The Interactive Fiction metaphor of ‘rooms’ as applied to chat room UX.
Full show notes: https://www.thejaymo.net/2020/11/13/301-2045-rooms-as-ux-metaphor/
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Rooms As UX Metaphor
I’ve been thinking a lot this year about Video Games, RPGs, Wargames and computing in general recently. Reading about how tightly they are bound up with one another and their shared origins. Some of this came through in the pre-pandemic days of Episode 20-08. Where I was thinking aloud on how DnD, Stats and Simulation fucked up modernity. Some other bits of this will show up in the next Dimensino post on my blog about Permissive IPs too.
Anyhoos, This week I’ve been reading the IF Theory Reader (PDF). Edited by K Jackson-Mead J. and R Wheeler. Published in 2011. It is a very niche book about the history, craft and theory of Interactive Fiction. It contains some fantastic essays. I recommend the book to anyone who has even a passing interest in Twine games or Interactive Fiction.
I also recently watched Jason Scott’s 2010 film GET LAMP: The Text Adventure Documentary.
It’s amazing. It also does a lot to show how D&D, Interactive Fiction and Wargames influenced all virtual worlds.
I’m finding so much value in old books and writing on cyberspace right now. Because they remind me of the excitement and possibility of what the web could have been.
The web we lost.
I’ve just picked up the 1998 book. Hamlet on the Holodeck : The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace by Janet H Murray for 3.50 on ebay. And Finite and Infinite Games by James Carse on Paul Czege‘s recommendation for 3 quid. Bargains. Can’t wait for them to arrive.
The first Interactive Fiction program Colossal Cave was released in 1975. MUDs or Multi User Dungeons came soon after. By 1978–79, these games were heavy use on various university PLATO systems. They quickly increased in sophistication. 3D graphics, storytelling, user involvement, team play, and depth of objects and monsters in the dungeons etc.
The first chat system was used by the U.S. Government in 1971. Their first use came during President Nixon’s wage-price freeze under Project Delphi. The system was called EMISARI and allowed 10 regional offices to link together in real-time online chat. It was called the party line, after shared telephony circuits.
Its weird to think that real-time chat technology is 50 years old. Email is nearly 60. These technologies are so old, and yet so young. Former boomer colleagues have been moaning on LinkedIn, about using Discord or Slack for the first time all year.
Last month in Episode 20-40 on Abstract Objects I spoke about metaphors and code environments, specifically chat rooms.
“Chat ‘rooms’ aren’t really rooms in any sense. But I can see why the people that invented them gave them that name. As good a name as any to express and conceptualise there ‘room like’ qualities. Do you think of your group chats as being in kinds of rooms? “
During my Interactive fiction binge this week. I found the essay The Room as Metaphor in Interactive Fiction by Nathan Jerpe. Which speaks to my question about them last month in October.
Rooms as metaphores in IF were in use right up to and including the early Point and Click Lucasarts games. Tim Schafer still uses this teminolgy when referring to locations in virtual worlds that contain puzzles.
Jerpe’s essay interrogates the metaphor of a room when thinking about virtual environments. Lets apply some of the terms Jerpe uses in discussing Interactive Fiction to chat rooms. As the metaphors should hold across environments.
The first heading in the essay is Tangibility. Rooms are tangible metaphors as rooms tend to be fully observable by a user within the structure of the code space. Structures that lend themselves well to modularity. Jerpe suggests that with a playwrights eye we might recompose activities that occur in rooms as scenes. Instead of moving from room to room or multiple locations, a room may host a series of scenes.
Activity in group chats generally comes in bursts. If we consider these fluries of activity as scenes, what sort of UX could be developed in chat apps or even zoom rooms with the ide of scenes?
Rooms also have Spatial vs. Temporal qualities. Spatial in that activities occur inside of rooms woth clear boundries.
What if chat room UX moved, shifted, or came from nowhere, only to later disappear altogether? A group of friends in a group chat navigating a shifting metaphor.
I’ve always wanted to be able to start sub chats inside the verticality of a chat feed. Like starting a thread in a forum. Little bubbles of sub chats below the surface of the stream.
Another feature of rooms is Crowdedness. If you are in as many discords as I am, you’ll be famililer with dropping by a busy channel. Contributing for a bit and then marking everything else as read. Busy chats do have a sense of Crowdedness.
A nother feature of Crowdedness is that an individual’s actions are typically visible for others in the room to witness. I wonder how the sub chats UX I mention would change the experience of a Discord. Or telegram. Less channels probably. Strange topologies.
In the conclusion, in the context of interactive fiction, Jepe notes. Individuals operating inside a room metaphor are locked into the role of the protagonist. But notes this is worth reconsidering.
What would it mean to participate in a group chat where each individual does not consider themselves to be the protagonist or central agent?
Stange new UX’s FTW.
The above is the original script I wrote for the episode. It may differ from what ended up in audio due to time constraints.