A very chatty IFComp

The Interactive Fiction Competition started taking a different tack last year, encouraging its judges (a group consisting of anyone on the internet who wish to download, play, and then rate at least a few of the entered games) to freely discuss their play experiences wherever they liked. Prior to that, the competition put the kibosh on any public discussion about the games at all, right up until the year's winners were announced. I don't follow the IF community closely enough to know the reason for the change; my educated guess is that it was easier to hush early critiques when almost all discussion happened in two Usenet newsgroups, but we are well into the Age of Blog now, and hoping to keep a lid on super-distributed discussion is laughably futile.

I noticed the rules change only this year, because I have since then subscribed to the Planet Interactive Fiction news feed, and found myself deluged with comp-spurred reviews and rants throughout the first two weeks of October, as the most eager judges tore into the games as soon as they could. Unsurprisingly, Emily Short's words on the topic stand out especially, capped with this round-up post on her blog.

Auntie Pixelante also linked to Emily's reviews today, adding her thoughts that the comp's a dead horse now, since a lot of its entries are objectively sub-par. This strikes me as kind of a strange thing to say; I've been following the comp since 1999 (when I myself was an entrant), and it seems half the entrants on any given year have been failed experiments, lame jokes, or just plain old untested, broken messes.

But the other half of the entries is made of entirely playable little games, and the cream of these are good little text games, year after year. After winning the competition, these games often go on to receive a lot of discussion and links outside of the IFComp's little bubble. (One can find discussion of last year's winner, Lost Pig, on some high-profile game-discussion blogs well into this year.) For a completely unmoderated-entry worldwide competition, even an obscure one, that sounds like a pretty good hit rate to me!

Even as the indie-arty games that Auntie writes about gain increasing social and even financial recognition (why yes, I did just upload a double-sawbuck into Nintendo's wallet so I could download World of Goo for Wii), pure text games, with their necessarily homely interfaces, continue to live in a niche among niches. The IFComp maintains its role as a beacon that pulses once a year without fail, and if it gathers a lot of odd chaff, it also attracts enough bright stuff to confirm that the medium remains vital.

The 2008 comp's judging period stands at its halfway mark now, with about three weeks to go. I don't know if I'll write about any games, but I believe I shall now get around to downloading the glob and participate in the judging. You are welcome to join me!

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