For my final blog post, I decided to take a look at some more of Andrew Plotkin’s work. I bonded with him a lot through writing a paper about “Shade” and hearing him discuss the struggles faced by IF writers in Get Lamp, so I spent some time perusing his catalogue of IFs. Although I will be focusing on only one of his works, I think it’s worth noting that he’s been extremely prolific and he’s covered a wide array of subjects. Some of his works deal with classic themes of video games and IF, while others exhibit a more philosophical or critical tone as in “Shade.” Since I couldn’t explore all of his works, I picked one that seemed more experimental than the others: “The Space Under the Window.” Here’s the way Plotkin introduces it:
This appealed to me for a number of reasons but primarily because I’m actually terrible at IF, and I thought that interactive poetry would be something I could more easily navigate. If you are like me, then this work is for you. By typing the names of different objects is the scenario presented to you, you change the course of events in the short narrative. I hesitate to say that you determine or decide the course of events because that’s not really how this IF works. For example, the first line presented by the parser reads: “The window is closed, so you can’t go inside.” If you type “window,” the first message disappears, and instead the parser tells you: “The window is open, so you can go into the room.” The interactor does not know that by typing “window,” the setting will change, but that’s how this IF works. Sometimes when the interactor types a word, the previous text disappears and is replaced by something entirely different. Other times, it’s only altered or lengthened, or both. For example, once the parser tells you that the window is open, if you type “window” again, the text turns into: “The window is open, one pane laid back. As always, you strain to see what lies in the room below, and fail — there is only tinted glass, and the darkness of the opening.”
It’s difficult to say exactly what this work is about, since the course of the events changes almost each time you play. However, each storyline does revolve around this one window and usually leads to a discussion between a man and woman. I never found a combination of words that led to a truly positive conversation between the two. Rather, every scenario seemed to be accompanied by some degree of tension and dissatisfaction. Not to spoil the ending[s], but each scenario results in the window shattering. Since the man and the woman enter a land of tension through the window, and the window shatters at the end of each scenario, Plotkin may be making a point about how couples interact and lead to their own destruction. Really, though, the meaning changes with each play. Here’s one of the longer solutions I managed to come up with:
I recommend taking a lot at this if you enjoy either digital poetry or IF. “The Space Under the Window” is an interesting combination of the two, and it provides a great example of untraditional IF. Instead of guiding a player character, you type words that make the world around the player character progress. The result is the experience of living out the various scenarios that could evolve from a single starting point and understanding that one cannot always decide how something will progress.