As I went through Photopia, a work of interactive fiction, the story was confusing at first because it switched perspectives. This reminded me of John Henry Days by Coleson Whitehead, which we read for this course, which switches between different characters. However, it more so reminded me of a book called If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino, which I read in Dr. Jerz’s Topics in Media and Culture class last semester. That book also switches perspectives, but like the interactive fiction, it’s written in second person point of view. Although you cannot make decisions with the book, the book and game give the story a more personal feel by placing you directly in it.
I will admit that going through the actual gameplay of Photopia was a bit challenging. There were a few scenarios where I knew what I was supposed to do, but I just could not figure out the correct verb to make commands work. It took me a good ten minutes at least to figure out that in order to get to Alley to come inside when you’re in the garage, you need to type the word “leave.” It also took me longer than I would have liked to find a way out of the cave. I had to realize that in the hint, the wording “vertical thinking” was used, and I never would have thought initially that typing “up” was the solution. Although the situation seems fictional, you don’t really know that at this point, so I originally didn’t think an “imaginary” solution was the answer.
The change in characters and scenarios was interesting because they ultimately all linked together to tell a single story. Once you find out what happens to Alley and the connection to the astronaut story, it definitely hits you emotionally. I also think you could write a lot about deeper meanings of the astronaut story and different themes that are present. Even though we might not think of interactive fiction as literature, I think Photopia is a strong example of literature because you can take a lot away from the story once you get past the difficulties of actually completing it.
On the other hand, I tried playing Lost Pig for a little while, but because I spent so much time trying to finish Photopia, I only advanced so far in this game. In Lost Pig, you have to complete tasks like you do in Photopia, but there is a clear objective that you are striving to achieve. I had to draw a map to avoid getting lost, but even then, I still struggled to find objects or figure out what I was supposed to do with objects. It was an entertaining and amusing game, but I did not feel as obligated to finish this one as I did with Photopia. I think because there are multiple characters and a meaningful storyline in Photopia, I felt more connected to it emotionally and wanted to finish it. Lost Pig is still fun and still considered literature as well, but because it’s just the story of finding a pig, I felt less obligated to finish it.
After talking to my classmates today, I wonder if there’s a certain point where the frustrations of figuring out how to advance in the gameplay completely ruin the chance of the author’s message getting across. You obviously don’t want to make the game too easy, but several of my classmates did not finish Photopia because they couldn’t figure out commands and didn’t have time to spend figuring them out. Although books can be difficult, we have a lot of resources that can help us out. In our Taming of the Shrew text, it included full footnote pages with definitions that helped us figure out the meanings of words. I wonder what the best way to approach interactive fiction is when you’re struggling and honestly cannot figure it out. Is it “cheating” to look up the command online, or is that acceptable? What other resources can help people get through interactive fiction? Although I probably will not explore these questions in too much further detail, I think they’re interesting to consider.
Source: Photopia or Lost Pig