I really dislike having to post about this, but JuicedGS, the premier Apple ][ print mag, has got it entirely wrong with this endorsement. IF has moved beyond the limitations of the Z8 machine, which means that IF on the A2, C64, Atari, TRS-80 and other 8-bit machines is just about dead. Not only that, but JGS unnecessarily dipped a toe into the frothing waters of IF politics. Did they understand just how toxic the contest is? It's always been just a popularity contest for people to ooh and aah over others' works, and God help you if you're not popular. Then, no matter the quality of your work, you'll be flayed alive. Is endorsing such a shark-fest really in the best interests of the magazine?
I'm pretty sure they saw an overlap of interests and stopped there, without researching what lies beneath. I love the Apple ][ to death, have always respected JGS, and I really don't want to them mixed up with the toxic environment of the so-called "IF community". But it's their choice, not mine. I just hope that it doesn't come back to bite them, though I strongly suspect that it will.
I have noticed an increasing din of calls for books, movies, comics, sites, games, and so on to be banned on the basis of their content. That was distressing enough, but it really hit home when it’s your work that they want to ban. Not that these anonymous haters have any real power to ban, but they would if they could; the tendrils of censorship hit home and they strike deadly cold.
Again, it’s one thing when such calls are on the basis of prurient content. There’s a longstanding tradition and rationale of pornography and obscenity being excluded from the category of free speech, and if I was producing sexually-explicit content, I’d have to take my lumps like a man. No worries. But the argument used is simply this — “I don’t like what you have to say, so you should have no right to say it.” Some people become a little bit more convoluted and vague with their claims of “public interest” or “public discourse” but all that really means is that certain viewpoints are accepted, while others are not, or the same goes for certain styles (i.e. you cannot make death metal; everything must be tepid jazz). Where does someone gets off on telling anyone else what perspective must be held and how one must express themselves especially when morality is never a factor in the argument? We all have preferences, likes and dislikes, but to say that I must paint like Renoir, or that I must write like Hemmingway? Really? It is, to laugh.
And that’s what I’m doing. I laugh, the way that the librarian laughed in Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. He laughed, and he drew a smile on the bullet before he fired it at the witch. There must be nothing more irritating and annoying in life than to want to ban someone else’s work and be unable to. I can’t say that I’ve ever felt that kind of emotion, because regulating on the basis of content is not something that I feel any need to do. The mental picture I have is a blustering hausfrau, attempting to mother someone else’s child, and that makes me laugh at such hopeless futility. Of all the things to waste your time upon!
The would-be censors, finally, are cowards, quaking in their loafers, fearful of their own demise, and willing to sell out and shut down anyone that increases their unease. History is never kind in her judgment of such collaborators, and suppressed works have a nasty tendency of never quite going away, as William Tyndale will attest.
I’ve been hanging around the IF forum for a while now, and there is a commitment to use the still-in-beta I7 that puzzles me. Two particular misunderstandings leapt off the page at me.
One is that people generally recognize that the Inform 7 docs suck (as I’ve pointed out in several articles here, and here), yet they continue to use the language anyways. Why? Maybe they were where I was, thinking that their game was small enough, or easy enough. Maybe they think that other people learning stuff and telling it to them piecemeal on a forum is enough. Maybe they have some kind of faith that the docs will eventually end up in a useable format.
If it’s the first of these, I can understand that pall of benighted intellect; I too thought I7 was a realistic environment for a game of about 20 rooms. I was wrong, and while my code didn’t end up look as bad as Weischaupt Scholars, it got uncomfortably close. If it’s the second reason, they are fools and are doomed to be frustrated, and if it’s the last, their faith is horribly misplaced.
After three years in beta, the Inform 7 docs are not going to reach a state of usefulness any time soon. They are not written like a technical manual and in order to get them to that point, they will have to be rewritten entirely (see the whole rationale here). In other words, there’s a reason why other manuals for I7 exist. Even they are not enough, as the frustrated folks on the forum attest.
Another person blithely thought that someone could learn English by learning I7. *expression of gape-jawed incredulity* That statement would deserve a pass if I7 modeled English’s word-order flexibility, its natural synonyms, and its general robustness (leaving out an article doesn’t render the sentence wholly incomprehensible, for instance). However, I7 does none of these things, which guarantees that prospective learners will not understand English, but at best will master elevating their own heart rate unproductively. Unfortunately, they will learn how to despise a caricature of a language, and believe that the caricature is the language itself.
First, I7 assumes that there’s only one way to word your sentence: e.g. Now the boat is floating (works), is not the same as The boat is floating now (fails). Learning I7 would not teach anyone about English’s word-order flexibility. You would learn a set of arbitrary rules, not the language, and even those rules would be erroneous (that ‘now’ must come first in any sentence is wholly false).
Second, I7 teaches that words have few or zero synonyms, which is about as far from the spirit of English as possible! It teaches that you can never use options as choices for verbs or prepositions — that selling the baby or the sock doesn’t make sense. Yet, that phrase is structurally sound English and simply comprehended. Another example: the phrase in the bathroom or the bowl, likewise isn’t understood by I7.
I7 was never designed to be English, so any dreams of learning English by learning I7 are woefully misconstrued. Other computer programming languages, although they using a handful of phrases in idosyncratic ways (with in VB, for in C, picture in COBOL, etc), do not read like English, and at best read as some sort of pidgin language. The text surrounding their appropriated phrases is clearly not English and that makes it easier/easy for the programmer to craft a separate semantic space for the new language. When learners scan a block of text, they are able to tell quickly, “Ok, this is VB. I will understand ‘with’ in the VB way.” However, Inform7 doesn’t allow you to do that. When you look at I7 code snippets (not real games — they look like this) at first blush, they seem to be English — only, frustratingly, their words don’t mean what English words mean. So you have to keep reminding yourself that this is not English and that the words you see don’t mean what they mean in English and most frustrating of all, that they can’t be used like English words. The lack of typical programming language constructs confuses and makes understanding the language a constant challenge, because whenever you attempt to use I7 like English, there’s only a small chance that you’ll guess what its idosyncratic designers designed the language to do. Programming in Inform is much like learning to conduct a symphony with your right hand when you are a southpaw that suffers from hearing loss. The context doesn’t help you interpret the language. It tells you that you are reading or writing, and you aren’t.
Finally, what I7 teaches the prospective English learner about English itself is that it is: changeable by only a few (false), highly resistant to change (false), that it does not adapt to the needs of its learners (false), that it consists of a maze of one-way streets (false), that it is poorly documented (false), that it is brittle (false), and that it is unsuited for long works (false).
If I had realized earlier the true nature of I7 (brittle, deceptive, poorly documented), I would not have used it for New Cat. I would have gone the I6 route or even the Alan route. What did I learn? Even a relatively small game will end up in pages and pages of confusing quasi-English that becomes almost impossible to parse. The problem there is that the prose isn’t a narrative, so there’s no built-in way for you to understand it, and artificial distinctions don’t make sense from a linguistic perspective. As a point of comparison, Seasons is ten times the size of New Cat (at least) and because of its semantic shortcuts and non-English nature, it is only a quarter more difficult to understand.
Liberate te ex infernis.
Today, I discovered that there was such a poll, and here are the ridiculous results.
I’m shaking my head now, seriously wondering about the future of IF.
First of all, this is just another example of the well-publicized and global reach of IF — and by that I mean its utter lack of either. Second, the results themselves speak of the power of the Old Ones and the commitment of their associated groupies (a certain author has four games in the top fifty of all time). Goodbye quality writing; goodbye pacing; goodbye plot; and let’s altogether forget about any inkling of morality. Third of all, the results speak to all of self-important and utterly unaware nature of a dying community, which is both sad and predictable. Yes, I can completely see some of these as being the best IF of all time, can’t you?
The humorous undertone to this is the full title of the poll: The Best IF of All Time (2011 edition). Whatever the results are this year, they will change in the next. That lies in the nature of all polls instead of evaluations that rely upon objective criteria (say, how often a game was downloaded from the ifarchive for example).
I’ve always been torn about the “no thanks” list, whether it’s in the liner notes of an album, in the documentation for a game, or elsewhere. It has usually struck me as petty, childish, immature, and small. However, lately I have come to reconsider my position as regards such a list for an IF game.
Haters are a real problem in IF. By “haters”, I mean irresponsible people who eviscerate games for no justifiable reason; these are people who have nothing eternal to stand on, but simply attack games according to the fashion wheel of their feelings. Worse yet, these people band together and excrete their venom anonymously, feeling as brave as Klansmen. They never submit bug reports; they never have anything constructive to say; they exist to tear down what they could not even attempt.
I have recently experienced the haters and I am coming to think that for them, a special place is reserved in my releases; although I can think up many ways to immortalize them, a simple list should suffice. And really, why shouldn’t I? I praise those who aided me; should I not expose those who were unkind?
I am beginning to think that someone must call out these worthless individuals, expose them, and shame them, so that they would change and not be worthless. That would be the purpose of a “no thanks” list — not something personal and petty, but rather something that gave a public warning about certain individuals — to provoke them to change and in the meantime, to help everyone else to steer clear of them.
I finally discover the results of Introcomp 2011 some weeks after the contest had closed. Yet, it turns out that IntFiction posted them the day after the contest closed. Interesting. I don’t blame anyone for hanging out exclusively at Intfiction now that I’m convinced that RAIF is dead, but what does it mean when something posted there spreads very slowly if at all? It means that IF itself is imploding.
This was inevitable in a “community” that consists of serial abusers and a sea of people who have little to no social skills, at the best. I still wonder how the great games of Infocom and others ended up having their torch carried by a forum unknown in the larger gaming world. Something went wrong. Something went very wrong.
It’s weird and dissociative to write about this in the past tense, as if there was no future for IF. I don’t mean to state that, but the present is pretty grim. What are the flagship sites for IF “community”? Intfiction, the IFmud (though they certainly don’t welcome people), and IFdb. If you’re generous, you could count Ifwiki. That’s all.
Non-interactive sites do add some to the community, so places like Baf’s guide, and SPAG, do provide a service. Individual bloggers add to the community even less, as it’s their blog and everyone else is just a commenter at best. Let’s not kid ourselves. Publisher and commenter is the largest power imbalance possible in the online world. Community is a where people come together as equals and there is no equality when you have no power to preserve your own words. That inequality is another good reason to not bother with comments at all, unless you’re a masochist who loves drinking textual battery acid every day.
With the “community” withering and blowing away, the spread of IF itself is imperiled. If no-one bothers to disseminate the happenings in the IF world (and no, the IF Planet is not sufficient), then what do you have? A dying, shrinking art form, as fewer and fewer people know about IF, and so fewer people start works, even fewer finish, and those that do end up wondering, “What was the point?” The fact that the self-crowned “leaders” waste their time playing intellectual masturbation games at snooty avante-garde events only shoves IF further and further from the spotlight and into the category of curio. IF has only made a splash due to the tireless work of people not part of its power structure. Think Lost Pig. Think 1893: A World’s Fair Mystery, and Textfyre.
As IF withers, it follows the sad trajectory of the media dinosaurs, for the same reasons. Arrogance, elitism, hypocrisy, insecurity, and a swarm of addled haters that reflexively defend everything their rulers have decided. They both become less and less relevant to ordinary people, and dying, they become acrimonious. Only silos remain, until the lack of community causes those silos to close up shop and move on.
It breaks my heart to see IF decay and fade.
Perhaps it has become obvious to everyone but me, but since I’m one of the last ones out, I’ll start turning out the lights. R*IF is dead. Newsgroups have held on for a while due to the pull of the past, and having a large body of helpful searchable information, but the execrable spammers put the nails into the coffin. True, blog flight drew a large number of people out (especially people who were criticized heavily), and that, coupled with a spam-free alternative over at IntFiction.org proved useful, but R*IF could have survived if only it people were serious about eliminating spam.
I think it’s sad, but it’s also so pathetically predictable that the great watering hole for IF was simply abandoned. No-one took the fight to them; no-one complained enough to Google (though I marked spams as such in Google groups whenever I could); all the talk about moderating R*IF was in the end, just talk. The citadel is abandoned out of pure sloth. *shaking head* I’d like to say that I was surprised by this, but I’m not. This is TYPICAL IF fail.
Well, I suppose it’s too late when all you can do is survey the graveyard. Goodbye, RAIF. You gave me a lot of pain, but there were a few moments of helpfulness and joy. I’ll remember the latter and try to forget the former.
And so begins another moment in IF infamy. A few days ago, I was cruising the IFdb and noticed two games that had broken links, so I removed the links. Actually, I did a little bit more research than that. One game, Out of the Pit had a download link that went to the IF archive, so I scrolled through the IF archive to find the game. Nothing. So I removed the link. The other game, Nighthawks went to the author’s home page, which didn’t give up a link after I had scoured that confusing space for five minutes. So I removed the link.
A few days later, guess what? I get a message from the site admin (never had a problem with him, so it’s not about him), telling me that someone from the IF archive told him that I had removed a link to a game. The link was obviously working (now), so what was up? Ooooohhhhhooo! Mommy, mommy, look what he did NOW!
I can’t make this stuff up.
The IFdb allows anyone to edit the game’s description page, which means that anyone could add download links. Someone added the link back when it was working, so what’s the big deal? It looks like the system is working.
Now I’ve talked to the IF archive people (most of whom are Old Ones) before, and they are S L O W in responding. Yet, this happened at nearly light speed. Why? Could somebody know somebody over there?
Another possibility is that the IF archivers would like me off the IFdb. Now why would they want that? Three reasons: my unvarnished dislike for the games of Andrew Plotkin and Emily Short; my blood-and-fire reviewing style; the political and spiritual stances I take.
A final possibility is that this was just due diligence carried out by the IF Archive…bhahaha…ok, I can’t seriously consider that one, but for the sake of completeness, there it is.
In any case, I am not impressed.
My sense of isolation is profound.
I journeyed to SPAG the other night and read the first page of the latest review. This article noted that everyone who was someone knew about what some troll said on Old One’s blog. I smiled to myself. Really? I knew nothing about this, of course, because I don’t visit those blogs. I don’t link to other IF blogs (anymore), and no-one said anything about it on the newsgroups, so how would I have known? It is beside to the point to note that I would not have cared had I known, but the article makes it plain: you are not among those who know.
There is a collection of movers and shakers in IF, and they go to heady events and do things in their own little groups; then they report back to us about what we should be doing and all the esoterica that they have soaked up, the better to educate us with, I suppose. Not that I am adverse to trade shows, cons, city groups, or anything of the sort, but the reeking arrogance is something I oppose from the gut. That, too, is beside the point. The point is that if you did not go (or were completely unaware of it), then you are not among those who know.
IF creation has always been a lonely enterprise and it gets lonelier with each passing year. Each year I feel like some obscure shadowed mecha has its ten-ton boot on my gut and it has added another ton. I wonder what will be the purpose of having written and struggled and bled over all these games; I myself have rescued games from oblivion (not to brag, but to say that that end is one which frightens me); will anyone be present to save my games from the same fate? I guess it’s strange that I feel the need to quote Out of the Grey here, by saying, “What will become of me?”
I wonder how many others sit before their keyboards and wonder the same things; how many of us are there out there, who feel unsupported and are rarely praised, who feel often that so much of our efforts are wasted?