Glossary of Terms:
Metalypsis: “when one text alludes to an earlier text in a way that evokes resonances of the earlier text beyond those explicitly cited” (thank you Let the words escape blog). For the reader, metalypsis is a passive activity that occurs when something they’ve read earlier in the text becomes important, they are connecting two levels of text and therefore interacting with the text. This means that novels, and the “static” printed word can have elements of interactivity. This could also be referred to as ergodic literature.
Diegesis: This is when the reader is told a story by a narrator (can be invisible or obvious in the story, all knowing, or unknowing). It is the opposite to mimesis which is the enactment of a story, the representational aspect of a story by actors or imitators.
Spider and Web won 5 XYZZY awards in 1998 for best puzzles, best use of medium, best game, best NPC and best individual puzzle, so it seemed advantageous to seek wisdom from the designer, Andrew Plotkin, who is well known in the interaction fiction community. There is even a genre of IF called Zarfian which is named after his online alias, Zarf. According to Joe Pereria, Spider and Web is a good example of interactive fiction that cannot be replicated in graphical form due to the player being moved between various levels of diegetic planes in the story. Pereira states; “Spider & Web by Andrew Plotkin is the best IF game I have played not only because of this puzzle, but because the story is told during an interrogation and flashbacks – totally original and unique. The puzzle in this game, and even the way in which it is narrated, simply could not be done in any other genre of video game – and I have been a gamer of RPGs, RTSs and FPS for a pretty long time.”
Pereira’s view on this is that the structure of the game-story is not typical of other games that are seen in the field, the interaction between the flash backs and the interrogation sequences being what sets it completely apart from other kinds of game. Considering this, it felt fair to ask Andrew Plotkin how he developed this structure and how he thinks this kind of traversal between levels of the story builds on overall meaning.
He responded with, “It’s not the structure of past and present storylines *per se* that’s important. That’s a particular technique that I used in this game, because it fit the theme; it’s not crucial in itself”. On metalypsis, he then goes on to say, “This is just as meaningful for traditional fiction as for interactive fiction, of course. In books we get unreliable narrators, negative-space story threads, allusive and indirect storytelling techniques. In a sense this *is* interactivity, or as close to interactivity as the printed page supports. So I think it works particularly well in videogame storytelling.”
This is a particularly interesting point he made because he is stating that the use of this technique even in traditional media points to interactivity. At least some effort is required from the reader/player of the text to make sense of the story from the way the author has written it.
In Spider and Web it is implemented in such a way that when the player traverses the flashback sequence, the game allows them to make a deferral from how the story is meant to go (the ideal sequence, what really happened to the player character in the flashback). However, once they hit a roadblock or trigger an event, the game will pull the player back into the present-day interrogation room sequence and be forced to try again from the last ideal point in the narrative from the author’s perspective. This is very different to the implementation of traditional fiction as the reader does not have several paths laid out by the author to choose from. The difference between traditional media and cybertext media of this kind is that the player has no idea if the events they are witnessing will help them reach the end of the game, whereas the reader in traditional media will always know what they are witnessing is relevant to the story in some way . In a game like Zork I, the player can roam back and forth in the forest without being punished for doing so because there is no set ideal sequence of events, the story is not pre-determined because the actions the player is going to take are the events which are going to occur in that players game. There is something that could be called the ‘golden path’ which is subtly enforced on players through all interactive fiction, but is made more obvious in Spider and Web through the pullback/flash forward technique.
Plotkin also states that metalypsis can activate a technique called ‘implication’ which can be chained together to form ‘chains of implication’. Chains of implications are very important to him for his work, because implementing it means more effort is required from the player, which further engages them and “amplifies the power of the text”. Implication lends itself to the ergodic discourse of the text, which is intrigue-orientated and generated by the player’s negotiation with the intrigue in the text.
Puzzle development was brought up, “how do you develop your puzzles, and how you know something is going to be challenging or not, or suited to the right audience?”. His response harks back to what he mentioned about chains of implication and the importance of the connections that the player has already made in their mind before the puzzle is introduced to them, “I typically start with the insight. What connection has the player made; what action has the player thought of that makes perfect sense in context?”. “That includes all of the puzzle elements and how they fit together — but also how they were introduced, and what the player did with each of them *before* the puzzle came along.”
Plotkin’s explanation supports the idea of using a structuralist approach towards IF, being that the text should provide implications through the use of objects and world interaction that makes sense to the context of the world to build up awful truths, revelations, intrigues and doubts. Intrigue is particularly important because a player can be intrigued by an object even before a puzzle is ever introduced. It is up to the designer to ensure the object plays to the player’s expectations but also can be interpreted and negotiated differently when required.