Wednesday, March 31, 2010

“‘May the story bring you what you seek’”

Aaron A. Reed’s interactive fiction (IF) piece, “Whom the Telling Changed,” is about a tribe that has to make a decision about how to handle the newcomers to their land; whether to fight them or to talk to them. “Whom the Telling Changed” tells about the journey that the tribe goes through and how different characters are affected by the decisions of a few. The IF, although that it is written as a fictional story, really makes the interactor think about their own choices in life and the choices of others around them, especially those choices made by people in power.
There are quite a few ways that “Whom the Telling Changed” can be understood, since it depends on the type of person that the interactor is; if the interactor is a pacifist (or trying to set the player character on a certain path in the game) the IF will have a different ending then if the interactor is more warlike. Each of the different possibilities that are in-between the two spectrums are also accounted for in the final situation of the IF. In my own interaction with “Whom the Telling Changed” I seemed to take the more pacifist route in the IF or at least more so leaning to that side in comparison to the more warlike side.

The opening of “Whom the Telling Changed” started off giving the interactor brief instructions on how to interact with the IF, which is helpful to the inexperienced interactor. After going through the instructional screens, the IF looks like the screenshot at right. From that screenshot, I looked around the tent and noticed the medicine bag and copper dagger,
but then I could not figure out what to do next so I went around the tent examining each the different items in the tent and finally realized that I could go outside and received the following output: After which I commanded the player character (the character that the interactor is playing/telling what to do) to pick up the first dagger and then the medicine and to leave the tent.
After going outside the following exchanges took place. During this contact with Sihan and Saiph, the interactor chooses who their lover is and who is the enemy. This allows for different choices and undertakings to take place in the rest of the IF. In my session, I, as is seen in the pervious screenshots, made the unknown decisions to have Sihan (female) as my lover and Saiph (male) as my enemy.
Following the contact with two non-player characters (Sihan and Saiph), Sihan and the player character go to the village’s firepit and I talk to Isi, who is the player character’s aunt. Isi tells the player character that he has to give the circlet of office to the storyteller, which leads the interactor to another decision that has to be made in the game: who is the storyteller? In my interaction with the IF, I gave the circlet to Nabu, the player character’s uncle.
Once the player character gave the circlet to Nabu, Sihan came over and talked, but soon left since she likes “to hear the stories by herself” (Reed).
After Sihan leaves, Nabu asked the villagers if they were ready to hear the story during the time of needed guidance with the decision pertaining to the newcomers.

For the next 56 cycles, which is “one input and all the output that follows it until the next input” (Montfort 25), Nabu tells the story, with a few interruptions from the villagers, mainly Saiph, but after the intermission of the story telling (once I figured out that I could make the player character talk during specific points of the story due to the words that were listed in the header of the window), Saiph and the player character both talk for the last part of the story.
The story that Nabu recites and shows to the audience in their minds is that of the adventures of Gilgamesh (King of Uruk), Enkidu (Gilgamesh’s friend and companion), and how their gods played a role in the events in Gilgamesh’s life. The story, before the intermission, tells about Gilgamesh and the gods’ gifts to him of life, courage, and leadership skills. When the story turns to talk about Enkidu, Saiph asks Nabu about the friendship of Gilgamesh and Enkidu, which seemed to me as I was playing the game foreshadowing an outcome of the IF, especially since I have yet figured out how to ‘talk’ during the story.
The next part of the story or basically the real plot of the story is the challenge that one of Gilgamesh’s gods’ makes him, to which Saiph asks about the monster that Gilgamesh is challenged to kill. So Gilgamesh and Enkidu set out to kill the monster, although that Enkidu does not want to kill the monster. Nabu goes on to tell about the making of their weapons, the sacrifices, and the travel of the two warriors to the Cedar Forest. While Nabu goes on to tell about the travel, the intermission part happens when Saiph comes over and talks to the player character

where, during my session, they seem to form a fragile treaty to do the best thing for the tribe rather than just whatever they feel like doing.
After the intermission, I command the player character to talk in response to the story. Below are some of the examples:

Soon after the warriors reach the monster, Humbaba, where they fight, and threw a net over it and captured it, but it asked Gilgamesh not kill it

Gilgamesh was unsure what to do, but before the storyteller is able to finish the story, the newcomers enter the IF

At this point in time the pervious choices that the interactor chose through the IF come into play. In my session, Saiph ends up laying down his spear, which the leader of the newcomers does not, but they talk - no fighting happens, at least I am lead to believe since it seems that my player character fainted or was knocked unconscious because my cycle went from talking to the newcomers to waking up and no one was around.

There are few puzzles in “Whom the Telling Changed,” most likely because it is not a puzzle-based IF, but more as a story-based IF. The deference between the two IF forms are that puzzle-based IF has many various puzzles that the interactor has to figure out in order to be able to further themselves in the IF. An example of puzzle-based IF would be “All Roads” by Jon Ingold, where the interactor has to figure out how to get out of a room and get past a guard in order to go anywhere or do anything in the game. A story-based IF, like “Whom the Telling Changed,” is mainly driven by text seen by the interactor during a session of IF. I feel that if “Whom the Telling Changed” was made into a puzzle-based IF, it would not have been as good as it is in the story-based IF format. The few puzzles that are in the IF are simple puzzles like what to grab as the player character’s symbol, who is going to be who in the player character’s life, and who to give the circlet to. With the few puzzles in the IF, it allows it to be more of a literary piece of art work than a digital.

In my traversal of the IF seemed to go all right throughout the whole of the IF, once I figured out the little differences mentioned above. One thing that I did not care for about the IF was how I went from standing there talking to the newcomers to being passed out near the firepit. I really enjoyed playing “Whom the Telling Changed” since it leaves its interactors reflecting on their own lives since, unless the interactor is trying to bring the player character down a certain path, the choices come from the interactor’s own personal feelings. The story-based IF format of “Whom the Telling Changed” works really well and allows for the interactors to gain the most from this labor of love that Aaron Reed put together.

Works Cited
Ingold, Jon. “All Roads.” .
Reed, Aaron. “Whom the Telling Changed.” .
Montford, Nick. “Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction.”
Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2003.

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