A Study of the IF Community

Here at the ELMCIP “Remediating the Social” conference, literature professor Yra van Dijk was added to the program and presented, today, on a topic of special interest to me – the interactive fiction community.

She has been examining the 2001-2004 exchanges on the IF newsgroups (rec.arts.int-fiction and rec.games.int-fiction) with a focus on the online exchanges and the community’s archiving of them. Self-reflexivity and longevity makes this community particularly interesting to her. She sees a blending of roles: Practicioners, reviewers, and consumers are different roles but not different people. Her study uses literary sociology and literary theory, mainly Latour. She mentioned the “Interesting discussions” available on the Wiki; one does not have to join a mailing list to read them.

Technical issues, theory and self-reflection are discussed – many things that would be taken up by institutions in other contexts. She noted that actors on the newsgroups do not behave as if anonymous, but behave as they might in person. She noted as well that some in-person meetups now happen, that people often reflect on how to raise the profile of IF, and that awards and prizes imitate hierarchies of print literature, play a part in canonizing and archiving. She studied the consideration of IF as art – and found that most of the discussion is about craftsmanship, not poetics. Exchanges of code happen, and people discussed questions about how to write, not what we write.

She found that a well-defined genre is being redefined through discussion. Taste is being developed and discussed; intelligent readership is supported. An archive of knowledge about these works has been produced, along with an institutional network. So, the seemingly peripheral IF community has many interesting things happening. It resembles (to her surprise, she said) the 19th century literary communities with their emphasis on craftsmanship and criticism.

I regret that I didn’t get to speak with van Dijk, but it was great to hear her discussion of the IF community … and I have now something to report on at the next People’s Republic of Interactive Fiction meeting.

2 Replies to “A Study of the IF Community”

  1. tl;dr version: we’re so old-school our literary culture sociologically resembles those of the 19th century.

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