Title: Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction
Author: By Nick Montfort
Reviewer: ValkyrDeath, reviewed from Kindle edition.
Twisty Little Passages, named after the infamous maze from the classic original Adventure game, takes a look at the history of interactive fiction (IF) as a genre and considers its literary merits. It’s a worthy goal, and the sort of thing that could be used more in gaming, and IF is a good place to start.
If you don’t know what IF is, it’s what used to more commonly be known as a text adventure; a game where you’re presented with written descriptions of where you are and what is happening, and interact with the game by typing instructions in as close to real language as the programmers can manage. In the early days of computing it was one of the big genres, selling massive amounts of games and supporting entire companies, but these days it’s almost entirely profitless and being made by amateurs, who have nevertheless managed to create amazing works.
While the book has worthy goals, I do have some issues with it, mainly in the early chapters. It’s a rather scholarly work and Mortfort seems so worried about getting IF accepted academically that he avoids gaming terminology as much as possible. For example, he never refers to players, but instead uses the rather awkward “interactors”. He also spends a lot of time defining various terms at the start, and it makes the early chapters quite hard going and far more detailed than they need to be, even for someone unfamiliar with the genre. He also spends an entire chapter trying to present IF as a modern form of the traditional literary riddle, which failed to convince me no matter how much time he spent on it and then was barely relevant again for much of the rest of the book.
Once we get this out of the way though, the book settles down and presents an excellent history of the IF form, charting the creation of the genre with Adventure, moving onto Zork, looking through the various games made by Infocom, some of the more notable examples from other companies, and finally onto the experimental works being created by the IF community, which is still going strong to this day. It looks at some of the games in detail and presents a more literary analysis of them than is usual. I did think it might have gone into some more depth with some of the later games, but it still covers them well.
It’s just a shame that the author feels the need to stress the separation from other forms of gaming, since that’s further distancing games in general from getting recognition in favour of just trying to elevate one genre. Despite this, it’s an enjoyable book, though a bit dry in the early parts, and it’s a good start to looking at interactive narratives more seriously.
Arbitrary Final Score: