February 27th, 2012 / 3:31 pm
Web Hype

Exits Are

So I hesitate to use this space to self-promote, but in this case I will make an exception, for a number of reasons, beginning with the fact that the project is online and free.

Exits Are is a series of collaborative stories that are also games. The games borrow their format and many of their conventions from text adventures (“interactive fiction”). From the about page: “A text adventure is a game that takes place in prose. The computer describes a world to you one room at a time, writing in the second person. ‘You stand in the center of a cool, dark cave,’ says the computer. ‘Exits are north, south, east, and west.’ The computer waits for you to tell it what you want to do. ‘Go east,’ you might say. Or if there is a key, you might say ‘take key.’ The computer parses your commands as best it can and tells you what happens next. . . . love text adventures, but they usually disappoint me. I wanted a way to make them more open-ended, less about puzzle-solving and more about language: its weirdness, its beauty. So I started playing a game with some of the writers I knew. Using gchat, I pretend to be a text adventure. The other writer is the player. We use the form of the text adventure to collaborate on some kind of strange, fun narrative. The only rule is that we take turns typing. We never discuss what we’re going to do in advance, so the results are improvisational and surprising/exciting/stressful/upsetting for both participants. Every time, the player does things I never could have seen coming.”

The project is a cooperative project of my press (Uncanny Valley) and Artifice Books, who have been kind enough to host it.

I post a new game to the website every Monday and Wednesday. So far I’ve posted the games I played with Blake Butler, Tim Dicks, Matt Bell, and Aubrey Hirsch. I have more games coming with Brian Oliu, Elisa Gabbert, Robert Kloss, A D Jameson, and many more. Including, potentially, you. The response so far has been really strong, to the point where I’ve got some dozen people scheduled or waiting to play, but my goal is to play a game with everyone who asks, so if you write to me about it, the answer will very likely be yes — as long as you have patience.

The series has been a real joy to make. I’ve always wanted to write collaborative work with other people, but in fiction this seems difficult to negotiate. The text adventure framework gives me a way to do it, and I get to have the fun of working with a lot of different people — people I know well, and people I don’t know at all. Every game is exhausting, uncomfortable, fun, and really weird. James Tadd Adcox interviewed me about the process here, and Gabriel Blackwell interviewed me here. Those cover most of what I could say about the project at this point. In the future I want to do a couple really hellishly long ones, and I have other ideas for the project, but for now, this is plenty.

I hope that you enjoy them, and check back Mondays and Wednesdays for more. I hope, most of all, that this opens some people up to different ways of thinking about how to interact with writers and readers: normally, the idea in this game is that you spend a lot of time perfecting one story to share with as many people as possible. The number of people is usually quite small, in practice: a handful, a dozen, a hundred. With these games, my collaborators and I eventually do share the results with as many people as we can, but it begins with an intense engagement with one other person. I wonder what other projects might be built around a similar model. I wonder why we try to share what we make with the world when we might begin with other people.

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