February 17, 2012

FRIDAY CHALLENGE: Oulipo-inspired interactive fiction


big oak
You are in a dense forest. To the East you can see a clearing. To the West, North, and South the forest continues, however the forest is to [sic] dense in the West and South.

>run north

You continue on [sic] into the forest and see it get rockier to the north with a clearer path to the Northeast.

Something shiny lays discarded on the ground in front of you.

>kick object
That’s not a verb I recognise.

>pick up object
You can’t see any such thing.

>pick up shiny thing
I only understood you as far as wanting to pick up the ceramic unicorn.

Thus reads my debut sally into Interactive Fiction (IF), via new online toolkit and community PlayFic. I think we can all agree that it’s a masterpiece, the ceramic unicorn an absurdist triumph, though sadly I owe that entirely to my co-authors, 15-year-old programmer Cooper McHatton and the IF language Inform 7. Some history for luddites like yours truly, courtesy of Inform7.com:

Interactive fiction is thirty years old. Though there were precursors, it really began with the original adventure game of Crowther and Woods, a simulated exploration of a network of caves, stocked with treasures and hazards both realistic (expiring lamp batteries) and fantastical (a dragon perched on a carpet). With no graphics of any kind, the game described the situation in which “you” find yourself, and then asked what you wanted to do: and so the story elaborated in a long dialogue.

For infantile contrarians there’s hours of fun to be had here in attempting and failing to destroy an imaginary landscape. Those not prey to destructive impulses might have noticed the Oulipian potential in this severely restricted writing game. And lo and behold, the internet and one Nick Montfort have already furnished the curious with an Oulipo-inspired interactive fiction game. The Moby challenge, should you choose to accept it: furnish us with your own masterpiece of interactive fiction, using these or any other programmes. We’ll be checking the comments — make us laugh, make us cry, make us ponder the futility of existence. The winner will receive an excellent way to waste an afternoon and no recognition whatsoever.

Italo Calvion, Georges Perec, and the other founders of Oulipo at Raymond Queneau's house: What would they think?

Ellie Robins is an editor at Melville House. Previously, she was managing editor of Hesperus Press.