I've always preferred the high epic fantasy and hard science fiction genres. Piers Anthony was a favorite author of mine. Perhaps because the very first long novel I ever finished on my own (without the pressure of parents or teachers) was On A Pale Horse by Piers Anthony. From there it was on to Companions of Xanth and another world. While I've always been a slow reader, I find that my mind delivers vivid imagery, rich sounds, and deep emotion from the works of fiction I read. While in college I learned about the 'suspension of disbelief' - and was made aware how low the hurdle for my 'suspension of disbelief' was set! I really, really got into whatever I was reading, or watching at the moment. ......
There was a time I recall asking how to write a book, a story, or a novel. From some arts and crafts store, or local educational supply store, my mother found a large poster about plot lines, character development, proper grammar and sentence structure. I liked the poster a lot - figured it was my ticket to being an author - then promptly hung it up inside my closet door with the other toys. Something in me loved the idea of writing - of exploring other worlds - perhaps even worlds I dreamed of inside, and longed to visit myself. But another part of me had a hard time sitting down to write...
That part of me is still very much alive. Recently I learned a good term to describe myself is 'dilettante'. But the child-author is chipping away at walls time built, and is stirring up a desire in me to write. And he's doing it through a medium that is very special to me. The interactive fiction genre - the digital offshoot of the classic choose your own adventure book.
While exploring types of games that interest me, I stumbled across an 'old' genre which has never really gone away. The commercial version of the games may have passed into obscurity. But the core of good storytelling is still required for even the most polished graphics and complexly-engineered soundtracks to be effective in today's console games. The heart of MMOs and other online interaction is story. Without a narrative, without a conflict seeking resolution, the player has no motivation to move through the environment.The genre I rediscovered was interactive fiction - and the community is alive and well. Thriving in fact! Probably one of the more recent, hugely successful commercial ventures was the Myst series of games. Going all the way back to Cyan's Original Myst - the game was nothing more than a great story, blended with complex puzzles, viewed from the first person perspective. All the while - the story was still experienced and told in the second person point of view.
Interestingly enough - it was through the annual IF Competition that I reentered the world of branching story, multiple outcome, and gamebook play storytelling. At the time, I did not know enough (or believe myself capable enough) to write a story for entry into the IF Comp. But I was willing to offer the winner a website build and some promotion. I figured a struggling artist with a newly successful 'gamebook novel' would love to have a website platform to promote sales. I was wrong - the winner never claimed the prize. By that time I had moved on to reading and exploring all the many interactive fiction works generated by the community in the last fifteen years
About the time I was exploring online newsletters, forums, and articles for details on the state of the interactive fiction community - I stumbled across a little known film called 'GET LAMP'. The documentary looks at the interactive fiction genre from beginning to end. The people who defined an era of commercial success, those players who were forever changed by the games they played, and the unique subculture quietly keeping the art alive and thriving. There is a very active community still exploring the techniques and applications of interactive fiction on our society. I am convinced there are still great strides and contributions to be made to computing through this distinct avenue.
There is no shortage of software available to build interactive fiction. No shortage of communities, forums, discussion groups, websites, manuals and manifestos, wiki's and how-to guides. In fact, last Christmas I picked up a copy of Twisty Little Passages by Nick Montfort to bring some more insight to the genre as both a gaming and literary form. Would it surprise you to learn that the I Ching was actually a form of path choosing story telling device. Nick seems to cover the field quite well and I look forward to finishing the lengthy essay.
And I suppose that's where I am at right now. At this point in the exploration of IF I've rekindled the desire to write a story, I've received the gift of knowledge to guide and tools to build, and the openness of friendly community to encourage and provide a plethora of published examples. Now, will I choose to put these tools on the shelf with toys, and walk away again. Or will I promote the growth and exploration of the child-author to discover what he has to offer the world.
Where's my keyboard?