I took some time to digest another criticism of my IFComp entry, one I was aware of well before I actually entered the IFComp and one I am hesitant to give too much credit to. That is, the criticism of unoriginality. As a fantasy game (story?), my project does include giants, doppelgangers, sirens (mermaids?), magic (sorcerers? warlocks?), witches, faeries, demons, elves, imps, dwarves, many of these not by name (imps, magic users, and witches are not named, neither are siren/mermaids). So, my project is squarely in the realm of “high fantasy.” So I admit I do not have the strange, absolutely original content of, say, China Mieville, who I think is a fantastic writer/creator and who has unbelievably imaginative worlds (City in the City is the most amazing example for me), yet I find the criticism of unoriginality in fantasy to be kind of a cop out. Is”unoriginality” really the issue?
Maybe a player/reader doesn’t like the world, the characters, the plot, the pacing, the prose? As a text-driven game with limited mechanical underpinnings, Labyrinth of Loci is essentially a vehicle for lore, much of which is inspired by folklore and popular culture (including D&D), but, really… not unoriginal. It borrows from and depends on other traditions, it is not totally original, but it’s not stolen. To say it is unoriginal is just to point out that it isn’t completely original, which seems like such an unnecessary condition. It’s really just a cheap shot against a piece of work one doesn’t already like for more substantive reasons. Unoriginality just isn’t that substantive unless it is completely iterative of someone else’s work.
I know many of the players in the IFComp community are writers/editors and they approach IF as stories, not games, which means my project absolutely fails because it isn’t a very good story (it’s a series of weird vignettes with story elements) and they are not designed to be complete, nor completely dependent on the quality of their prose (which is not very strong). They’re weird little capsules of experiences which, perhaps to my detriment as a creator, I expect the player to fill in. What I want, and I absolutely admit that I may have failed in this, is for the player to fill in the experience with doubt and apprehension and wonder and amusement. I don’t include those, I just… I hoped, that the player would find meaning and substance in their interaction with the work. But, of course, many won’t. Which is what brings me to my next project.
I want to improve on the player experience with work I create. I want people to feel attached and engaged with the world and the (potentially unoriginal-seeming) lore. I think, perhaps, the solution is in the human story. The human drama, the human connection, between story elements and game elements.
I think, perhaps, creating a stronger story (not in the sense of a singular narrative, but in the sense of stronger characters > individual people that a player may grow to care about through the power of prose) will make what is a whatever game experience into something the player cares about. If I have multiple endings, I want the player to care how those endings pan out for the characters involved. For those characters whom I want the player to care about. That, then, creates the problem of making the player care about any single character. How does one do that, I wonder? I hope, by continuing to work on projects, I’ll be able to figure that out.