Friday, 8 October 2010

Flash Fiction for Interactive Types: An Open Challenge

I love flash fiction, both as a writer and a reader. Trending at around 100 - 1000 words, it exists in a sweet spot between the short story and the poem; a compressed form requiring the utmost discipline in a writer, without quite descending into the quagmire of interpretation that tighter pieces have to deal with. It's a non-commercial form that fits a short attention span society and rewards sharp ideas implemented efficiently.

It agrees with me.

What's the interactive equivalent? Clearly we have a lot of short form, non-commercial games out there, but I wonder if they quite hit the mark. Even a ten minute game like ir/rational requires as a minimum a good week or two of solid work to produce, and it contained significantly more than 1,000 words.

The interactive fiction community turns out some fascinating experimental shorts, though they still ask a lot of both designer and reader. One of the joys of flash fiction is that the barrier for entry is very low, but the technical ability required for success remains very high. Variety is everything.

I rather like the idea of the short form dialogue tree. Anybody can knock up a 1,000 word dialogue in MS Word or HTML, and polish it to buggery and back. It would ask only about a minute of its player's time. It would give us, as designers, the opportunity to explore a multitude of high concepts and ideas unpalatable to larger projects. As consumers we could be far more experimental in our interests.

Above all else, the reason I love flash fiction is that its brevity encourages risk taking. Where it's nigh impossible to pull off a commercial novel without, say, a plot, and challenging in the extreme to implement a crazy idea throughout without it becoming gimmicky, flash fiction provides an outlet.

Could it do the same for interactive writing?

You'll find a very bad example of the format here. It'll be familiar to players of Black Plague - it's a vaguely Kafkaesque computer program, inspired at the time by a frustrating phone conversation with BT.

I know we can all do better. As soon as I get some time I'll be dying to have a go at producing something more ambitious. In the meantime I'd love for you guys to have a crack. It might take you as little as an hour, and if you do produce anything you'd like to show off please post it to the comments, or email me. If it goes well maybe I'll throw the same exercise at my BA kids and see how they get on.


  1. Tom - not quite addressing your post, but I think it's relevant due to it's one-move simplicity - have you tried Aisle?

  2. I have, good link - it's very much along the right lines. I get a bit bored of guessing at verbs sometimes, but in that piece of IF particularly I think that's part of the challenge.

  3. Tom - here's my go, Neptune's Price.

    I wasn't sure what to build the game in; you used a set of static HTML pages. In the end I made a small custom app to handle it.

  4. Awesome. Comments over on yours.

  5. Cheers. I wonder if you found the "real" ending...

    Truth be told, I'm not a great lover of flash fiction - reading or writing - but this was kind of fun.

    I think if the dialogue tree was large, it would have to resist "game over-you failed" conditions, and have some value in whatever path you took to avoid a feeling that you'd want to quicksave at various points.

    If you do decide to use this for your course, you probably should decide on how the exercise should be completed. e.g. Just written down and people could play them out loud with the writer as gamesmaster or web page like you did. If you encourage people to code them up, they may dedicate more time to the coding than writing (as in my case).