I showed up in Chris Crawford’s back yard one Saturday morning, not knowing quite what to expect, since this was my first Phrontisterion. My sense of it all now is that this was a significant event in the ongoing saga of the exploration of a new continent, by a motley crew of pioneers. I mean motley in a good way, in that I met people with a variety of backgrounds and viewpoints. It was also a very fine outdoor setting for a small conference like this, and we were well taken care of by our host and hostess.
Chris’ new book provided the main focus for the weekend, and this turned out to be a good way of unifying the discussion. Chris has managed to say a large number of insightful and useful things in the Interactive Storytelling book, to a pretty broad audience, and I applaud this achievement. It probably goes without saying that none of us would agree with every thought and opinion he expresses, if only because there are so many of them!
So, where’s the beef? Well, I had a small beef on the first day with what I perceived as a heavy focus on marketing issues, at the expense, naturally, of my own pet issues, which seemed rather academic in comparison. At this stage of the game (and there was talk of both stages and games), we’re not even sure what an ideal solution looks like. In part this is because we don’t quite know how to agree – not as a group, at least – on defining the larger problems we want to solve.
The participants addressed a wide range of issues, of which I now have more respect for one in particular. The issue of textual vs. graphical presentation in this context is so pervasive, that it extends all the way from relatively superficial implementation problems, to deep issues we don’t yet seem to understand very well. Maybe it will turn out that we need both text and graphics. I don’t see how we can do without textual input, since we need language in order to express our intentions within a storyworld, and consumer-level voice recognition is not so great as yet. And no commercial success would be possible without good graphical quality; at least this is widely believed, by those who would know.
I think that if we understood the scope of some other problems better, particularly on the subjective side of interactions, the problems of text vs. graphics would tend to recede somewhat, at least in the short term. For example, storyworld authoring could benefit from a better grasp of how participants in a dialogue choose to interpret and respond to each other in one way rather than another. Until we find more workable insights into this kind of phenomenon, we likely won’t know how to represent it more effectively in a storyworld, or how to avoid creating tasks of impractical complexity for ourselves.
Coming up with problem statements that actually lead us in the right direction – this seems to be the stage of the game we’re in. Chris has done more than anyone else I know of to tackle the problem of charting the territory, and to show us that big, mysterious continent out there. Plus, he demonstrates a clear sense of direction that is very helpful. I very much look forward to some online exchanges with this group, and to the next Phrontisterion.