Effort: Work and Fun with ''Adventure''
The discussion of Thy Dungeonman (a game which Puff correctly noted satirizes the text-adventure genre) and of Adventure are useful to help us consider how the games that went before us have shaped the games that we play now.
This is a good time to introduce the term "ergodic," a word appropriated for Game Studies by Espen Aarseth, who writes in his book Cybertext:
The reader's pleasure is the pleasure of the voyeur. Safe, but impotent.... Trying to know a cybertext is an investment of personal improvisation that can result in either intimacy or failure. The tensions at work in a cybertext, while not incompatible with those of narrative desire, are also something more: a struggle not merely for interpretative insight but also for narrative control: "I want this text to tell my story; the story that could not be without me." In some cases this is literally true. In other cases, perhaps most, the sense of individual outcome is illusory, but nevertheless the aspect of coercion and manipulation is real.
His book considers hypertext narrative along with text-adventures, but his concept of "ergodic" -- that is, requiring effort -- has become very popular among games scholars.
Another important concept is fluidity -- that that part of gameplay that seems fluid, when you're in the zone, motivated to keep pushing buttons and running through mazes because you're enticed by the wonders your actions create.
Leslie spoke of a heroic effort to get her "IF juices flowing" -- to move the experience from conscious effort to fluditity. I created the annotated Adventure frameset in order to help out people who were stuck in the very beginning of the game.
Since the first mainframe computer games were created by geeks, for geeks, for the share pleasure of doing and admiring something cool, I wanted the class to look at Adventure -- a pre-commercial product, created by a man who know a particular cave very well, and who first shared it with his young daughters, who knew caving very well.
Text-based games weren't boring to the first generation of computer gamers because for a long time, all programs were written to run on terminals that printed out on reams of folded paper. The display could do nothing but print out a line of text a time. You could do ASCII art to make some kinds of text-games look useful, but when that program was played on a machine connected up to the printer, it would have to print out the whole screen if one item on the screen changed. And that could take a minute or more.
For those of you who felt frustrated by the command-line routine of type something, read the response, then type somthing again, how would you feel if you had to enter your command into a bunch of punch cards, take your "stack" to a machine that read the cards and sent a request to a lab-coat-wearing "computer operator," who, when he or she got around to it, would enter your program into the computer, then take the resulting printout and put it in a cubbyhole with your name on it.
Correcting a single typo could take a whole afternoon!
The ability to issue commands directly to the computer, through the keyboard, was a huge innovation that revolutionized programming -- and, shortly thereafter, gaming.
Initially, the only people who played computer games were computer programmers, so those games naturally incorporated a hacker's idea of fun -- puzzle-solving, brute-force trial-and-error techniques (such as the ones you need to make progress in Adventure). But it's not enough simply to like hacking, you also have to like words. You have to invest *effort* to get the game to work.
Some gamers enjoy making their avatars respond to button combos. To me, mastering those combos is *work*. Solving a verbal puzzle is certainly *effort*. I don't turn to IF when I simply want to relax. But just as what counts as "fun" will change from person to person, so to will what we classify as rewarding effort and meaningless drudgery.