A few thoughts on the November 13, 2020 episode of Jay Springett’s excellent weekly podcast Permanently Moved, titled “Rooms as UX Metaphor”:

As preface, I must express my pleasant surprise to encounter a fresh reaction to 2011’s IF Theory Reader. We all acknowledge it of niche interest, as asserted here, but I also felt glad to hear it recommended to anyone interested in the working of Twine games. Hypertext overtook prompt-and-parser games as IF’s predominant mode, starting around 2012—that is, soon after the publication of this book, whose authors had only the older forms in mind. So I like knowing that the Reader, product of a little community I put so much of my prior-decade time and attention into, can still prove relevant to new readers.

The episode focused its discussion around Nathan Jerpe’s essay “The Room as Metaphor in Interactive Fiction”, and its potential applicability into real-time chat systems on the modern internet. And here, I confess, my own reactions have less to do with IF than with “Scaredychat”, one of my own works-in-progress whose relationship with interactive fiction is only glancingly tangential—or is it?

I can tell you that another name I have considered for the program (which, embarrassingly, I have yet to release, two months after that brag-post) is “Wallflower”. This stems from, yes, a metaphor I began to hold in mind while I contiued to work on the project. I imagined listening to several conversations going on around you at a party, but keeping one’s distance while doing so. Monitoring the gist of each, without presenting as a participant—until one does feel moved to step in to a particular chat. (Indeed, when the program sees you participating in a certain conversation, it stops tracking it for a while.)

There is also the case of 2020’s Roguelike Celebration, which did employ a more-literal-than-usual room UX metaphor for its virtual conference space, by way of Em Lazer-Walker’s Yet Another Browser Mud. Alas, I did not attend the event; I merely saw the delighted reactions to the experiment on Twitter.

I naturally remain deeply unsatisfied with the predominant online chat UX of a zillion windowed tabs barking for attention, and hunger for anything better. Obviously, the Wallflowery work calls to me, many weeks after I set it aside.

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