An Interactive Tragedy   2 comments

Courtesy of Emily Short and Mark Bernstein, it looks like we have our first interactive fiction inter-blog argument going.

How could I resist joining in the fun? To continue from Mark Bernstein’s last post:

But it’s not quite that simple: a character placed in a hopeless situation is neither tragic or dramatic. A crucial point is that the hero must have options. We can see the options, and we can see how the hero cannot see them. But if you are the hero, it’s hard to see and to be blind at once.

My first thought there were all sorts of already existing examples of tragedy in interactive fiction — they simply depend on a crucial moment and reduce player agency at that moment (in a plausable or inplausable fashion depending on the work in question). However, what Mark refers to here is the genre of tragedy (and what I’d really call a sub-genre), with a slow build and obvious destination. Since the genre by definition has lots of “turn-off” points that the characters blindly speed by, there’s no way to render this in interactive form.

I’m going to have to grant this point for the moment, but this is hardly the entire meat and potential of tragedy. Consider Oedipus Rex. Certainly one could argue Oedipus should have stoppped asking questions, but the genuine tragedy had already happened; one could easily imagine an IF structured in this way, where the player is simply responsible for the relevations. (I can even pick a specific IF work structured this way, but I’m avoiding mentioning which due to spoilers.)

Or consider a pick-out-of-multiple-evils tragedy. In this case, no matter what happens someone is going to be unhappy. This kind of structure is unique to IF, but one could imagine Hamlet itself this way — had Hamlet managed a clean kill, so to speak, would he really be out in the clear? So perhaps it isn’t possible to kill off 3/4 of the cast — is that really necessary for a tragedy? (I can pick a specific IF work that models this concept also to an extent.)

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Posted August 26, 2007 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

2 responses to “An Interactive Tragedy

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  1. Since the genre by definition has lots of “turn-off” points…

    Yes, one of our problems here is that there are a number of definitions of tragedy; while it’s probably fair to say that there’s a particular subset of tragedy that one can’t do in interactive form, I’m not convinced at all that this applies to everything we would label that way.

  2. I agree entirely (hence my “sub-genre” comment). This particular sub-genre seems to be what Mr. Bernstein is fixated on.

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