Threading The Labyrinth by Kevin Doughty [Comp00]

IFDB page: Threading The Labyrinth
Final placement: 40th place (of 53) in the 2000 Interactive Fiction Competition

I’m a big fan of poetry, and I’m (obviously) a big fan of interactive fiction, but it seems to me that interactive poetry is a pretty challenging genre. Andrew Plotkin probably came as close as anybody ever has with his experimental work The Space Under The Window. That work threw most IF conventions out the window, asking the player instead to “type the names of objects (or attributes or aspects of objects) that you see in the narrative” at the prompt. Some words it wouldn’t respond to at all, some words might take you back to a previous node, and some words would reveal new information to you. Threading The Labyrinth takes a similar approach, with two changes: it offers some kind of response for every in-context word you type (in-context meaning words that the game has printed in bold text), but has very few words which open up the context further. For example, you might type the word “and” — the game will respond, “Both conditions expressed are simultaneously true,” but you’ll still be at the same game node, since no more bold text has printed. As a result, TTL ends up feeling like more of an interactive close reading. Like a close reading, it can yield interesting insight, though that insight is limited by the fact that it’s close reading its own text, and that it offers so little text to examine — just a few sentences and fragments, really.

For what we do get, I’d venture to say that the primary theme is an interrogation of interactivity. Both in its content and its form, TTL is interested in exploring how we interact with that which is outside of us, and what new dynamics and artifacts get created in the process. This is an intriguing theme in and of itself, and it lends itself readily to TTL‘s format. The game’s use of imagery from Greek myth isn’t entirely successful — its dominant image of the thread, for example, has an obvious connection to the idea of “UNDO” in modern IF, but the game doesn’t do anything with this connection. On the other hand, TTL does have some nice moments. I particularly liked its differentiation between mazes and labyrinths, and its revisitation of that image in the “They” section.

Too bad there just isn’t that much here. I finished the whole thing and (I think) read all the text available in about 10 minutes. What’s there is pretty cool, while it lasts. It doesn’t take long to play, so why not check it out? I get the impression that if you leave the game thinking about the nature of interaction, it will have achieved its goal.

Rating: 6.0