Normally, in order to appreciate the fine details of a work, be it art or literature, you must get in close to it, and examine the smallest parts of the work for every nuance of meaning. Stepping back normally is reserved for seeing how the smallest parts come together to form the big picture as it exists over all. However, when it comes to certain Interactive Fiction pieces, it seems like stepping back a bit is the only way to expose the fine details. Playing though Andrew Plotkin’s “Shade” and then subsequently reading Jeremy Douglass’s analysis of it showed me that, sometimes, it’s better to step back to have a clear picture of how something works up close. In being introduced to “Shade” as the one that made my professor’s grad-student comrade cry, I thought I would be ready to face the frustration of having absolutely no idea of what was going on. I thought wrong. From my limited experience with IF games, being confined to a single room got rid of the one action had I gotten used to executing. The creepy continually-changing Bible/to-do list and the stupid-impossible goal of obtaining water weren’t very helpful, and neither were any of the walk-throughs that I looked up to attempt to find the stupid plane tickets. Frustration was hardly enough to describe it. I honestly only continued to try because it was for class. It was only after reading the Douglass essay that I came to appreciate not only the game itself, but also the frustration that it made me feel. My own frustration had been inflicted by intent. As was my confusion. It wasn’t just a thematic happenstance, it had been worked into the code. Walk-throughs were unhelpful because there was no way allowed for them to be helpful (not in the short-cut way at least). I am not a programmer, I can barely work with HTML. The only way for me to see the way the intricate workings of the code affect game-play and narrative is to step back and look at it through someone else’s eyes, someone who can actually read what’s going on in it.
Aside from having an expert’s eye to look over the code and translate it into English for me, reading Douglass’s essay opened up a much wider understanding of what exactly “Shade” was doing. My experience with the sort of electronic literature we’re working with in this class is almost exclusively limited to what we’re actually working with in this class. Because of that, I don’t really understand the conventions of Interactive Fiction and it’s hard for me to spot when a text is flouting them or following them. It’s even harder for me to appreciate when a text is doing both. The discussion Douglass makes on the topic of the 2nd person narrative structure of “Shade”, in particular, showed be something I would never have been able to see on my own. Douglass comments on how the employment of the 2nd person narrator both follows convention (as 2nd person is a typical choose-your-own-adventure narrative style) and also defies it (as “Shade” represents the role as one taken up by a second person in the narrative rather than as a guise the reader can actually step into). Elements like that vastly change an understanding of the work and of what the work accomplishes. For someone like me, who cannot read code and is far from wide-read in the interactive fiction genre, reading secondary analyses of a text is really the only way explore it as a creative work. In order to see the little details contained within the text, people like me need to step back and look at it through someone else’s eyes.