Literary Gaming

What separates this section from later hypertext like Twine? Maybe just the fact that text elements aren’t totally central. — AND THEY ARE MORE ‘GAMEY’ LESS TEXT BASED … LIKE TWINE.

Well text adventure games are almost only text (Naomi Alderman on text adventure –

ALthough many twine author’s refer to their work as ‘games’ Here is a summary, courtesy of Rob Harle’s review of Astrid Ensslin’s Literary Gaming:

“…literary video games that combine substantial aspects of both the ludic and the literary. “They employ narrative, dramatic and poetic techniques in order to explore the affordances and limitations of ludic structures and processes” (frontispiece). Ludic, as used by Ensslin, “ranges from the kind of cognitive playfulness exhibited by ludic print literature to ludic mechanics, with the latter operating as an element of a ludic digital ‘book’ . . . or as the technological implementation of the rules of a literary game proper, that is, an artifact that has to be played, first and foremost” (p. 42). These games are different from conventional literary/word games, such as the long-standing and popular “analogue” game Scrabble—and also from a conventional book that has been reset as an eBook, basically a book under glass.

I asked James O’Sullivan if hypertext fiction was in a bit of a rut at the moment, to which he replied:

“Nothing could be further from the truth! Andrew Gallix posed the same question a decade ago, and look at all the wonderful hypertextual fiction we have had since… Dear Esther, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, Pry, What Remains of Edith Finch, This War of Mine—these are just a few of the many great works of contemporary interactive fiction that spring immediately to mind. And they’re all essentially hypertexts, because hypertext is just about creating an aesthetic illusion of choice. There’s a lot of hypertextual fiction being made right now that just identifies as something else, usually as “video-games”, because it’s easier to sell video-games than hypertextual fiction. But if you want to really see the legacy of innovators like Moulthrop and Jackson, these are the titles you need to consider, not Bandersnatch.”

His upcoming book Towards a Digital Poetics: Electronic Literature & Literary Games (out in August, 2019) should be interesting –

I think there may be some disagreement over whether these things can rightly be called hypertexts –

“Nothing could be further from the truth! Andrew Gallix posed the same question a decade ago, and look at all the wonderful hypertextual fiction we have had since… Dear Esther, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, Pry, What Remains of Edith Finch, This War of Mine—these are just a few of the many great works of contemporary interactive fiction that spring immediately to mind. And they’re all essentially hypertexts, because hypertext is just about creating an aesthetic illusion of choice.

I wouldn’t call these texts “hypertexts” though. Rather, they’re a form of digital-born fiction that blends 3D game worlds with a strong focus on (literary) narrative and player exploration rather than action-driven gaming. Many WSs are very popular – a lot more so than Twine fictions, most of which are also freely accessible and therefore driven by far less commercial motivations than, say, WSs like What Remains of Edith Finch and Gone Home. (ASTRID INTERVIEW)


Some people (and particularly people in game culture) refer to these audiovisually rendered, immersive “three-dimensional texts” as “walking simulators.” ATDD is a great example of a more literary approach to the WS genre. So is One to One Trust’s WALLPAPER, and Gone Home to quite an extent as well, where you have to read textual objects for narrative clues in an otherwise largely unpopulated and thus de-verbalized game world, and where some of that reading is highly poetic. I wouldn’t call these texts “hypertexts” though. Rather, they’re a form of digital-born fiction that blends 3D game worlds with a strong focus on (literary) narrative and player exploration rather than action-driven gaming. Many WSs are very popular – a lot more so than Twine fictions, most of which are also freely accessible and therefore driven by far less commercial motivations than, say, WSs like What Remains of Edith Finch and Gone Home.


  • The Chinese Room’s Dear Esther “Every play-through a unique experience, with randomly generated audio, visuals and events.” — IT’S ON STEAM … PRETTY CHEAP TOO … An interactive story (each play through is unique) … some amount of written text
  • The Chinese Room’s Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture — ALSO ON STEAM …



Firewatch looks interesting –


Alan Wake

Heavy Rain

Detroit: Become Human

Remember Me

Dreaming Methods — Appears to be an org that is very involved in all this stuff

There has been a long-running debate about how much games should try to incorporate storytelling, or whether this is to the detriment of the type of entertainment that games provide. And also many who argue that even if video games are effective storytelling mediums, they certainly can’t be judged by the benchmarks of literary storytelling. (LINK)


Ilinx: Richard Holeton’s Figurski at Findhorn on Acid

That said, some literary hypertexts set out to evoke particularly strong feelings of ilinx by adding to the formal structure specific semantic elements that further augment readerly confusion and bemusement. A prime example of this double ilinx is Richard Holeton’s surrealist Storyspace hypernovel Figurski at Findhorn on Acid (2001). The narrative involves three protagonists (the convict Frank “Many-Pens” Figurski, who has killed his PhD supervisor, Professor Quentin Kingsley; The No-Hands Cup Flipper Nguyen Van Tho; and the journalist and double-crossdresser Fatima Michelle Vieuchanger), three locations (Findhorn, Scotland; Port St. Lucie, Florida; and the Star Trek Holodeck), and three objects (Spam, LSD, and a Mechanical Pig), and is organized temporally in terms of a timeline. The tripartite structure (character— place— object), which is reflected in the title, is curiously reminiscent of the way most digital games are structured— in terms of units (characters and props) and settings. However, this does not mean that readers are exposed to ludic mechanics proper. Nor does the relatively high level of agency afforded by the hypertext structure translate into meaningful narrative choices. Rather, readers are made to navigate the text in a playful, open-minded way that allows for surprises at various levels of storytelling. Individual reading paths often end abruptly without going into narrative detail.(Ensslin, Astrid. Literary Gaming) — — AN EASTGATE THING, DON’T KNOW IF YOU CAN PLAY IT …

See The Last Express

Blue Lacuna Epic, Novel, and Game Reed’s Blue Lacuna (2008) is an “interactive novel” of epic dimensions that blends novelistic and ludic-mechanic features into a coherent, emotive, and suspenseful reading/playing experience. According to its online blurb, it is “an explorable story in the tradition of interactive fiction and text adventures. It’s a novel about discovery, loss, and choice. It’s a game about words and emotions, not guns” (emphasis mine). Thus, its mission statement explicates the author’s ambition to present the IF’s interactors. Ensslin, Astrid. Literary Gaming, MIT Press, 2014. ……. I CAN’T SEEM TO DOWNLOAD IT … FEEL LIKE THIS PROBABLE BELONGS IN OTHER SECTIONS MAYBE NOT CAUSE OF ‘LUDIC MECHANICAL’ FEATURES …

Astrid Ensslin – Literary Gaming

So far in this book we have dealt with instances of literary gaming that were either primarily readerly in design or— as we have seen in the case of IF— difficult to define as either game or narrative fiction. This chapter, by contrast, examines digital media that are made and referred to as games, but whose playable material is linguistic or rather poetic in nature: poetic (or poetry) games are a type of computer game that has an explicit or implicit poetic agenda without sacrificing or diminishing the phenomenological gameness that lies at its core. “Poetic” here has to be seen as a rather broad concept that emphasizes creative and artistic engagement with linguistic and poetic units (e.g., letter, syllable, word, phrase, line, verse) as opposed to the creation of fictional worlds through verbal narrative— although, of course, this distinction has blurry boundaries. Poetry games replace core elements that we know from standard videogames (e.g., avatars, enemies, weapons, settings, props, backgrounds) with linguistic material. In so doing, they foreground the verbal art idea underlying their design. Equally important, they critique and challenge players’ hyper attention by confronting them with textual material that requires deep attention for in-depth understanding and intertextual referencing.

  • Jason Nelson’s Evidence of Everything Exploding is a wacky lo-fi XXXXX (Astrid Ensslin’s Literary Gaming has a long section on this, titled ‘ Pop-Surrealism and Poetry Gaming’)
  • Analyzing Loss of Grasp : Fallaciousness, Heuristic Ergodicity, and Cybertextuality Déprise/Loss of Grasp/Perdersi (2010) is a trilingual online Flash fiction by Serge Bouchardon and Vincent Volckaert, …Ensslin, Astrid. Literary Gaming, —- — COOOOOOOOOOOLLLLLLLLLL


Espen J Aarseth Cybertext-Perspectives on Ergodic Literature

But more than twelve years before the Internet worm, a different, though some say equally productivity threatening, computer program was released over the ARPANET. In the mid-1970s, programer William Crowther got the idea that a game similar to Gary Gygax’s popular role-playing board game, Dungeons and Dragons, could be made and played on a computer (Crowther and Woods 1976; Gygax 1974). In Gygax’s strategy board game and its many descendants, a group of adventurers explore a two-dimensional fantasy world controlled, improvised, and sometimes created by a dungeon master (DM). The players choose among the options laid out by the DM and roll dice to settle the outcome of battles between opponents and OM-controlled monsters. The Dungeons and Dragons genre might be regarded as an oral cybertext, the oral predecessor to computerized, written, adventure games.

Here is Don Woods’ account of how he and Crowther developed the first Adventure game:

Crowther, who is also an avid caver (the caver’s term for a spelunker), decided to try writing a program to simulate cave exploration. He added some treasures and hostile dwarves to spice it up, but it was mainly just an exploration game. (I believe he intended to extend it into a computer referee for role-playing, but it never got that far.) He called it Adventures (plural). This was sometime in the early 70’s. The Adventures game migrated across the ArpaNet, and I ran into a copy at Stanford during my first year of graduate school (75-76). I thought it was a neat idea for a game, but there wasn’t a lot to it, and it was full of bugs. The credits said to direct questions to “Willie Crowther.” The net wasn’t as big in those days (no Usenet, and “only” a few hundred Arpanet sites), so I sent mail to crowther@xxx for every host xxx on the net. I got back lots of error messages, but eventually did hear from Crowther, who by then was working at Xerox PARC. He sent me the source in return for a promise that I would send him any changes. I called my version Adventure. Because of the limitations on the length and capitalisation of file names, the actual file was called ADVENT. In April ’76 I finished version 1, and made it available via a guest login. Then I left for a vacation. When I got back a week or two later, I found the system administrators were annoyed because of the heavy system load caused by people logging in from all over the net to play Adventure. That summer I touched up a few things, like adding scoring and the endgame, and a “wizard mode” that let me set up limits on the times when it would let people play. Then I began sending source copies to anyone who wanted one. And it proceeded to turn up all over the world. (Woods, personal correspondence with author, September 29, 1993)

This autobiographical origin story of Crowther and Woods’ Adventure is a paradigm of collaborative authorship on the Net: one person gets an idea, writes a program, releases it (with the source code); somewhere else another person picks it up, improves it, adds new ideas, and rereleases it. Most of the time they do not meet face to face. Mary Ann Buckles (1985, 79) argues convincingly that Adventure can be classified as “folk art,” in contrast to the popular commercial genre it later gave birth to. After Woods’ version was released in 1976, the game became immensely successful. In addition to inaugurating the genre, which for a while was the most popular type of computer game, it inspired a host of new media types and literary experiments, from the hypertext novels to “interactive” pornography on CD-ROM. With the explosive growth in the home computer market around 1975- 80, a market for computer games had suddenly appeared, and the adventure game structure, much simpler to program than graphic arcade games, was easy to exploit and package for this market. In 1978, Scott Adams and his new company Adventure International produced the first adventure game for a microcomputer, Adventureland, for the TRS-80.


Among the most influential of the early adventure game companies was Infocom, which consisted of a group of programers from MIT’s AI lab. Infocom’s first game, Zork (written in 1977), by Marc Blank and Dave Lebling, was similar to Crowther and Woods’ original in setting (an underground empire) but was better at parsing and world simulation. Blank and Lebling created a series of accomplished, now classic, adventure games, starting with the Zork trilogy (published 1980-82) and ranging from the burlesque (Leather Goddesses of Phobos [1986], by Steve Meretzky) to the contemplative (A Mind Forever Voyaging [1985], also by Meretzky). For a while, the genre thrived, especially in Anglo-American cultures, with dedicated monthly magazines, notably the British Micro Adventurer, do-it-yourself books, and numerous games developed by amateurs and professionals. Adaptations of popular literature, such as Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels, J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and Douglas Adams’ The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, were published alongside generic crime, science fiction, and fantasy productions.1 Today, however, the textual adventure game is no longer popular. It achieved a short but considerable success (Zork is said to have sold a million copies), which ended quietly in the late 1980s, when the public lost interest and game companies stopped production. Perhaps the beginning of the end was Activision’s takeover of Infocom in 1986, which was followed by regular annual losses until its complete shutdown in 1989.

106 – bottom para

Some Issues in Adventure Game Criticism

There are many ways for critics to focus the adventure game genre. From a postmodernist perspective, where the boredom with the current literary experiments carried over from modernism is hardly concealable/ the ludic possibilities of new media positions are sometimes idealized beyond recognition. Linda Hutcheon, in a discussion of postmodern art’s focus on its own production, posits “interactive fiction” as the “most extreme example I can think of in art. . .. Here process is all; there is no fixed product or text, just the reader’s activity as producer as well as receiver” (1988, 77). The claim that adventure games consist of nothing but “the reader’s activity” is clearly false; otherwise they could hardly be discussed at all. Hutcheon’s misrepresentation is understandable in light of the often self-contradictory Anthony Niesz and Norman N. Holland article she refers to, where it is claimed that, in interactive fiction, “in a literal sense, there is no text, nothing that could be put on a shelf and pointed to as the source of roughly similar experiences by readers” (1984, 120). Later in the article they reverse the claim: “Both interactive and traditional fiction rely upon the use of written texts, or upon the elements of narration, plot, and dialogue” (125). In most adventure game situations, the reader’s activity is very predictable. Certainly it is fair to say that it is being produced or directed by the text, within the limited freedom of the available commands. Two of the most common approaches to adventure games seem to be apologetics and trivialization. Both generally fail to grasp the intrinsic qualities of the genre, because they both privilege the aesthetic ideals of another genre, that of narrative literature, typically the novel. For the apologists, adventure games may one day-when their Cervantes or Dickens comes along-reach their true potential, produce works of literary value that rival the current narrative masterpieces, and claim their place in the canon. For the trivialists, this will never happen; adventure games are games-they can- not possibly be taken seriously as literature nor attain the level of sophistication of a good novel. Although the trivialists are rightadventure games will never become good novels-they are also making an irrelevant point, because adventure games are not novels at all. The adventure game is an artistic genre of its own, a unique aesthetic field of possibilities, which must be judged on its own terms. And while the apologists certainly are wrong, in that the games will never be considered good novels, they are right in insisting that the genre may improve and eventually turn out something rich and wonderful. This may or may not happen, so the only way to understand the genre is to study the various works that already exist and how they are played. — ETC ETC


George Landow – Hypertext 3.0

All These delicate duplicates

, has players explore a house looking for clues, temporal jumps… chess metaphor … 

Electronic Literature’s Contemporary Moment: Breeze and Campbell’s “All the Delicate Duplicates”

But a few ppl in interviews said they liked it too, so maybe make this link to a word doc with all the praise you can find for it …

ATDD is a great example of a more literary approach to the WS genre. (ASTRID INTERVIEW)


In 2014, All the Delicate Duplicates (then titled Pluto) made the shortlist of the 2014 BBC Writersroom and The Space Prize for Digital Theatre.[16]

In 2015, the project won the Tumblr International Digital Arts and Media Prize, with Danielle Strle, Director of Product for Community and Content at Tumblr stating: “Awarding the Tumblr Prize to Mez and Andy is a total honor and we are excited to be a part of such a thrilling experiment that will foster our continued support of digital art and media.”[17]

In October 2016, the game won the Best Overall Game Award at the Game City Open Arcade.[18]

In May 2017, All the Delicate Duplicates was shortlisted for both the Judge’s Prize and the People’s Choice Award as part of the 2017 Opening Up Digital Fiction Competition: “The first ever UK competition to find the best new examples of popular digital fiction…run by Sheffield Hallam University and Bangor University, and part of the AHRC-funded Reading Digital Fiction project.”[19]

When reviewing the game for Digital Fix, Jazz Moore comments on the experimental nature of the game by comparing it to Salvador Dali‘s painting ‘The Persistence of Memory’, and by stating: “Games such as these…test the waters by exploring new ways to present interactive experiences and weave narrative. Experimental games allow us to test the boundaries of what can be accomplished in this medium, in a way similar to interpretive dance or surrealist art”. Moore goes on to rate All the Delicate Duplicates 8 out of 10 with the following summary: “Stunning and dramatic. You won’t be able to look away as this story unfolds around you”.[12] —- GOOD LANGUAGE TO USE OR JUST QUOTE THIS GOY


While print toyed with gamebooks, digital stories emerged that allowed for explorations of branching path narratives on the computer. MIT researchers in the 1970s invented Zork, a text-based Interactive Fiction (IF) game where your choices affected the outcome[6]. – — PRETTY FUN .. Gotta write ‘east’ ‘north’ etc. — Nick Montfort’s Ad Verbum — text adventure

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