Saturday, April 7, 2007

Interactive Fiction (IF) : my timeline

I think my first gaming experience must have been the educational BBC Micro adventure "Granny's Garden", it certainly didn't feel at all educational and I remember it being so popular that access was restricted. At home, the Fothergill lads over the road had some kind of BBC/Acorn archimedes (I remember the owl logo) on which we were hooked by "Sphinx adventure". The younger Fothergill brother pronounced it 'Spinks' irrespective of the number of corrections attempted.

There were also IF books where you could make decisions (take the knife - turn to page 188, take the rope - turn to page 12) to create different outcomes. Yes, I cheated with those, couldn't bear to lose but wanted to know all the permutations too. Alongside this foray into IF came the tv sensation 'Knightmare' where a team of kids had to guide a blindfolded (actually it was the Helmet of Justice lol) comrade through a dungeons past puzzles and hazards. The whole thing was quite frightening at times mostly due to the chunks of flesh being ripped from the life force icon to the sound of a labouring heartbeat.

After that came a slew of more action-based gaming but my real favourites were the ones I could play at my Dad's house on his Atari ST, 'Uninvited' (which I never finished and I still have pangs of guilt when I remember how I used a can of hairspray to immobilise a spider but never found a use for the mummified mite) and, of course, Zork. Actually it was Return to Zork which is a graphical point-and-click, I didn't get hold of the rest of the anthology with older text-based adventures until much later, at university. One of my favourite pieces of science fiction (Orson Scott Card's "Ender's Game") features an interactive educational fantasy game. I totally empathised with the main character's love of an immersive and responsive environment. University also introduced me to the internet and therefore MUDs. I found these a little less appealing because I couldn't be escapist when all these uncontrollable, real-life players kept coming over to clout me round the head for a measly number of experience points.

After I got my Masters I made an abortive attempt at a PhD in Natural Language Processing. Here I met Elliot Smith who was my show-the-newbie-around-the-scary -new-university 'mentor'. Since I had already been at Brum Uni for 5 years we got chatting about more fun things pretty quickly. Elliot is a sci-fi nut, writes his own, grows butterworts, and introduced me to memes. I think I recall some strange musical talents too. Elliot was the first person to convince me that you can be productive and creative outside of your 'day job' without it being just a hobbyist pipe-dream that never sees the light of day. I'm not sure how much of our conversations dealt with strictly 'interactive' fiction, but the subject brings him to mind along with an urge to say 'Ehhh' like The Fonz.

Finally, I was introduced to Emily Short's 'Galatea' by Ian Millington during my brief sojourn with Mindlathe. This particular work I have returned to again and again. The plot is a combination of science-fiction and Greek mythology. My favourite thing is the sensation of quiet space you get when you play it. If you just wait around the environment lets you breathe by not forcing the plot along but also doesn't freeze completely; giving you subtle, non-repetitive environmental cues like a moving curtain or the sound of Galatea breathing.

The point of this rather meandering walk through my past is that I have had a creeping interest in interactive games, books, and whatevers from smallness upwards. I only noticed because I had another one of those 'think about something then see it everywhere' moments yesterday. I was at the Axiom gallery looking at a piece by Jill Magid where she records meetings with a stranger in a diary. I was just thinking "the style of this really reminds me of Galatea" when it appears on the page in reference to the painting of Pygmalion (the sculptor of Galatea) and the lady herself in the Met. Now, I have no truck with coincidence being any more than that, coincidence. However the pervasive connectivity of the world around us sometimes absolutely astounds me.


Elliot said...

Hello Natalie. I've replied to this on my blog. Great to hear from you again.

Stefanwee said...

Nat, can ou remember that weird game that Dad had on, I think, the Atari? It involved wandering around a haunted house. The one thing I remember about it was a randomly placed gramaphone playing a creepy scratched record, repeating the words 'Winchester Cathedral... Winchester Cathedral...'! Freaky!

Stefanwee said...

Doh! I should have read your blog properly!

Natalie Andrew said...

Reply to stefanwee: Yup, that was a Rudy Vallee song in Uninvited and that game is also the reason I know that arsenic smells of almonds!