SPAG Specifics: Photopia and Rendition

SPAG #53 has just been published, and in it you will find my detailed analyses of Photopia and Rendition. Please enjoy them, and consider writing something for SPAG yourself! Reviews, analyses, essays - more or less anything that has to do with interactive fiction is appropriate.


  1. This isn't really enough of a comment to start a thread at RAIF or anywhere, but first I very much enjoyed reading your thoughts on Photopia and Rendition. Second I had a small thought about Rendition, when you wrote:

    "Rendition makes us question the idea that works of interactive fiction are self-enclosed spaces of meaning that are completely under the control of the author. When they are related to the world--and how could they not be?--works of literature are open to interpretations that make use of knowledge that is not contained within the work itself. The paucity of meaning within Rendition turns out to be at least partly a result of the paucity of our attempts to understand it."

    This of course hits the nail squarely on the head; though one meaning of the word 'rendition' has been emphasized by the media in its account of the US government's actions in abducting and imprisoning its perceived enemies, I thought it was only a tangentially relevant title for a game strictly about an interrogator and their prisoner in a cell together. It's clear to me that the game stresses a different meaning of 'rendition'; this work of IF could just as well be called, 'Interpretation'.

  2. Loved your reading of Photopia! Of course, I wrote some responses on RAIF. I was not as concise and clear as I would have liked, so upon further reflection I would like to respond here.

    First of all, I am quite convinced by your interpretation of the symbolism, the parallelism, and the ultimate message or moral. This enhances our understanding of the symbolic/literary features of the piece.

    Photopia is a fair success as literature, but is a stunning victory as a structuralist commentary on the genre. It figures puzzle-oriented IF as poorly maze-like, it plays deviously with the concept of re-play, it pokes fun at the concept of agency even as it produces a theme, crisis, and presentation which emphasize agency as a serious problem.

    Well, my own writing in IF (mostly unpublished) focuses on the structural impossibility of true agency. -- And on death, the connection being fairly obvious. So that is my interest in Photopia.

    Anyway, thanks again!

  3. George: that is a very good remark. If I had thought of it, I certainly would have put it into the article.

    Steve: I kept meaning to write more in the raif-thread, but I was very busy and didn't want to write something too hastily.

    I would love to see you write up your thoughts about Photopia's structure and send them in to SPAG. That would be a great complement to my article.

    Still, I do think that the separation between theme and structure shouldn't be taken too seriously. My own main interest in Interactive Fiction is exactly the boundary, or shall we say the possible synergy, between these two. What I want to explore and see explored are structural features (of agency, of presentation, and so on) that actually serve to establish, enhance and enrich the theme and message of the piece. I don't want to see a crossword at war with a narrative; I want to see an organic whole of game and story. (And I'm obviously not talking about "puzzles that are integrated into the story", which is merely a tired old recipe for concealing the seams. I don't want any seams at all.)

    Now when you are talking about a combination of the structural impossibility of agency and the theme of death, that sounds like something that would fall within my field of interest.

    I'm not sure that Photopia should be interpreted in this way, though. If its structure is meant to convey the idea of the impossibility of agency, then it seems to be working against the theme of its story. (Which could be a success of the story is deliberately set up as a foil to the real message, but this doesn't seem to be the case.)


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