Why should IF be considered by English Departments?
Many thanks to the delegates in the workshops at #CASWales12 for really exploring this question with me, it was a topic of debate in both sessions. The simple answer is that it really is just literature on steroids. The more complex answer… well I am hoping my English colleagues will help me with my initial reflections.
IF uses high level narrative variation, often requiring subtle language selection, to help promote greater fluency and engaging narrative. It is story telling like no other, thinking through and craft game choices and subsequent game results (I do recommend you streamline your first efforts) lead may in fact lead to the same scenario eventually. The very architecture of IF encourage the development of these skills, changing tense and aspect appropriately as you create variant temporal relationships. Learning, understanding and writing unilinear texts requires significantly more thought than in linear text. As my colleague reflected, “IF makes you think whereas reading is so more a passive experience. My son will love it.” Yet, as a consequence, the language to direct these interactions are simpler (not simple).
Simplification of language
Whilst there is a greater demand for complex planning skills, language demands are often simplified. The player is often restricted to what utterances the player needs, the setting refers only to objects they can “see or interact with,” indeed in Quest objects can be relegated to the status of ‘scenery.’ This not only increases the sense being situated in the game, it simplifies the language processing tasks required of both the game author and subsequently the player.
Narration is a fantastic arena in which to teach sentence structure. In narration, changing the order in which events are presented, or in a given temporal sequence, is important to the aesthetic.
- Rad released the manganese nodule into the circuit board and the robotic arm steered into life.
- The robotic arm steered into life when Rad released the manganese nodule into the circuit board.
This simple example demonstrates that one sentence is characterised by droll humour and causality with the other suggesting progressive causality. Indeed these subtle differences within a sentence can also be expanded and applied to more significant narrative events. Take Rad’s journey towards revealing the identity of the aggressor.
- Hero finds his movements are restricted
- Hero finds a way out of the main
- Hero finds clues / anomalies
- Hero assisted by a knowledgeable stranger
- Hero find grim clue
- Hero reveals more clues and the true motivations of the evil corporate Atomic8
- Hero finds clues that both support strangers advice and casts suspicion on the stranger?
- Hero meets finds reported villain (deceased)
- Hero meets real aggressor
- End Game
Or course, should too many clues be revealed by Rad, before the meeting with the knowledge stranger, the players response to the ‘big reveal’ would be quite different, as would the ‘end game.’
In addition to sequencing, narrative mood is another area worthy area of note and exploration in English. The perspective from which the story is told, also called the focalisation. In Timeline the story is told from the perspective of the Rad, a cast off, youthful but soon to be hero grunt worker. It would be very different if the story was being told by the vengeful and bitter aggressor (sorry I am being purposefully evasive). With Rad as the focaliser, we tap into his investigations, discoveries and thoughts; and we been playing as the aggressor, it would have been quite different. Of course, there is not reason why the focaliser can not be change, and that’s a little more than I am used to at this time.
There is plenty of debate regarding puzzles, problems and therefore solutions in the IF community. A skill to be developed in young writers is puzzle crafting, (many of them have only ever experienced finding solutions) and accompanying that skills the ability to manipulate ‘obvious.’ Is the find key, unlock lock, a puzzle? For young writers it is the most common. How about these two Year 7 writer example, the swimming pool ladder missing a rung and a rung or the safari guide and carry a rifle with a lion lying in waiting outside. Writing puzzles and recognising that something unusual can be ‘the key,’ is as creative and abstract as say, learning how to write metaphors? Coding the puzzle, well that is a different matter, or provided parts of a puzzle across a game is akin to connected essay.
The game title I have been designing and writing (yes, they are two different activities) is a Science themed game, set in the year 2037, on the abyssal plain. Like you, possibly, I did not know what or where the ‘abyssal’ plane was at the start of this endeavour, nor how it would look in 2037. That is the attractiveness of IF, it encourages you to go places you have never been before, possibly will never go. Through IF, my teleport passport has been stamped and I am given license to travel and learn with real purpose. Researching and writing in to the game KS3 Science themes (gravity, conductivity and dilution), the science of the ocean floor, of mineral mining and production.