To continue fueling my interactive fiction addiction, I played “A Comedy of Error Messages” which was posted on the IFComp link on our blog. It was written by Adam Le Doux and won two IF awards in 2011.
Play begins when you choose a character. You choose their gender, race (human, orc or elf) and sexuality, but the character that you have just created is not your character, you are playing as a computer and the character that you created is your human owner’s fictional character on a World of Warcraft type of game. This IF is a great example of the different player perspectives that we read about in Nick Montfort’s article Fretting the Player Character. You can only see the main character (the human) through the eyes of the player that you control (the computer), just like the second person shooter that Montfort discussed. This obviously posed a technical dillema from Le Doux which he solved by allowing the computer character to move through the electrical circuitry of a computer system as if it were a tangible space. It was a bit off-putting at first to have to more “north” into the email inbox or “up” to go into the blogosphere, but once I got the hang of it, I thought that it was quite an imaginative use of the limitations of IF coding. In this way, the computer character could enter the human character’s email, social network or gaming accounts, hack into her smart phone or even “be given eyes” by becoming part of the webcam.
The self-aware humor of this IF is what makes it really fresh in comparison to other IFs that we have played in class. One line says, “If you didn’t know better than to anthropomorphize inanimate objects, you’d say [my documents] looked kind of sick.” This coming from a computer that says it has “the soul of an English butler.” It is also chock full of up-to-date references like referring to a bird from Angry Birds as an “overly emotional bird” or saying that some ancient emails contain references to Netscape, which would only be useful to a “historic reenactor.” Honestly, one of the most appealing parts of “A Comedy of Error Messages” was the beauty of the prose. It’s hard to believe that IF code about technology could be so full of imagery, but it really was. One of my favorite examples was the way the author described going up into the blogsphere, where the blogsphere was a line of colorful hot air balloons tethered together and sending paper airplanes of knowledge down to the desktop computers below.
But aside from just being funny or nicely worded, “A Comedy of Error Messages” was quite insightful as well. When we are introduced to the computer character, it says that it knows Jane, the human character, better than a diary or another person ever could, because it can read all of her email messages and is privy to those “late night Google searches.” I think there’s a lot of truth to this statement, we as a society have started to invest more time with our computers than we do with other people. The whole concept of this story is that the computer is trying to prevent its owner from going on a date with someone that she “met” on the World of Warcraft-like game. This IF centralizes around the idea that technology is literally struggling to keep us from making real-life connections.