Twisty Little Passages:An Approach to IF, Chapter 2 ‘Riddles’ -Montfort

So for this weeks blog I decided I would look into the actual genre of interactive fiction instead of just one specific work. In looking around for an interesting article I came across a novel called ‘Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction’ by Nick Montfort. I started skimming the book and realized it was much too long to write just one blog post about the entire thing so I chose one chapter to focus on and that was the chapter titled ‘Riddles’.

In this chapter, the author discusses the often over-looked role riddles play in the game play of IF games. He points out that basically the entire game is based on riddles. Each time you are faced with a challenge, it may seem fairly simple such as ‘you cannot pass through, the door is locked’, but you are presented with the riddle of how to unlock the door. What do you need to say/do/take in order to get the door to open? He also points out that the literary definition of a riddle says that it must consist of two things: competition between the riddler, which is usually the game maker, and the riddlee, the game player, and the language must be difficult but still include the clues necessary to solve the riddle. In the case with the locked door, the clue is that the door is locked, and what opens a locked door? Keys, which you then know you must go and find. As opposed to ‘the door it being held shut’, where you must figure out, often by trial and error, what or who is holding the door shut.

Montfort also makes the argument that situational puzzles are similar to riddles in their role in the game. He states that these puzzles present the player with a situation in which they must figure out what exactly is going on in order to understand the game and how to proceed. These situations challege the player to think ‘out side of the box’ and outside of the literal meaning of the interaction. One good example he gives is ‘A man walks into a bar and asks for a drink. The bartender pulls out a gun and points it at him. The man says “Thank you” and walks out’. One might wonder why the man would be thanking the bartender for threatening him but most probably wouldn’t consider that the man had the hiccups and was thanking the bartender for scaring them out of him. While this situation may not be one found in an IF game, it is a prime example of when a reader/player must think outside of their own immediate thoughts to determine what actually happened. This is key in many situations in IF games when the player is given a piece of text, often instructions or a description, and if taken literally would make not sense and not help with the game progression but when taken abstractly, it lends many important details about situations in the game.

What I found most interesting about this chapter was just how key riddles and situational puzzles are to IF games, though they are often overlooked as just plain text. In trying to advance in the game play of IF games, looking at each reply to the players inquiries as a riddle to be solved with abstract thinking seems to be a valid strategy. I know from my experience, I always tended to take the text literally and often found myself stuck trying to do what I thought the computer was obviously telling me to do but really it was telling me something entirely different. I will approach each game from now on with a new understanding and tactic for overcoming this competition between riddler and riddlee in hopes of coming out on top.


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