Interact with a 17-year-old tradition of interactivity

The 18th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition begins in a week.

The 17 years that have passed since the beginning of the annual Interactive Fiction Competition is a long era in terms of the Internet.  This tradition is older than Firefox, older than Mac OS X, older than the longest-running graphical MMORPGs, and very nearly as old as Windows 95.  The Interactive Fiction Competition still acts as a strong catalyst toward the development of interactive narratives, forming one of the pillars of the IF community.

There have been some changes in the Comp over the years, such as last year's new policy allowing authors to update their entries during the judging period.  But in the seven years that I have participated in the Comp as a judge, an author, a prize donor, or a betatester, much more has remained the same.  Authors work frantically on their entries throughout the summer, minds numb from the challenge of coordinating their prose with an intricate set of rules and the corresponding computer code.  Then in the fall, the judges are unleashed upon the new interactive worlds with a whirlwind of feedback, reviews, discussion, and speculation that does not end until long after all the votes have been counted and the winners and final rankings announced on November 15.

One week from today, the tradition continues.  The games of the 18th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition will be released some time on October 1, and then open voting will begin.  Anyone is welcome to play the entries, many of which will probably be playable in any web browser.  The main restriction on the people judging the entries is that no more than two hours may be spent playing each one.  A rating must be assigned after having played an entry for two hours even if the end was not reached.  This rule allows judging to be approach somewhat casually.  Historically, judges have only been required to play five of the entries in order to submit their scores, which are based on a scale from 1 to 10 for each entry.  Playing five games for no more than two hours each is easy, considering that the judging period last for a month-and-a-half.

The Interactive Fiction Competition deserves a place of honor in the history of indie gaming and perhaps even in the history of the Internet itself, due to its longevity and its centrality in promoting interactive narratives. Despite its high level of participation and activity, with over a hundred people judging or submitting entries every year, the Interactive Fiction Competition seems to be relatively undocumented outside of the forums and blogs frequented by regular IF players, although it has been featured in The Wall Street Journal.

The "evil animated tree" mentioned in the above-linked article -- from my own game -- goes to show that even broken, flawed, and insignificant works can have a place in the Comp's history.  The Comp has a unique culture, both exclusive and open at the same time -- exclusive because its field is relatively unknown, open because anyone can participate in it.  The combination is part of what makes the Comp so compelling to me. It is not too pretentious for a teenager to submit a half-baked game to, and yet it is old enough and distinguished enough to make everyone's contribution seem significant, including the contributions of judges and reviewers.

The command prompt is still open, waiting for you to interact with the tradition.


  1. Great Article. Keep 'em coming!


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