(…) there may be many worlds in a given IF work, just as there may be several stories told in a single text. (E.g., the “frame story” of the 1001 Nights is diegetic, while the stories Scheherazade tells are hypodiegetic.)

Montfort, Nick. Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2003.

A distinction between story and narrative has been noted in various ways since Aristotle, who distinguished the argument, or locos, and how it was arranged into plot, or mythos; the Russian formalists also distinguished the material of the story or Tabula from how it was told in the sjuzet (Chatman 1975, 295). Interactive fiction has the potential to produce narratives, usually as a result of the interactor typing things to effect action in the IF world. In fact IF works are potential literature in the sense of the Ouvroir de Litterature Potentielle (Workshop for Potential Literature, abbreviated Oulipo) (Mathews and Brotchie 1998; Motte 1986), and specifically they are potential narratives.

Montfort, Nick. Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2003.

A narrative is “the representation of real or fictive events and situations in a time sequence” (Prince 1980, 180); this can result from an interactive session but does not describe any IF work itself. Similarly, interactive fiction is not a story in the sense of the things that happen in a narrative, or more precisely, “the content plane of narrative as opposed to its expression or discourse; the `what’ of a narrative as opposed to its `how”’ (Prince 1987, 91).

Montfort, Nick. Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2003.

A work of IF is not itself a narrative; it is an interactive computer program.

Montfort, Nick. Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2003.

The theory envisioned is sensitive to the nature of an interactive fiction work as a text-accepting, text-generating computer program; a potential narrative, that is, a system that produces narrative during interaction; a simulation of an environment or world; and a structure of rules within which an outcome is sought, also known as a game.

Montfort, Nick. Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2003.

Simply put, there is no theory to help us understand works in the interactive fiction form directly. Several applicable theories and concepts exist, such as Espen Aarseth’s formulation of ergodic literature and the Oulipo’s concept of potential literature, both of which help to explain how narratology can be used to understand these objects that are not, in fact, narratives, but that produce narratives when a person interacts with them. But there is still much to do to develop a strong theory that is specific to the form of interactive fiction.

Montfort, Nick. Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2003.

Finally, an IF work is a computer program, with input, output, and internal representations that must be considered for critics and authors to fully comprehend the form.

Montfort, Nick. Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2003.

Although many IF works are games and do have puzzles, the game and puzzle elements involved can often be better understood in terms of a different concept, that of the riddle.

Montfort, Nick. Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2003.

A hypertext fiction (as it is most commonly defined and discussed) is a system of fictional interconnected texts traversed using links. An interconnected text is referred to by George Landow (1992) and others as a lexia, a term borrowed from Barthes (1974), who applied it differently as a block of signification or unit of reading that was empirically determined, during a reading. Sometimes “hypertext” is defined more broadly than this. In some hypertext works, the reader may annotate the text or interact differently. There is, however, nothing in the nature of the lexia or the link, those fundamental elements of hypertext, that allows the reader to type and contribute text or provides the computer with the means to parse or understand natural language. Such understanding, used to react to typed text from the interactor, is essential to interactive fiction as discussed here. Hypertext fiction also does not maintain an intermediate, programmatic representation of the narrated world, as interactive fiction does. Although a hypertext novel may have a setting and may present a map that offers access to lexias, the space of texts is not the same as a programmatically simulated space, such as the IF world.

Montfort, Nick. Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2003.

(…) the phrase interactive fiction has its own history. It was apparently coined by Robert Lafore and popularized by Scott Adams of Adventure International more than twenty years ago (Liddil 1981; Lafore 2002), and was then used widely by Infocom to designate its canonical works and to refer to a work of exactly the sort discussed in this book.

Montfort, Nick. Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2003.

In computing, “interactive” is as specific and meaningful a term as “kernel” or “compiler.”

Montfort, Nick. Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2003.

In tracing the origins of the term interactive fiction,Aarseth (1997, 48) has correctly pointed out that “interactive” has been used as a commercial catchword, to promise vague technological enhancements and improvements. Hypertext author and critic Michael Joyce (1995, 132) also finds the term risible, stating that the only truly interactive system he can think of is a pacemaker.

Montfort, Nick. Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2003.

An adventure is some out-of-the-ordinary undertaking involving risk or danger. A text adventure can therefore be described as an interactive fiction work in which the interactor controls a player character who sets out on out-of-the-ordinary undertakings involving risk or danger.Whether the impulse is correct or not, the term text adventure suggests to some people a popular and less literary work, since adventures have been, in contemporary writing, the domain of popular fiction.

Montfort, Nick. Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2003.

Text adventure and interactive fiction do not mean exactly the same thing.

Montfort, Nick. Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2003.

The interactor, confronting the riddle of an interactive fiction work, is a reader-and also a writer. Perhaps the interactor’s true writerly ability (an ability to literally write and contribute to the text, not to be confused with the form of reading that is metaphorically called “writerly” by Barthes in S/Z) is not great, in existing works, when the amount of text contributed is considered. The interactor’s useful writing generally consists of contributions such as go north, jump off the or eat a peach. But such texts are actually understood, within the specific domain of the interactive fiction world, by the work’s parser. They are then translated, if possible, into actions. The interactor is not adding marginalia for later personal use or for some other reader’s future reference, but is actually contributing writing that is part of the text and serves to operate the program, causing it to produce additional text that is interleaved with that of the interactor and meaningfully responds to it.

Montfort, Nick. Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2003.