Because It's Not There: Ekphrasis and the Threat of Graphics in Interactive Fiction

Critical Writing
Publication Type: 
Journal volume and issue: 
5.1 (Winter 2011)
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Abstract (in English): 

Existing scholarship on interactive fiction (IF, also known as the text adventure) tends to treat it as a video game genre and/or as a category of electronic literature. In this essay I argue that IF can be understood as participating in traditions of visual prose and ekphrastic textuality, insofar as IF consists of room and object descriptions which direct the player to visualize the things they describe. Unlike traditional ekphrastic literature, however, IF also asks the player to take practical actions in response to the images he or she visualizes. During the commercial era of IF, ekphrasis was the most effective means available of providing players with immersive visual experiences. However, graphical video games have now surpassed IF in this area. Therefore, in order to justify the continued existence of IF, contemporary IF authors have been forced to conceive of the visuality of IF otherwise than in terms of the logic of transparency. One strategy for doing this, exemplified by Nick Montfort's game, Ad Verbum, is to abandon visuality almost entirely and emphasize IF's linguistic and textual qualities. An alternative strategy, exemplified by Emily Short's game City of Secrets, is to assert that IF is visual in a non-transparent way, because IF offers visual experiences which are user-generated rather than pre-rendered.

(Source: Author's abstract)

Pull Quotes: 

IF is an ekphrastic medium because it consists of texts which describe visual phenomena and which prompt the reader to create imaginary visualizations of those phemonena. However, IF difers from other ergodic media by virtue of being prescriptive rather than autotelic.

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Eric Dean Rasmussen