGs) today.
In a world in which Playstation 3s and Xbox 360s are filled with high-definition graphics, a thriving community is devoted to creating and mastering text-based videogames. In IF, the only visual aid for a player are the hand drawn maps he creates by exploring the world. The film’s tagline says it all: “Before the first-person shooter, there was the second-person thinker.”
On October 5, the Humanities department, along with the new media journalism program, welcomed Scott to Seton Hill University (SHU) to screen “Get Lamp” and lead a discussion afterwards.
The documentary, which lasted about an hour and a half, focused on more than just the IF itself. Rather, Scott uncovered a sad story about IF’s prime, its fall from grace and the aftermath. He interviewed both people who created and still create these games, as well as the people who play them.
The documentary begins with a historical perspective. Scott chronologically presents the early days of IF, documenting the memoirs of individuals who played The Adventure—the first IF game.
From there, Scott dives deeper into the world of IF games, interviewing individuals whose worlds revolve around these games. He takes a look at the use of IF in the classroom as well as the use of IF from the perspective of a blind person.
The only area lacking in Scott’s documentary was women; however, Scott was not at fault. He included a few interviews with women in the documentary, but females in the IF world are rare. He explained in the discussion after the film that during the 1980s when IF was popular, girls were still encouraged to stick to Barbies and stay away from toys directed toward the male audience. As a result, there were very few women working in the computer game industry at that time. Still, Scott managed to interview a few women, which allowed his film to have more balance.
According to Scott, the film took over four years to produce. To help fund the production of “Get Lamp,” Scott appealed to Kickstarter, an online community which fundraises individual projects by collecting supporters—Scott received over $25,000 from more than 300 fans and supporters of classic computer games and technology.
As an American archivist and technology historian, Scott also released a documentary in 2005, entitled “BBS: The Documentary.” In addition to his two released documentaries, Scott is also working on a third, “Arcade,” which focuses on coin-operated systems and the places that housed them.
Scott, who questioned whether he was a “film guy” on his weblog, is really a Renaissance man. He graduated from Emerson College in Boston with a degree in mass communication with a concentration in film and immersed himself in all forms of media throughout his college experience.
In addition to his work with film, he worked for the campus newspaper and a radio station. In 1982, Scott placed third in a Pac-Man look-alike sound-alike contest.
In addition to his documentary work, Scott hosts a Twitter page completely devoted to his cat, which currently has nearly 1.5 million followers, many of which are fellow cats.
Scott sells his documentary for $40, but the two-DVD set includes more than just the hour and a half interview. The set also includes additional interviews and documentaries, around 30 playable IF games on the DVD-rom, and a gold-and-silver plated coin themed to match “Get Lamp.”
Students can also play IF games by visiting various websites online:
www.ifarchive.org hosts additional websites where gamers can play these games for free.
Interactive Fiction Database ( Ifdb.tads.org) links to and reviews over 3500 interactive fiction games.
Games to check out:
- Adventure is the original IF game. You can play it by visiting several sites…
- 9:05 is a great introductory game for individuals unfamiliar with the controls.
- Slouching Towards Bedlam may be one of the more challenging games, but it’s mysterious atmosphere keeps the player hooked.
- Lost Pig is a classic. Help Grunk the troll find that pig!
- Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy—that’s right, before it was a movie, it was a video game.