IF, literature and…

This short interview with Professor Dennis G. Jerz was asked as a contirbution to a work for my exam of journalism. But then I changed my mind about the work and now I want to offer the answers of Mr. Jerz, Associate Professor of English at Seton Hill University (PA), to the community. Every IF fan should take a look to his website (http://jerz.setonhill.edu) once a week. It offers a lot of articles, links and opinions, all interesting. Really a gold mine.

Can you please tell the five IF works that, in your opinion, have the an high literary value and why?
In no particular order:
Photopia. Touching characterization of Ally, who is never the PC, always an NPC, and in the Wendy sequence, the narrator, which makes it valuable as experimental IF. I am usualy not a fan of multiple choice dailogue, and I felt cheated by the transcriptcthat describes Ally's dream, but in both cases Cadre used the uniqe characteristics of the medium to acheive a great overall effect.

Hithchiker's Guide to the Galaxy. While not one of my favorite games, it does a good job of re-creating the feel of Douglas Adams's twisted world. Adams worked on radio and TV adaptations of his story as well, so the game really helps flesh out certain quirky areas.

Muse, an Autumn Romance is an excellent implementation of a chapter or two from a Victorian novel, though most such novels have a much more epic scope (larger casts of characters, more settings, etc.)

For a Change is a creative avant-garde language piece. Ad Verbum is more fun but there's no plot beyond the in-jokey gimmick. I'd say Gostak is a better overall language puzzle, but really much too hard to be rewarding as a literary experience. For a Change comes pretty close to establishing a lyrical tone, resembling poetry rather than narrative, which makes the crossword puzzle elements more palatable and the overall effect something like an E. E. Cummings poem.

While I'm an admirer of emily Short and Andrew Plotkin, I don't see either of them shooting for literary effects — rather, they excel by exploring and extending the possibilities of IF. I think my list of "favorite IF authors" would probably not contain any surprises, but I think Graham Nelson's Jigsaw probably deserves a mention for the clever treatment of the romance, and the way the game manages to bring so many nations and eras to life.
Can you please tell three books and three movies that you would like to "convert" ?
One of my works in progress is, in fact, a conversion of a little-read work that is often named in certain circles. I'm not ready to divulge that yet.

I recently watched part of the TV remake of Carrie, which altered the ending so that Carrie survived, setting up what looked to be a series premise where Carrie would wander from town to town, like Bill Bixby in the TV series The Incredible Hulk. It struck me that any interactive version of a known literary work would be better off permitting the player to have parallel adventures in a well-defined world.

So… Maybe Huck Finn, Pinocchio, and Gulliver's Travels might work, since the stories in which they appear are episodic & exaggerated already. If copyright weren't an issue, then a game based on Orson Scott Card's Ender series, or Classic Star Trek, or anywhere people might be able to get to know the environment and the culture that characterizes it. Were I truly ambitious, I might try a postmodern adaptation of Shakespeare, such as the movie Shakespeare in Love, or the modern plays Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Goodnight, Desdemona, Good Morning, Juliet.

And what about movies?
Hmm. Movies are, in my opinion, much more "closed" than books, since popular movies are designed to overwhelm the senses rather than spark the mind. But I'll say The Red Violin, Dark City and Groundhog Day.
The first has multiple overlapping points of view, the second has a "protagonist awakes with amnesia" film noir premise, and the third is a character-based, iterative story in which the protagonist escapes a time loop by optimizing his moral behavior. All contain game-like components that might be enhanced through interaction.

Can we say that IF works are "intelligent games" to show to our sons, better than shoot-em-ups and other videogames?
I've played X-Wing vs Tie Fighter with my son for about 2 years (he just turned 5), but I haven't shown him Deus X or Warcraft, so yes, I do think that violent images are not appropriate for the very young. Peter loves Rainbow Fish, which is a very simply game with the puzzles carefully laid out to tell a linear story. He has a game version of the movie Elmo in Grouchland that is also laid out the same way. Kids love watching the same videos and hearing the same books over and over again, so total freedom of motion and desire for variable outcomes must be an acquired taste.
It's certainly possible for a videogame to be intelligent, but there's little market incentive for developers to appeal to the players' better nature — Brenda Laurel's Purple Moon went bankrupt, but the shoot-em-ups still sell. (I should also note — I haven't really played a console game since the Atari 800.)

March 2003