Thursday 13 December 2012

War-based IF games as recommended by Emily Short

This is one of a series of interviews I conducted for my article about what text can say about war that AAA games can't. You can read the other interviews by clicking here.

Actually, it isn't so much an interview as a series of recommendations. I contacted Emily Short for this article because I don't know much about interactive fiction, and she, being about the most prominent name in contemporary IF, assuredly does. After booting up the text parser and explaining my idea, Emily gave me a long list of violent or war-related games, mercifully refraining from rising to a terrible joke about getting myself Informed.

blah blah blah violence in games blah blah blah introspective medium. I played this text-based multiplayer shooter the other day, but not sure that's quite the same thing.

There was also IF Quake. But to the best of my recollection, that too was mostly a joke about retro vs. modern gaming styles, rather than a critique of the ways that games approach war.

Still, IF is a huge and wide world, and for all I know there are multiple interactive fiction treatments of the battle of the bulge or the Normandy beach landings?

Not to the best of my knowledge. There's Battle of Walcot Keep which recreates a very long-ago battle in English history, but it is more an exercise in AI simulation than it is really talking about war. 

So what is the treatment of WAR and MAN SHOOTING in IF? 

Limited, but here are some examples that come to mind for me: The classic Infocom game Trinity, of course, treated the development of the atomic bomb. Not exactly contemporary news, though, as that was in the 80s. 

There are a handful of historical war-based scenes in the sprawling historical epic Jigsaw, including a scene about the beginning of world war I, and another in which you have to pilot a plane in wartime. 

Gun Mute is a kind of text reconceptualization of an arcade shooter: you move forward on a rail and each combat interaction is a simple(ish) puzzle. This puts it in a fairly small sub genre of IF that does combat as a puzzle — rather than something randomized or skill-based, it makes each combat situation into a timed interaction to which there's a clever solution. 

Persistence of Memory and Urban Conflict approach wartime issues via non-combat interaction — Urban Conflict is a conversation simulation where you spend most of the interaction trapped in a room with another combatant. [NB: I couldn't get Persistence of Memory to work properly on my computer, as it's quite old, and had to read about it from walkthroughs; your experience may vary -- John]

A somewhat more controversial example would be Renditionwhich puts the player in the position of an interrogator dealing perhaps brutally with a possible terrorist, and tests the player's willingness to cooperate with that gaming strategy; it's gotten very different reactions from different players. Personally, I quit very early on, but I found that an interesting experience in itself. There's a somewhat similar scene, though less brutal and easier to get out of, in The Test is Now READY, a game that is essentially a sequence of moral conundrums.

'Mid the Sagebrush and Cactus is a shootout — not exactly a war scene, but it combines conversation and combat mechanics. The author Victor Gijsbers is very interested in games that explore the morality of violence, though often he's looking at complex interpersonal settings rather than battle scenes; and depending on how much you're into the question of combat simulation specifically, you might also be interested in Victor's combat code and his IF-based rogue like Kerkerkruip.

Thanks! Do you think text games can say something about war which bombastic high-fidelity 3D graphics cannot?

Sure. Without voiceover/animation costs, dialogue in IF can go deeper — that doesn't mean it always does, but it can. Text is also a good medium for treating memory and interiority, so capturing subjective aspects of an experience that might be hard to communicate visually or spatially. 

The thing is, though, that text isn't typically that great at glamorizing war: textual explosions aren't that sexy, the spatial and timing aspects of a good shooter are absent, and in a turn-based medium where turns are subject to UNDO, it's a nontrivial design challenge to come up with satisfying combat mechanics at all. I think this is part of the reason there aren't as many war games in text, and those we do have tend to come from a different angle. British Intelligence Officer's Exam is sort of an exception; though it's not about battlefield combat, it touches on situations involving terrorism and espionage in a modern setting, in a way that might be relevant to you. 

or not

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