Conclusion - Putting the Pieces Together
Practical Application

Our senses are our receptors to the world outside our skins. Through them we gather information about that world. This is so obvious you would think that it doesn't even need to be said. But our senses fade so much into the background of our total-field of awareness that we take them for granted and may not stop to examine how we actually use them.

Interactivity is this interplay between our senses and the world. When we are an artistic creator or actor we interact with one or more media directly: gripping a pencil to write on paper, stroking a paint-loaded brush across canvas, or manipulating our fingers and a pick to pluck the strings of a guitar. When we are the audience of someone else's creativity, we use our senses to appreciate these artistic media at a slight or greater distance: reading a novel, admiring a painting, listening to rock&roll, browsing the WWW, or playing an IF game.

A static medium does not interact with us in turn, so our level of interaction with it appears low, even passive. But, based on the information we gather, we reach conclusions: liking, disliking, making it a part of our memory, or taking some action. So we still interact, even if only passively.

A responsive medium requires some action on our part, so the interaction goes in two directions, medium to us, us to medium. Computers raise this level of interactivity one step higher. Software is deliberately programmed to respond to our senses and information processing modes. The more interactivity, the more choices we feel we have. Although nothing can equal the skin tingling immediacy of real-life, computers let, or appear to let, us become creators and actors again. Drawing programs let us paint, word processors let us write, and computer games let us play.

What are these information processing modes? First, what are the senses? Isaac Asimov in his book, The Human Brain, reiterates common knowledge. There are five basic senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. The first four employ specialized sense organs (eyes, ears, nose, tongue), the latter is a general sense. Pressure, heat, cold, and pain are cutaneous ("skin") responses which come under the general heading of touch, just as sweet, salt, sour, and bitter come under taste. Asimov also mentions one other, a kinesthetic ("movement feeling") sense which lets us know the position of our body and limbs without consciously thinking about it.

Obviously some senses can be in several ways. Sight to read and see a picture; hearing to listen to voices, noises and music. But other factors also come into play when we process information. Since we carry our total prior experience with us wherever we go, our "starting inventory" also includes our memory, reason and emotions.

Putting our starting inventory together with my knowledge of Interactive Fiction and my perceptions about IF players themselves, I emerged with these interactive categories. There could be other divisions or finer distinctions; I make no claim to scientific proof and, ergo, accuracy.

Types of Interactivity (Information Processing Modes)

Category Description
Linguistic specifically reading / writing - the symbolic representation of language in the written word
Visual also involved in reading / writing, but usually connected with the pictorial, whether real or imagined
Auditory listening -
plot - essentially story telling, so it engages that age-old human
desire (which is now almost an instinct) to sit around a fire and listen
to a good story;
conversations - also involve listening;
music - the symbolic / emotive use of non-random sound;
Oral / Verbal speech - giving voice to one's thoughts and hearing one's self talk;
conversations involve both auditory and oral
Tactile using one's hands to carry and manipulate objects;
the surface feel of objects
Kinesthetic movement and the sensation of movement;
sense of physical space resulting from movement, "air brushing the skin"
Smell smell, whether real or imagined
Taste taste, whether real or imagined
Emotive emotions - happiness, sadness, satisfaction, frustration, etc.;
humor may be one of the most reliable and universal ways to evoke a specific emotion in others
Problem Solving /
problem solving - based on humanity's survival instinct
puzzles* -
deductive - a to b to c to d, sequential and scientifically logical;
inductive - a to b to d or a to d, fill in the missing steps, make an
intuitive leap between seemingly disparate ideas/items;
mechanical / technical - manipulate objects in a fairly obvious and logical manner; really only puzzles when we may have no prior
knowledge about the objects involved, or, specifically in Interactive
Fiction, when we have difficulty figuring out how to manipulate
all-text objects
(examples - programming a real life VCR for the first time, even
while following written instructions, can become a puzzle although
supposedly it wasn't intended to be; figuring how to work an
all-text VCR may involve "pushing" buttons, "turning" switches,
"opening" slots, and guessing the verb )

*Puzzles could be broken down into more categories, but these are the obvious ones.

These categories not only describe the various ways an IF game can be interactive, but also the ways each of us can process information. Therefore, they are also information processing modes. Most of us use all these modes, just as we use both our left and right brain. However, most of us also use one or several modes more consistently than one or several others, just as we may use our left brain more often than our right, or vice-a-versa. How much we favor one mode over another is really just a matter of degree. For instance, most people are linguistic and/or verbal, but not all are as auditory -- listening to music frequently and able to "place" a dialect or accent. Not all are as kinesthetic -- discerning forms of physical movement and sensitive to their own personal space bubble. Degrees of utilization also exist within each category. Some of us have differing primary processing modes, but we seem to differ much more in our second, third, and fourth modes. Whether these modalities are inherent or preferred, or whether they rely in any way on left or right brain involvement, simply doesn't matter. Not to the relevancy of this theory, anyway.

Some would claim this is all hogwash (being polite), that all interactivity in Interactive Fiction is just puzzle solving. That the only way an author can control plot development is with carefully placed puzzles. But not all Interactive Fiction has a plot or a clear plot. These dissenters then might argue that the only way they personally become involved in a game is when they have to stop to leap the hurdle of solving a puzzle. But not all IF has puzzles or is heavily puzzle oriented. They might also argue that their involvement is solely mental. Our involvement in an all-text medium is mainly mental, of course, but some of that mental involvement is the imaginative invocation of our senses and emotions. If they continued to argue, I would reply, "Well, puzzle solving is one of the information processing modes, so you are just proving my point."

I don't think it is an accident that Infocom (famous software company, now defunct, which produced all-text adventures, notably Zork) worked out a standard that appealed to a broad audience. What was its standard? They tried to simulate the real world as much as possible so they could draw players into their mini fictional worlds. So all the senses were included, even smell and taste were mentioned. But other ingredients were also a part of Infocom's mix.

Infocom's Standard

Generic Adventurer protagonist was usually genderless with few preexisting personality traits; i.e. point of view was usually general, not specific
Player Motivation
(emotive / problem solving)
the plot supplied a clear motivation for the player;
avert an immediate and/or pending emergency, find a "treasure" (go on a quest), and/or find yourself (become unlost)
Simulation of the Real World
(all interactive categories, including smell and taste)
all the senses were included
tangible items in game packages helped reinforce the "reality" of the game's mini world
Game Map
medium to large map, so players could "move around" that mini world
(linguistic / auditory)
Infocom used less prose than most games do today, mainly due to lack of computer memory, but other factors also may have been involved
Ask / Answer / Tell
(oral / auditory)
the player could converse with NPCs (non-player characters) in as realistic a way as possible at the time;
techniques were modeled on real-life conversations
mainly humor was used to invoke emotions in the player, with a few notable exceptions
(deductive / inductive /
nice combination of the purely logical, intuitive and mechanical;
also a combination of easy, medium and hard puzzles in the same game

"Modern IF" diverges from this standard more and more. Many welcome this widening gap as "the evolution of IF," but as it continues to increase so will balkanized player reactions. Infocom's formula successfully appealed to a broad audience, because by attempting to simulate the real world they also naturally included all the information processing modes. So with each Infocom component Modern IF authors throw out, they not only simulate the real world less, but they also tear up the tickets for the section of their potential audience who responded strongly to that way of processing information. Or, at the very least, deprive players of a sense. When an author discards a game map with a one room game, they may turn away kinesthetic players who need movement to feel a game world has actual physical "depth." When an author discards the ask / answer / tell model with a conversation menu, they may turn away oral / auditory players who need to "speak their own words" and "hear the sound of their own voice." When authors discard one or more interactive elements, ultimately this narrows their audience. Authors certainly can choose to do this, but I think they should be aware they are doing this. Or they can choose to follow Infocom's standard more. Or when they experiment, make an effort to still include all the information processing modes. Or just experiment. Their choice depends on how big they want their audience to be, how important its size is to them, or whether they have an "artistic vision" they want to achieve regardless of audience.

How we define linear illustrates this interactive diversity of the IF audience. In r*if discussions we sometimes disagree about whether a game is linear or not. Although we may not always notice, these disagreements probably stem from the fact that we define linear differently. We do seem to agree it is a form of sequentiality that limits interactivity. But, what kind of sequentiality? What kind of interactivity? Linear could mean: no game map, a small game map, or a restricted game map -- a game world which appears to have no depth because the player can not randomly wander around; a plot which the player can affect very little or not at all -- a "paper story" which reads more like static fiction than it plays like interactive fiction; a plot which unfolds in a highly sequential manner -- an event can only occur after another event occurs; and/or puzzles that can only be solved in a strictly sequential order -- puzzle b cannot be solved until puzzle a is solved. Or linear could mean any combination of these. So when we label a game linear, we may be saying more about ourselves than the game. Because how we define linear reveals ourselves, our preferred information processing modes, what interactivity is to us.

Linearity can also be a statement about author control versus perceived player control. Static fiction is totally linear. We may identify closely with a novel's protagonist, but where in static fiction can we be the protagonist? We may visualize / imagine a short story's colorful locale, but where in static fiction can we move around a locale at will? We may find a generational trilogy's characters so real we almost forget they are fictional, but where in static fiction can we to talk to them? A static fiction author has total control of unfolding the plot, ergo, total control over the reader. So when we label a game linear, we may also be saying that an IF author has written like a static fiction author, relinquishing little control to each player's individual and unpredictable input.

Interactive Fiction players' input can appear to actually introduce new information into a game. They may enter words, phrases, and sentences that have never been entered by any other player. Or never entered in those combinations before. Computer interactivity, in the broadest sense, allows users to become part of an information dispensing system, instead of remaining locked outside it as just passive receptors. The glass of a monitor screen becomes a thin membrane separating information dispensing system from information processor. The more successful the interactivity, the more penetrable that membrane appears, until it can seem to disappear. Then, instead of having our nose pressed against the glass, like a Dickensian waif outside on a cold winter's night gazing longingly into a fire-lit room, we can enter the bounteous wealth of the information system itself. An IF author, by abandoning total control, welcomes players in to join them by the creative fireside. Players' own inspiration becomes such a crucial part of the game playing process, they appear to assume control, or some control, of unfolding the plot themselves.

This ability to appear to control by choosing, this interactivity, is what distinguishes Interactive Fiction from static fiction and makes it unique. Graphic games certainly offer similar choices, but although many are visually impressive with a changing pictorial perspective as the player moves around, few offer complex IF-like plots with IF's resulting breadth and depth of mental involvement. Until the two successfully merge, Interactive Fiction approaches virtual reality more; IF plots stimulate our minds while textural feedback subliminally invokes our senses.

Real world sensory feedback tells us when we pick up a box, smell a rose, or listen to an opera. When Interactive Fiction suggests we can pick things up, open / close, and search them; in our imaginations we may "experience" ourselves doing so. When IF suggests we taste chocolate, we may remember the taste of our favorite candy. When IF suggests we hear a lively tune, we may recall a familiar melody. IF's textural feedback operates like hypnotic suggestions, triggering our imaginations, as we associate past experiences with present. By simulating real feedback, IF's feedback reinforces our participation in yet another world, a fantasy world. So Interactive Fiction can create the feeling "we were there" in a way non-participatory static fiction never can. Because active participation naturally involves us more deeply than passive participation can ever hope to.

Interactivity is based on how each of us uses our senses to process information. The Interactive Fiction we like is the IF that we, individually, find truly interactive. It either engages most of our senses, or those senses and information processing modes we already prefer to / primarily use.

In addition to defining linear, analyzing Modern IF can also illustrate our interactive diversity. Interactive types / information processing modes can explain games' successes and failures.

Note:  These analyzations are not reviews. They are not comments about any gameís quality or lack of quality. The placing of each in the Annual IF Competition is given. That is a comment about quality, a general consensus about quality. Note also that this paper also does not focus on what Modern IF has added, that would be the subject of a totally different paper and is a point I donít feel qualified to comment on. Since this paper focuses solely on interactivity, these analyzations are simply illustrations of how the IF audience can polarize along interactive / information processing lines. Also, the Infocom standard is occasionally mentioned because it usually used all the information processing modes, and, except for conversation menus, IFís methods of interactivity have changed very little from Infocomís day. It is also familiar to most IF players. But, hopefully, someday we may have new, even unforeseen, types of interactivity; as Html TADS, other game writing systems, and experimenting authors are beginning to show us.

Photopia by Adam Cadre, 1st place in the 1998 Annual IF Competition, had a definite plot (auditory) with strong emotive content. But it was mainly notable for its excellent prose (high linguistic). So hanging around a mixed group of programmers, writers, and players; it didn't take me too long too figure out why so many others liked Photopia. They liked the writing. It moved them. Superior writing, without overt errors and amateur awkwardness, doesn't "hang up" their eyes. Also, since a high portion of r*if is writers or wanna-be-writers -- most iffers simply love words. Like my iffy friend, words hit them on a deep level. Flowing prose with well-turned phrases gets absorbed directly into their brains. They not only find its smoothness distinctly pleasurable, being so linguistically unimpeded actually helps them envision a story. So the subliminal component in this game was its high linguistic appeal.

I, on the other hand, respond more to other things. Photopia also had only a couple of easy puzzles (low deductive / inductive), a limited game map and game map limited to only one section of the "game" (low kinesthetic), conversation menus (low oral / auditory), and few choices for the player to apparently affect the story (low problem solving). I prefer: simulated movement that gives me the illusion that the game world has physical depth (kinesthetic), puzzles that make me feel I am actually participating (problem solving), and conversations with NPCs that allow me to imagine that I can hear my the sound of my own voice (oral / auditory). So part way into Photopia when: movement became very limited, conversation menus started to dominate the plot, and essentially there were no more puzzles; I was "bumped out" of the piece. Feeling I had nothing to do, for me it went from three dimensional to one, became flat and paper thin, reminding me I was reading a story instead of allowing me to forget while I immersed myself in a mini-world. (The ending was not relevant to this perception.) But for the highly linguistic, reading alone is more than enough to engage their imaginations. It is also in their "comfort zone", familiar from static fiction. While, I, more visual and kinesthetic than linguistic, found Photopia too linear or "not interactive enough." Contrasting my experience of it with others' -- comparing comments on either side of the balkanized divide -- started me evolving my theory.

I have also found that often briefer, less-detailed location (room) descriptions make it easier for me to envision locales, because longer ones interfere by filling in too many blanks. Just as my spelled out and quoted sounds ("Crash") in Family Legacy interfered with my acquaintance's ability to imagine those sounds for himself, better than I could write them.

At the opposite end of the spectrum from Photopia, Harry Hardjono's Cask, 31st place in the 1997 Annual IF Competition, was all puzzle and as mechanical (in a mechanical engineering sense) as can be. Most disliked it because it was all puzzle with no real plot (high problem solving / low all other categories). Some also disliked it because of the intense object manipulation required in its technical puzzles (low inductive / sometimes deductive). But I recall one poster who said, "Hey, I really liked this, I could get straight to the puzzles and not waste time on other stuff."

Harry Hardjono had made the big mistake of not first identifying his audience. His true interactive audience was about two or three people. While Adam Cadre had an audience of at least 80%.

The Edifice by Lucian P. Smith, 1st place in the 1997 Annual IF Competition, had fewer polarized reactions than some recent competition winners. It had: a definite plot (high auditory) with minimal prose (lower linguistic appeal), a game map that players could wander around (high kinesthetic appeal), mechanical / logical puzzles that engaged players' survival oriented problem solving abilities (deductive / mechanical), and language puzzles that called for intuitive leaps (inductive) through the creative use of words (highly linguistic). It was also more non-linear than some IF, offering numerous non-sequential choices. So, although Edifice was unusual and distinct, it still included Infocom's standard. While its language puzzles added a higher degree of linguistic involvement than most of Infocom's games. It's no wonder it was successful.

Muse: An Autumn Romance by Christopher Haung, 2nd place in the 1998 Annual IF Competition, departed from the generic player approach and also changed the narrative voice from second person to first. Many felt this first person voice didn't work or that didn't work for them. But they may have been bothered by the combination of a non-generic adventurer and first person narrative. Since we always enjoy someone else's creative expression at a distance, anything that seems to increase that distance can increase our sense of non-participation. A generic protagonist lets the maximum number of players feel they can "don" him / her because he / she is non-specific. Thus clothed, they can become involved in the plot as apparently direct participants. A specific protagonist moves players back a step from direct participation, because they "see through someone else's eyes." Adding a first person voice on top emphasizes the already existing distance, moving players back two steps. Despite this, Muse placed high because it still included most of Infocom's standard and the interactive categories: a game map (kinesthetic), some non-sequential puzzles (deductive / inductive), and NPC conversations based on the real-life ask / answer / tell model (oral / auditory). Since its romance also had emotive appeal, its interactivity was broad based.

Exhibition by Ian Finley, 5th place in the 1999 Annual IF Competition, also had a changing point of view, a specific, not generic protagonist (several, in fact). But it was not as successful, receiving strong balkanized reactions. Players could really only participate mainly by reading (high linguistic), since it offered few other ways to process information except the emotive and some kinesthetic (low all other categories). Thus, it mainly appealed to those who like good writing and to those who enjoyed the changing point of view (basically the same group, since players had to enjoy reading the prose first). Problem solvers and/or talkers, with nothing to do, found it too linear or "not interactive enough."

For A Change by Daniel Schimdt, 2nd place in the same competition, included more of Infocom's standard: game map (kinesthetic), and non-sequential puzzles (deductive / inductive). Placing high because of its uniqueness, it still received polarized reactions due to its distorted use of language (too linguistic for some) and minimal plot (low auditory & unclear motivation). But Change didn't so much leave out various interactive elements as it changed them almost beyond recognition.

Hunter, in Darkness by Andrew Plotkin, 8th place, had some of the strongest polarized reactions in the 1999 competition. Raves on one side, and on the other, reactions almost approaching disgust. Although some found it too "in jokey" due to its origin, and some objected to its choices; most negative reactions were probably due to the perceived maze. All the other interactive elements of a successful game were present: plot (auditory), game map (kinesthetic), puzzles (deductive / inductive), and some emotive content. But including a maze is, to many, like beating a dead horse, because a traditional maze is so linear it only requires mapping. Mapping is strictly technical skill, engaging players' problem solving abilities the least, because it involves no real deductive / inductive reasoning. So players feel uninspired, and, as a result, mazes are now almost universally disliked. However, misdirection in IF puzzles is a commonly accepted practice. But this author may have used misdirection too successfully, using an apparently linear maze to cleverly conceal a puzzle. Upon seeing it, many players just assumed it needed to be mapped. While others, solving the puzzle, didnít even see a maze. (Iíd like to make some comments about why this game received raves, but canít figure out to do it without spoilers. However, this is not a spoiler, as a "you do not need to map" disclaimer has since been added.) If there is a moral to this analyzation (and some others), it is that IF authors employ deliberate or obvious linearity at their own risk.

Halothane by Quentin D. Thompson, 6th place, received the second strongest polarized reactions. This game is harder for me to analyze since I never really saw its appeal, but over one half of us did. Those who were unimpressed found the plot too convoluted, thus, too hard to follow (low auditory & low motivation). The chapter layout also made it more linear than some IF. But, guessing, those who were impressed may have enjoyed the plot being a puzzle itself (high problem solving). The game also had numerous actual puzzles, many optional. An admirer later told me that he thought people enjoyed Halothane because the "player could get into all kinds of trouble." That implies a great deal of interactivity. It also had: a game map (kinesthetic), and ask / answer / tell NPC conversations (auditory / oral). Contrasted with Hunter, Halothane was probably at the other end of the spectrum, perceived as too random. It mainly received negative reactions because some found one ingredient too mixed to be savored clearly. That ingredient, plot, was not only key, but also multifaceted, involving two information processing modes (emotive & auditory). So more than one section of this author's potential audience were turned away.

Whether a game does well in the Annual IF Competition, of course, also depends on other factors. An author's skill in writing, crafting and programming cannot be discounted. But when a game receives strong polarized reactions, some liking it while others dislike or even hate it, obviously something else is involved. We are all different therefore like different things. But that raises the questions: What is it we like? Why do we like it?

When I first discussed my theory with Luc French, he quoted a famous saying, one quite familiar to me. If you are linguistic and like etymology -- before the advent of VCRs, really before cable TV stations, the only thing for late night Bay Area television viewers to watch were two San Jose channels which showed old black & white movies. The sponsor of one of these shows was a car dealer who crafted a slogan to describe his price slashing method. It could just as well apply IF. "Different strokes for different folks". Or conversely that could be, All strokes for all folks.

The Interactive Fiction we love is the IF that we, individually, find truly interactive. We have no problem processing it, because it is already designed the way we process information. It either engages our preferred information processing modes, or all of them. So on a level below our conscious awareness, almost subliminally, it pushes "our buttons," and we love it exactly because it does -- like an itch being scratched, it is pleasurable. We love the IF that massages our information processing modes, the IF that interacts with US.

Rereading McLuhan for this paper, his thesis that all media is an extension of humanity's senses, seems to start from the premise that everyone uses their senses in the same way. Or, at least, that everyone in the same culture does. I haven't reread enough McLuhan to discover if this actually was his premise, but nothing I have read so far mentions that individuals may have / favor differing ways of processing information. To me, that is a major oversight, so I would have to disagree with what seems to be an unquestioned assumption underlying his work.

It would be egotistically pleasing to create a "Parker Interactive Personality Test", similar to the "Keirsey Temperament Sorter". The Keirsey test, based on Myers-Briggs personality types, separates temperament / character types into four pairs of polarities: Extraversion / Introversion, Sensation / Intuition, Thinking / Feeling, and Perceiving / Judging. All the possible combinations result in 16 distinct character types: INFP, ENFP, INFJ, ENFJ, ISFP, ESFP, ISFJ, ESFJ, INTP, ENTP, INTJ, ENTJ, ISTP, ESTP, ISTJ, ESTJ. Because these are not true polarities and because everyone really fits more than one category, test results also place some people on borderlines, evenly split between two categories in one or more of the pairs. Example: INFP or J (INFJ).

Keirsey Character/Temperament Types

Primary Orientation to the World Secondary -
Third -
Fourth -
Decision Making
(E)xtraversion or
(S)ensation or
(T)hinking or (F)eeling (P)erceiving or

An Interactive Personality Test's design issues would be: Could results be sorted into four pairs of polarities? What interactive categories could be considered opposites? Could any?

Maybe the arrangement should be: Linguistic / Visual, Auditory / Problem Solving, Oral / Kinesthetic, and Deductive / Inductive. The first pair focusing on how one primarily interacts with a game, through appreciating the written word and/or visualizing one's self "in" its mini world. The second with how one becomes involved in the story, by following plot or solving puzzles. The third with one's primary sensory modality, conversations or movement. The fourth with one's preferred type of puzzles. That leaves out tactile (sensory) and mechanical (puzzles), but those appear in almost every IF game anyway: picking objects up and having to manipulate those objects in basic ways. Or the puzzle types could be a triad instead, Deductive / Inductive / Mechanical. Since oral and kinesthetic do not seem polarities, that pair could be also be expanded to include tactile, Tactile / Kinesthetic / Oral. That still leaves out emotive, it could be third in an involvement triad. Or maybe a completely different sort should be used.

Parker Interactive Personality Types

Primary Interactive
Secondary -
Third -
Fourth - Puzzle
(L)inguistic or
(A)uditory (plot) or
(P)roblem Solving (puzzles) or
(T)actile or
(K)inesthetic or
(D)eductive or
(I)nductive or

Like the Keirsey test, these categories are not true polarities, so people would fit more than one category -- it would simply be a matter of degree which categories they fit better. But, unlike Keirsey's test, questions wouldn't be just general, but about which IF games one likes and what features in what games. However, it could also include general questions like:

Do you usually listen to music when you study or read?
Can you easily visualize the face of a childhood friend?
Do you regularly finish crossword puzzles in the Sunday or daily newspaper?
Can you easily imagine the smell of a newly peeled orange?
Which do you prefer, Leonardo's Mona Lisa or Dali's Persistence of Memory?
Do you use maps when you plan a trip, even a short one?
Do you find yourself counting things at odd moments, such as passing cars, etc.?
Which do you prefer, Shakespeare or Tennessee Williams?
Can you recall what you said in the last verbal argument you had?
Do you regularly cry or get misty at tear-jerker movies?
Can you easily imagine the taste of bitter-sweet dark chocolate?
Can you rewire a floor or table lamp?

Or, to define interactive as broadly as possible, maybe all the questions should be general with none about specific Interactive Fiction games. Instead the results could be correlated with IF games. You are an LAOD (Linguistic / Auditory / Oral / Deductive)! As a LAOD you would enjoy these IF games: (list). Maybe someday I will design such a test, similar to those countless web page self-tests that many, including IF Mudders, like to take just for fun.

Marshall McLuhan said new technologies reorder our "sense ratio"-- the relationship among our five senses. The phonetic alphabet by assigning visual symbols to sounds reordered our senses, moving us from an amorphous "acoustical space" into a heavily linear visual environment, sharply bordered by top, bottom and side margins. Also, by sequentializing reasoning, phonetic literacy revolutionized cultures. Computer interactivity reorders our senses again. According to McLuhan, as the Internet joins us into a "global village", we electronically reenter an acoustical space which is simultaneous and boundless, unmargined. Whether one agrees with, or even understands, McLuhan, it is obvious that computer interactivity involves more participation, sensory and otherwise, than ordinary reading does.

This sensory reordering is conspicuous when we interact with the dazzling graphics and sounds of multimedia web pages and graphic games. It is less apparent when we interact with all-text Interactive Fiction. But, playing IF, we use our hands to enter commands. We make choices; we interact. We imaginatively experience IF's sensory and emotional feedback. We appear to become part of a story while we also affect its outcome. Interactivity becomes two-way. Such is the subliminal impact of interactivity, specifically Interactive Fiction -- in turn, we affect a game, and, in turn, it also affects us.

Here are further examples, where McLuhan stresses sense ratios and the affects of altering them:

In dentistry, a device called audiac was developed. It consists of headphones bombarding the patient with enough noise to block pain from the dentist's drill.

In Hollywood, the addition of sound to silent pictures impoverished and gradually eliminated the role of mime, with its tactility and kinesthesis.

McLuhan believes that when the microphone was introduced into the Catholic churches it brought about a demystification of things spiritual for many believers. The introduction of a new technology started a chain reaction : First the Latin mass, as a "cool" medium, was rendered obsolete, because it is unsuited to amplification... Next came the obsolescence of traditional church architecture, the decline in the use of incense (knocking out the sense of smell) and the disappearance of the rosary (eliminating the tactile sense).

What McLuhan calls the "audio backdrop" of Latin used to provide an invitation to intense participation through meditation as the priest said the mass. This was replaced by high-definition medium of the mass in the vernacular; required by and then intensified still further by the use of microphones and loud speakers, but no longer requiring intense sensory or spiritual involvement. As for the cathedral architecture, with its shape and dimensions dictated for centuries by the acoustical requirements of the non-electronically amplified voice, it became as obsolete as Latin.

W. Terrence Gordon, McLuhan for Beginners

However, when McLuhan talked about our senses being reordered into an acoustical space he was really speaking of television. I think computers realign our senses not into some primordial acoustical space, but into a new and still evolving "naked mind" space. In this cyberspace, we talk mind to mind through a multimedia interactive medium. So more than one sense is thrown into high definition. Thus, sensory usage which is hard to spot in real-life or while watching television, because it fades into the background of our total-field of awareness, becomes more obvious. Also, since computers canít plug in directly into our brains (although many are eagerly awaiting this), they must separate senses in order to be interactive. To redirect real-life "analog" sensory feedback though a second-hand digital medium, senses have to be pinpointed so coding / objects can be included to stimulate each one. As a result of this division, computer interactivity also allows our individual inherent or preferred ways of processing information to surface in a way they never have before.

Computer interactivity has been around for some time, but the ability to flip around the world from web page to web page -- browsing more information than any single personal computer can hold -- is relatively new. Infocom games have been around for some time, but altering their standard -- creatively trying other ways to write all-text "games" -- is also relatively new.

McLuhan also said we have a tendency to interpret a new medium in terms of an old medium, the one which it most closely resembles. Overwhelmed by cultural shock, we may even become numb, wanting to ignore how a new technology affects us. He hesitated to explain the phrase, "The medium is the message." Guessing, it essentially means we look so hard at the content of a message, we don't always stop to examine the delivery system. A delivery system which may be reordering our senses, even revolutionizing our culture. So the package is as important, maybe even more important, than the contents. Form sometimes supercedes function.

However, it is probably more habit than cultural shock to focus on the old in the new. Chatters who disdain emoticons and acronyms, who insist on using complete sentences, who cling to the "correct way" to write, may be in cultural shock. Or they may feel they are firmly holding the line against a de-evolution of the written word. But possibly they have not stopped to notice that a chat room involves numerous people in real time, drastically changing a written medium into a written and oral / auditory medium. Authors who disdain traditional puzzle / dungeon games, who insist that interactive fiction is just a subset of fiction, who cling to total control of their plot's denouement, may be in cultural shock. Or they may feel they are elevating or maintaining fiction's literary standard. But possibly they have not stopped to notice that all kinds of players can play their game at any time, drastically changing a fictional medium into a fictional and interactive medium. Interactive Fiction is made up of two words, fiction and interactive. One word we are familiar with, the other we are still exploring. And hopefully will continue to explore through the advent of voice recognition and anything else the future may bring.

I realized after I developed this theory that it applies to the whole Internet; what kind of web pages we like: page layout, fonts, graphics, link formats, buttons, frames, etc. What we find truly interactive depends on how we process information. Actually it applies to any information processing. Wanting music on when you study, reading and watching television at the same time, remembering where things are on a page, noticing smells, being strongly affected by visual images and/or linguistic phrases. We each have our own inherent / preferred ways of processing information, and what we find intriguing, even fascinating, is what engages them the most.

But my main Internet focus is Interactive Fiction. So my recommendation to IF authors is, first and foremost, as in any genre, identify your audience. Especially your interactive audience, because INTERACTIVITY IS THE MESSAGE.

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