July 22, 2005

City of IF

by Noah Wardrip-Fruin · , 5:23 pm

I just finished reading a fantasy novella titled The Archer’s Flight. As the book’s introduction notes, it was the result of an unusual process:

It was serialized, appearing in seventeen chapters over a year’s time, but that’s not what’s unusual about it. It was published on the Web, but that’s not the unusual part either. What is unusual (and as far as I know, unique) is that this story’s readers chose the actions of its main character. Each published chapter ended in some dilemma for the protagonist, Deica; the audience collectively decided what she would do (via posting and voting on a web site), and their decision led to the next chapter. This was not a group of writers offering advice on what would make the best story; rather, the readers took on Deica’s role, as they would in improvisational theater or a roleplaying-type game. They decided what they would do if they were her.

Mark Keavney is both the author of The Archer’s Flight and the originator of the method used for its creation. He calls this method “storygaming” and describes it in detail in his essay “The City of IF Story.

Keavney started out as a traditional tabletop RPG gamer, but grew dissatisfied. His goal in originating storygaming was to find a way to preserve much of what he valued in such games but avoid some of what he saw as their weaknesses. On one level storygaming is simply a method, which he describes as follows:

Author creates chapter – The storygame author creates the first chapter of a story. The chapter ends at a “decision point,” where the main character has a chance to take some significant action. For example, in a fairy tale genre story, an initial episode might describe how a fisher-boy out on the sea encounters a talking swan who asks him to take her into his boat.

Players suggest actions – Next, the storygame players take the viewpoint of the character (the same character for everyone) and suggest what the character should do. In the example above, the players might invent and debate different options, such as taking the swan into the boat, leaving her in the water, asking her what she will give him if he helps her, etc.

Author creates options – From the pool of suggestions, the author chooses a few of the most popular and interesting possibilities to be voted on.

Players vote – The players vote on the options. The winning action becomes the basis for the next chapter, and the cycle begins again. If the players had decided to take the swan into the boat, for example, the author might write another chapter in which the fisher-boy takes the swan home and shows it to his mother, who is angry that he hasn’t caught any fish and sends the boy to bed without any supper. The next decision point might then be what the boy does when locked in his room.

In section 4 of his essay he describes his first experiences with this method, working with a small group of invited participants:

Over the next six months, I told the beginning of the story that would eventually become “The Archer’s Flight” (now a published novella). It was the story of Deica, a human girl raised in a village of centaurs, who grows up an outcast because of her strange form.

For the first few chapters, nothing too unusual happened. This activity was new to everyone and the players were still feeling out what to do and how to play, but I was impressed by the quality of the suggestions and by the players’ ability to post them in-character. The story progressed through Deica’s teenage years where she secretly learned archery from her grandfather to an important turning point where her village was threatened by a great serpent. The villagers had beseeched a local hero for help; Deica’s grandfather and the other village elders were meeting with him and his soldiers the next day. The decision point was what Deica would do.

I was looking forward to the suggestions, because the situation offered a good dramatic conflict and a rich set of options. Deica was proficient with the bow and could be a real help against the serpent, but the centaurs wouldn’t normally let a girl (let alone a “deformed” one) take part in a battle like this. Would she plead with her grandfather to stand up for her? Would she crash the meeting and show the centaurs how well she could shoot? Would she secretly tag along behind when they went hunting the serpent? I had already thought about the different ways the centaurs might react and was planning ahead to the finale, when Deica would join the battle against the serpent and (presumably) fire the decisive shot.

And then one of the players suggested that Deica disguise herself as a boy and run off to the big city, and the other players voted for that suggestion. The suggestion was perfectly appropriate: Deica was adventurous, she felt alienated from the village, and from an early childhood experience she had a special reason to be afraid of serpents. It was also completely unexpected. Suddenly I had to write the next chapter about Deica’s travels to the big city, and I had no idea what the city would be like, what she would do there, or how I could possibly tie this back to the huge loose end of the serpent attacking her village. All my plans for the story were going awry.

And I loved it – because this was what I’d experienced in roleplaying games: that no one knew where the story was going, but we were going there together. I happily cast aside my plans and started to make new ones. And for me, that was the moment storygaming was born.

This was so successful that Keavney threw open the doors of his site, hoping to give birth to a wide, vibrant storygaming community. Instead, what momentum there was seemed to dissipate. It became clear that storygaming didn’t work as a method on its own — it worked as a method in the context of a certain kind of community (much as is the case with tabletop RPGs):

In the fall of 2004, I had some conversations with a few new members about my plans for the site. I realized from these conversations that I had things backwards. I had been thinking of the site as a place to storygame. I’d assumed that if I provided a compelling storygame experience, everything else would follow, including an online community. But the members, even those who were enjoying the storygaming, were asking me what else there was to do at the site. To them, Interfable was a gathering place for a community, and storygaming was just one thing that the community did. And so the way I thought about the site underwent a profound shift: I started thinking of it as an online community first, and a place to storygame second.

Once I made that leap, I started adding to the site things that didn’t directly affect the storygaming, but that the community needed (and asked for): recognition of achievement, places to gather, the chance for members to contribute in their own way. I shared responsibility for running the site with the members, appointing a “City Council” to help moderate forums. Together we created new forums where players could bounce around ideas, write their own storygames, or just have conversations; we created site ranks based on number of forum posts to reward the players who were most active; we instituted a contest for the best New Storygame of the Month. We also added a chat room, which may have been the biggest change: now for the first time members could actually have conversations. Finally, in March 2005, I moved the site to a new domain that better matched the new site identity: it was no longer Interfable; it was now the City of IF.

These changes led to huge site growth. Once I gave members the ability to create their own topics, they rushed to post storygame ideas, give feedback on other’s stories, and post general conversational topics (one of the longest threads on the site today is titled “How old is everyone?”) Traffic levels rose by a factor of four over a few months.

Even more important from my point of view, the quality of the storygaming improved. Once the players got to know each other, they were much more active in the storygames. They debated and built on each other’s suggestions. They declared and explained their votes, trying to sway others to vote the same way. Conversations started taking place, whereas before the storygame topics were just a series of suggestions. This made the storygaming itself more compelling, which in turn built the community.

This sort of insight is what interests me about the storygaming project. Keavney had an idea, tried it out on a small scale, tried it out on a larger scale, revised it, and now has something with which he’s happy (though, at the end of his essay, he also reveals next-stage ambitions). What he learned in the process was that the kind of activity that interests him could not build a community by itself and could not exist successfully without being embedded in an appropriate community. This kind of fact can be disguised when we do our only testing with small groups of participants that we’ve recruited — or when we do no testing at all, and instead argue for our design ideas entirely from a theoretical stance.

As for The Archer’s Flight itself, I enjoyed it. But I also was a bit disappointed when I reached the end. It’s novella-length, but somehow has the feeling of being the first few chapters of something much longer. Of course, that longer thing may be the complex of storygames set in the same world that are found on the City of IF site, which I haven’t yet begun to dip into. In any case, I was willing to forgive The Archer’s Flight its brevity, and, instead of simply seeing it as a story, also view it as a document that shows what can grow from Keavney’s approach. However, frustratingly, there’s no easy way to access the “game” portion of this “storygame.” I’d expected Keavney’s book to have, perhaps as an appendix in the back, a description of the storygame’s decision points and how the eventual outcome was reached (as in the excerpt about the dragon attack above). But there’s no material like this in the book, and there are no accessible links to the original storygame from the City of IF website itself.

All that said, I think Keavney’s project is certainly a useful one for us to consider here. To that end I’ve invited him to share his thoughts with us on GTxA. He is one of the few people I know who has, over the course of years and without financial support, publicly scaled up an idea for a new form to an extent that provides meaningful results.

34 Responses to “City of IF”


  1. Mark Keavney Says:

    Thanks for your kind words, Noah, and thanks for starting a discussion here. I’m very interested to hear what others think of this idea and of the site.

    If you’d like more information about what we’ve been doing, the most relevant link is the City of IF story link that Noah gave above: http://www.cityofif.com/main_about.htm . But if you want to compare the first storygame with how it was turned into a book, here are a few additional links:

    http://www.cityofif.com/book/book_ch1_1.htm – The first chapter of The Archer’s Flight, in book form.

    http://www.interfable.net/archer_1.html
    http://www.interfable.net/archer_2.html
    http://www.interfable.net/archer_3.html
    http://www.interfable.net/archer_4.html

    - The first four chapters of The Archer’s Flight as it was originally told as a storygame. This roughly corresponds to the first chapter of the book.

    Thanks,
    Mark Keavney

  2. Crystal Says:

    I know what you mean. I recently joined (or moved to) the City of IF and couldn’t find Archer’s Flight in the archives, but he does have two stories in the works. I guess that’s the reward of participating when it’s going on. In any case, I’ve started my own storygame and am having a lot of fun getting input from people.

  3. Idea Master Says:

    Well I have long been a citizen of the City Of IF, and just recently got to the city council (Moderater status) I cannot say that there is a better site out there for me to get all of these ideas into story format. I applaud this review, and also Kevany. Bravo!

  4. Smee Says:

    Noah,

    Lovely to see such comments about the City of IF, and I hope we can soon see you as a regular member strolling the streets of our fair city. As you have mentioned, there is far more there now than those early days and plenty to explore.

    Many of the regular members were very excited to know of the first CityofIF Novella. We awaited eagerly for news of its progress and soon weren’t disappointed to finally get to read it. I unfortunately hadn’t discovered The City of IF during the original writing of this story, although I’ve been following ‘The Ram’ for quite a few months now. The Ram is set in the same exciting world that Mark has created along with building the City of IF – certainly he drives his vision with some stunning creative writing.

    Storygaming has completely blown me away as a new hobby. I have no background in writing, but suddenly I’m entering in to the Linear Story Competition set up by one of the members, recieving wonderful advice on my writing style. I’ve also finally taken the step to write my own storygame, an experiement which is a partnership with 2 other authors, and we are trying to interweave our stories together. As well as the writing I enjoy much more time reading through and commenting on the many other great stories.

    You’ve picked up on a wonderful niche of the internet, and I hope your lovely review shines some well deserved light into this corner – illuminating the invitation to all to come along, join our city and share their stories.

    As I end most of my comments in the City of IF…

    Happy Writing :-)

  5. sparta12 Says:

    Good review.
    I too am a “Citizen” as they say on the site of City Of If. Like Idea Master I have been recently added to the moderator status too and I because I am frantically writing stories to post on the site I ran into this review. I must compliment you, this is a very good review, well detailed and everything.
    Good Job.

  6. Cowofdoom666 Says:

    Well, almost being considered a veteran of IF myself, I have to say the site has been nothig but a positive impact on my intrenet experience. I too am trying my hand at writing, although it isn’t going as smoothly as I first thought! I have also a mod status, as me and Ideamaster are co-workers! Which is a…………odd experience to say the least.

    This is just my chance to say thanks to MK. Thanks.

  7. Alex Says:

    i have been a ,ong time member of IF and i also am a moderator, i adore this site because it enables me to explore all the possibilities of life without ever leaving the comfort of my own house
    a truely befiting site for anyone with a skerrick of imagination in them

  8. Evilhomer Says:

    City of if is truly a great website. there is places for people to create storygames (and let imagination run free)
    if you don’t like that there is a chat room: http://www.cityofif.com/chat/index.php?name=0
    also you can discuss anything in open forum.

    i also recently became moderator for cityofif’s auditorium.
    create stories where you just write the stories in linear stories. and there are RP (role playing) forums for people who want to write in the story as a certain character

  9. Ravenwing Says:

    I have been part of City of IF for more than a year now (I am a moderator and one of many storygame authors) I joined when it was still known as Interfable, but I am amazed at the amount of growth it has gone through. There are more forums for stories, and we not only focus on storygames, but also linear stories (ones without decision points) and the traditional text-RPs. There is even a forum for writers who need help in the technicalities of writing. I would say that everyone who is a part of this site brings in a lot of their own ideas, and Keavney is genius for starting this off. Writers no longer have to really worry about writer’s block because we know where we are going next and we just need to find a way to continue. I would say the City of IF is a perfect place for any author, whether they be a novice or expert. We learn from each other , and we help each other. Your review was excellent. Thanks for bringing us further into the light.

  10. Phang Says:

    I also joined the City when it was InterFable, and it has definately grown a lot. Good to see the place finally getting talked about outside of the site members too. Just one downside–squawkies coming in and calling us all stupid mong wierdos etc. and basically proving even more how much we desperately need a cull of all fashion-obsessed teenage girls.

    Anyway, good good, and I’ll shut up before I start ranting.

  11. Reiso Says:

    I am not quite as dug in as some of the others in this review. I caught it on the tail end of it’s original form. I found it quite on accident, and actually liked that it was a small, cozy place on the internet without much flash or fanfare – but I quickly found a place among surprisingly hospitable and helpful people, and now welcome the growth that the site enjoys. Sure, there is the occassional annoyance of rude behavior (usually from guests that are rarely heard from again), but that can’t be avoided when you open this kind of site, and is far far less than I have seen on other message boards, which frankly turned me off to them years ago. But the City of If is different.

    There are three things that I think are wonderful about this site, and have only vaguely been touched on here or not mentioned. People hear the word ‘community’ and tend to brush it off as an overly affectionate term for a corner of people that share a few common interests. But there is truly a community there; we share ideas, support each other’s writing, talk of friends and family and music and movies and any and everything else we fancy. This is because we aren’t just gathering to talk about one subject. We gather for an idea; a concept, that is limitless in its potential. There are even two members that are related and seem to enjoy the time they share on the site. Mutual respect and creative, as well as technical support is well balanced by a healthy sense of good spirited competition. Those who are willing, actually serve a role there, and I can think of six people alone just off the top of my head that I feel are reliable, dependable and geniune people I would go to for advice. We actually care about the welfare of each other outside of this shared interest, and that is something I haven’t seen anywhere else on the web. So that is one thing.

    Another is Mark Keavney’s sheer determination that the site serves we the members. He could easily say ‘I am doing this my way, here are concrete rules, you just write and serve my idea’. He does not. He is constantly seeking user feedback, which other places do – but he actually uses it. We have had influence over the arrangement of the site, the colors used, the logo, the site titles, awards, honorifics – in short, there is little on the site has not been changed from what it once was into something else because the rest of us wanted it that way, which makes us all feel a part of it in a greater sense than just seperate people comprising its whole. He even allows no few of us direct control over large chunks of site content, which is something I must honestly say I don’t think I could do it it were my site. I think it’s that tendency of his that has helped to create the strong sense of community that I mentioned above. So that is two.

    Lastly, put simply (and as Ravenwing has said), there is something for every writer at any level. I want to expand on this, and I can explain this best by going over my own experience. A good friend and I are full-time gamers, and have always written a bit here and a bit there, but somehow never got up enough momentum to make a serious effort at writing. We have the customary stack of summaries of old games we want to write out as books someday, but it has always been ‘someday’. When I joined this site, I brought him in right away and we have both been doing a considerable amount of writing for a ‘storygame’ that has surprised us as much as anyone else. Having a deadline (of sorts) really forces us to put out the work, and I couldn’t be happier with the results. This is no novella we have in the works (with all respect to Keavney), but massive chapters that are telling a large story. We are maybe one third to halfway finished with this first story (already with plans for a sequesl!), and typed up in a double-spaced manuscript format, we’re pushing 300 pages in just a few months. I haven’t written as much as 100 pages on any of my previous efforts, and my friend had almost thrown in the towel on writing altogether, which I can say with all confidence would have been a tragic mistake on his part. This site has given us new enthusiam for our writing, and not only that; the writing is good. I am not one to boast, I really hate that; but the plain fact is that the habit of writing on a schedule, and the constant and instant user feedback has improved our writing to a point that would make modesty false. I have been telling stories for over ten years, but my writing needed a lot of work, and thanks to this site it continues to improve and expand. So to us, the site has been a very crucial stepping stone in making the jump from gamer to writer, which I know a lot of people tend to laugh at, but for all the talk there is of everyone being an in the closet writer working on an ill-fated book, they don’t all fail. There are writers yet, are there not? It takes all kinds. So hopefully, this is also a good shot at a career as authors. But hey, if you’re just looking for somewhere to write a poem or post up song lyrics, or jokes – we have that too.

    So like the others have said, this is a great review and I am glad to see the site getting this kind of exposure. Anyone reading this, try it out! You won’t be dissapointed.

  12. Lee Sheldon Says:

    In 1936 President of the United States Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed what became known as The President’s Mystery, a Liberty Magazine serial, then published as a novel actually written by several mystery writers including S.S. Van Dine, author of the popular Philo Vance series. Each writer wrote a chapter that ended in some sort of plot or character cliffhanger, and the next author would take it from there. The “Choose Your Own Mystery” series of books allowed individual readers to advance the plot themselves although options were obviously limited. In the 1990s we had a handful of “interactive” movies where audiences determined what the lead character would do next. Today we have amateur authors in many web communities, each proposing the continuation of a story, sometimes a line at a time. These are often used by that peculiar group of people who try to amass post counts as if quantity of mailings was somehow as commendable as quality. The next plot move is determined by acclimation (the one that bears the most merit feeds the next people like the most, and so on). MMOs that advance story (AC as opposed to a static world like WoW) routinely respond to the will of their player community and adjust accordingly.

    I suppose I’m spouting all this as context for my question: The Archer’s Flight may be an interesting experience, but what makes it unique? What has been invented?

    Lee

  13. networked_performance Says:

    The Archer’s Flight

    City of IF “I just finished reading a fantasy novella titled The Archer’s Flight. As the book’s introduction notes, it was the result of an unusual process: It was serialized, appearing in seventeen chapters over a year’s time, but that’s…

  14. Morbus Iff Says:

    A Lexicon is similar, though EVERYONE is the author, and there’s no 1,2,3 plot, as it were. See http://gamegrene.com/wiki/ for me (sorry, I’d talk a lot more if I had time, but by the time I will, this discussion will be old and crusty, I suspect).

  15. noah Says:

    Lee, for me the interest in City of IF is in the specifics. I appreciate the reminders of other things generally in this space, but none of them have exactly the same method, community, or history.

    One set of specifics that interests me is how this particular form of storygame is experienced by writers on the City of IF site. Reiso wrote something that seemed to capture an opening up of writing that happened for many participants: A good friend and I are full-time gamers, and have always written a bit here and a bit there, but somehow never got up enough momentum to make a serious effort at writing. We have the customary stack of summaries of old games we want to write out as books someday, but it has always been ’someday’. When I joined this site, I brought him in right away and we have both been doing a considerable amount of writing for a ’storygame’ that has surprised us as much as anyone else.

    One question I have: Are many of those who are finding their writing blossom folks who come from a gaming background? Is the City of IF approach one that brings some of the creative pressure and pleasure of gaming to bear on the writing process — is that part of what makes it work for you?

  16. noah Says:

    Morbus, I’d actually love to hear more of your thoughts if you find the time. And as it happens I’m also about to participate in my first Lexicon game (organized by my First Person co-editor Pat Harrigan) for which we’re considering a wiki as our play environment. On the other hand, I’m not sure we’d want to do it on a publicly-accessible wiki. Have you any thoughts about how different Lexicon play environments shape the experience?

  17. Mark Keavney Says:

    Lee wrote:

    >The Archer’s Flight may be an interesting experience, but what makes it unique? What has been >invented?

    An excellent question, which I discuss at length at http://www.cityofif.com/main_about.htm . I’ll just touch on a couple of points here:

    1. The importance of community – In several of the examples mentioned, such as interactive movies and Choose your own Adventure Books, etc., there is interactive storytelling, but without a sense of community. No one can see what choices other people are making or suggesting. As others in this discussion have mentioned and as the success of MMORPGs and other such games shows, community adds a new level of appeal. City of IF itself didn’t really take off until I had enough players and community software to make it a real place, instead of just a method of storygaming.

    2. A strong narrative – Several other examples, such as MMORPGs and page-at-a-time stories told by multiple authors, may be communities, but their products don’t have a strong sense of story. I’ve been to umpteen sites where stories are told one page at a time by multiple authors, and my experience is that they lack coherence. To me, MMORPGs also don’t have a strong narrative (to be fair, I don’t think that’s really what they’re aiming for).

    So to me, what makes storygaming unique is that it has both elements – it combines community and story.

  18. tramp in a storm Says:

    i have not that long joined the city of IF but i am really enjoing every moment of it. In my opinion it is a site were you can make friends from all over the world and now you can also learn things like Greek Myths. Also I have realised that most of the friends that i have made on IF are nice people who I have a few things in common with. things like hating it when people at school try to tell you what to wear and what not to wear because of the things that are in fashion. IF has made me realise that just because we are not intno fashion that much it doesn’t mean that we are the only ones who are called freeks or wierdos or whatever.

  19. Morbus Iff Says:

    I’ll address Noah’s comments in #16. But, let me be a bit more verbose in my description of a Lexicon – it’s a bit different than the approach taken in The Archer’s Flight (and, if not already mentioned, a worthy full post for GTxA). The goal of a Lexicon is, simply, to create a lexicon or encyclopedia by taking on the roles of scholars within said world (or, depending on the game, from a meta God-like view). Lexicon play is alphabetic: turn one, all scholars define an entry for A, turn two, all scholars define an entry for B, etc. Integration is forced by the creation of “phantoms”: two phantoms must be defined in each entry, these phantoms must FIRST be defined when their letter comes up by someone NOT the creator, and all text written is truth, though scholars can certainly introduce new facts, or interpret them quite differently than the original author intended. Because of this forced integration, all players are creating a world (setting, etc.) constrained by all the other player’s “facts”. One of the largest and longest running Lexicons is my own Ghyll: http://www.gamegrene.com/wiki/ with over 250 entries and 50 players (roughly 5-10 on a regular basis). You can see a concise list of the rules on the main page. I also run LexiconTheRPG.com, which provides an incomplete list of known Lexicons. There are lots of variants.

    Whereas The Archer’s Flight (TAF) is linearly plotted: chapter one, decision, chapter two, decision, chapter three, decision, a Lexicon is (usually) much more chaotic and non-linear, often having three different time/streams of game playing:

    1) The regular in-game A, B, C turns that make up the Lexicon itself.
    2) The “out of game” talk of the players re: easter eggs, facts, etc.
    3) The “in-game-but-not-canon” talk of the scholars commenting on entries.

    And, unlike TAF, all players are doing the writings themselves (which, if you’re running a long game or one with rotating players, will usually require some majordomo to do editing, categorizing, fact-checking, etc.). In Ghyll, I’ve gone further than normal by also maintaining a timeline, a who’s who, a where’s where, all to keep the world in check:

    http://gamegrene.com/wiki/Encyclopedant_Calendar
    http://gamegrene.com/wiki/WhoIsWho
    http://gamegrene.com/wiki/WhereIsWhere

    Although I have seen some Lexicon’s played in a forum environment, wikis have been the number one implementation, primarily because of the quick editability and being able to see “what links here”, which becomes quite imperative when you’re fact checking, genealogy hunting, or what have you.

    I don’t think there’s too much difference between a “private” lex and a public one – I know of lexs that are public but are closed membership, unavailable for new players. I also know of quick sessions that play out an entire game (usually one round of A-Z) within a week or so, by two or three people that are preparing for a new game session, etc.

    From a rules standpoint, there are two things that seem to have the MOST effect on how a wiki plays out (besides the inevitable dropping out and lack of interest of your players):

    1) How the turns progress and how quickly. Ghyll is doing one letter a week. I’ve seen one letter a day, “scheduled” turns where each scholar has their own letter path (B C E F H A Z, etc. vs. another players Z A K E F, etc.), but the most popular seems to be telephone or keypad style, where turn 1 consists of ABC, 2 DEF, 3 GHI, and so on, as per the digits of a telephone. This sort of play is pretty quick, and again, whether you define every letter in one turn (ABC) or choose just one (B), changes from lex to lex. There are pros and cons to each method, and far too many variants to get into comments about here (though, I think some of the variants have critically missed some of the forced integration flavor of “community” world building.)

    The biggest problem with lexicons is “where do I begin?” – unless you’re a player (and predominantly a long time player) it is quite confusing on what to do first. Lexicons don’t lend themselves to “reading from the beginning”, because “plot” only begins to appear from a global understanding of the entire world – a plot that begin in B may not have more data until F, and may not be finalized until Z. And during that time, there may be a dozen other “plots” or “mysteries” floating around that have yet to be resolved. Generally, I tell prospective players to:

    1) Find a phantom entry that has not yet been defined.
    2) Find out what links to it, and read those entries.
    3) If you like what you see there, define that phantom, and begin your “full” research into the topic and blah blah blah.
    4) If not, find another phantom for the current turn and repeat.

    Unfortunately, for normal old readers who don’t want to play, that doesn’t really work out too well. I’ve been doing “Spotlight” entries, which are those I think are “best” to get a feel or “flavor” of the world. Much like a Choose Your Own Adventure, readers can jump around the links, reading what they’d like. We’ve also started a communal “What Is Ghyll?” sorta page, far from finished, that intends to give enough background to give a proper context for the entries. I could go on and on and on, should you have more questions ;)

  20. John Cowan Says:

    I also participate in Ghyll. Additionally, I take part in an IRC-mediated fiction-writing process with two channels: one for cooperative arrangements, the other for text. Each participant plays a variety of characters against a common background (agreed upon, but not devised, by us). There are at present four regular participants and a few people who play occasional bit parts.

    The resulting IRC logs from the text channel are cleaned up by the editor (one of us) and posted; they resemble plays or (even more closely) TV scripts in an ongoing soap opera. This stems from the RPC tradition, but eliminates any competitive element; we are not playing a game as such, but cooperating to tell a story. Furthermore, there are no hierarchical relationships among the players: all equally influence the story line. (This does not scale, but it is not intended to.)

    The results are available at http://www.simegen.com/sgfandom/fans/bev/boom/ ; comments are solicited, and may be sent to cowan@ccil.org . (Like most fanfic, the result is probably less than clear to people not already immersed in the background.)

  21. jnmrcs Says:

    I’m new in the City of IF. I’m from Puerto Rico and my first lenguage is spanish. I like writting and reading. The City of IF is helpping me to learn and perfectionate my english (reading and writing). It is so helpful that I have stories there.

    If you ask me what is uniwue on there, I can say that I’m participating. I’m working there (reading, posting and helping to the stories) and, for me, that’s very special. I doesn’t need to be an important person or a famouse one… neither I need to have englsih as my native lenguage and EVEN SO I CAN BE THERE. Doing stories and helping with them.

    So I said that makes it a good site for start writting, that’s a comunity for the people and the writing…

    (Sorry if I wrote something wrong, like I said english is not my native lenguage)

  22. Crystal Says:

    As for the question of those “find their writing blossom” coming from gaming backgrounds–I can’t speak for anyone else, but I have no background in gaming, except that my brother used to like to play RPGs when we were in High School. The City of IF approach takes off a lot of the creative pressure by deciding what happens next, the rest is detail. So the challenge comes from trying to make something that people already know is going to happen, gripping to read, and making the next decision point interesting as well. I have this tendency when I’m writing to not know what’s going to happen next, and then give up. This format works out perfect for me because a) the instant gratification of audience participation keeps the excitement building (for me, I mean), b) I don’t have to figure out what’s going to happen next, c) getting unique suggestions makes me want to surprise the readers in return–I’m sure there are more benefits, but as I said above, I’m relatively new so I haven’t discovered every advantage to this medium yet.

  23. Reiso Says:

    Just a quick two cents on the very basic comparison of City of If to Choose your own Adventure books, interactive movies and stories that are passed around to different authors; let’s start with Choose your own Adventure books, or CYOA.

    Put simply, there are a finite number of choices available in any such book. You cannot write the author and request an alternate chapter based on a new decision for choice 13. It doesn’t happen. And while there will always be a finite number of choices to vote on when the time comes, at City of If, the author invites suggestions for what those choices will be, which is a level of involvement that CYOA novels lack.

    Interactive movies essentially have the same flaw, so I won’t insult anyone by giving another example that demonstrates the exact same point, save to repeat that the audience has no creative input on what choices they would like to see. On a side note, wasn’t Adam West one of the people involved in those movies? Not as an actor, but I remember seeing something about him opening a theater that had them. I even want to say that he is one of the fathers of the idea, but I could easily be misremembering that. Anyway, I should move on to…

    Telephone Stories – these are the ones that are passed around from one writer to the next. I call them that because they are very much like the game Telephone in that what you have at the end is nothing like what you began with, and this is really at the heart of my argument. Why is storygaming different? Less cooks to spoil the broth is the easy answer. With Telephone Stories, you do have a potential for more creativity and spontaneity, but there is a limit to the depth of this kind of storytelling. Unless you have a group of people who are all very much on the same page, any concept that is introduced by one writer (writer A), is going to be transformed into something that fits the ideas of the next writer (writer B), so that by the time it gets back around to writer A, it has been so distorted by writers B through X that he can no longer develop it. This can be very stifling, frustrating and – frankly – results in poor writing because of the lack of planning or coordination on the part of the writers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaming these guys; who doesn’t like their own ideas better than someone else’s? But these stories are shallow on plot.

    Which brings us back to Storygaming. With Storygaming, you can take someone else’s suggestion or idea, and not be constrained by the exact wording of it. You can build on that idea before it is even introduced in-story into something that better fits with the elements you already have in place to keep a cohesive plot. So instead of someone else’s idea ruining a story because of an out of context use, it improves the story because of the author’s exclusive ability to mold it to fit the story.

    Apologies – this is far longer than I meant it to be. I don’t remember for sure, but I think Key may touch on those issues in the linked article above, but I thought it should be spelled out here in a comparitively breif fashion. I hope that’s what I did.

    Thanks for listening.

  24. Daniel (D-Lotus) Says:

    Hi, I´ve been in City of If since it was Interfable. I think everything that has to be said has been said about this wonderful website. I only wanted to add one thing. Before I knew about this website, I wasn´t that much interested in writing. However, just for fun, I tried my hand at it, and came up with a first chapter. People began to give me input and soon I became convinced that they liked it. Anyway, the thing is, that during my time in this website, I think I have improved on such a level, and gained so much confidence, that I feel that I can write a proffesional story if I put all my efforts into it (and I have the first couple of chapters saved on my computer)…because now it´s not only a dream, now I know it can happen. I don´t have a past of RPG or anything like that, but I believe that it´s not neccessary, because a storygame is not only something for some people to have fun with, but it is also enriching for the author and the readers at the same time. Anyway, just my word on the argument…

  25. Fauna Says:

    So many of my thoughts regarding the wonderful community, supportive atmosphere, and quality of writing available at the City of IF have already been expressed by my friends and neighbors from that fine city. Concerning Keavney’s book, The Archer’s Flight, I would also like to have read some of the discussion and decision in the book, perhaps as suggested in an appendix.

    I do not have an extensive gaming background, and was actually searching for a different type of game when I stumbled onto the cobbled streets of Interfable. The site has since transformed into the modern City of IF, and I have not regretted my presence there at any moment. Unlike the chaotic and random games written by many authors (an unavoidable pitfall of online RPs), the storygames follow logical but unpredictable plots, with well-developed characters. I am presently involved in an effort to intertwine three separate storylines with two other authors. Each of our stories progresses independently of the others, but take place in the same developed world and along a common timeline. This effort is challenging and fun.

    I am proud to take part in pioneering this innovative form of expression.

  26. My Self Says:

    I’ve been around IF for a LONG time. I first found it years ago when the votes were done by email and there were few stories. One I distinctly remember was about an undead wizard taking over a kingdom through evil magics and you playing the part of the princess trying to stop him. I’ve never been a frequent member of IF, I have a few posts there, nowhere near as many as most members. It is a very fun place to visit, though I rarely think to visit it. However I have to say I agree with everything the other members on here have said. It’s a great site, with some very talented authors, and it’s getting some real popularity anymore.

  27. Nakul a.k.a Muaddib Says:

    Hi all,
    To add to this discussion, I must say that being on the City of IF has been a very interesting experience. Reading stories of some serious class, having political discussions, fighting it out with racists( Im from India,by the way), it really runs the gamut.
    The idea of storygames may have been put forth in other forms before, but the City of If is unique. Its hard to explain- but the essence is that people in this discussion are concentrating on the end product, that is the storygames made on the site, but what is really important is the journey to the end, in which the City of If is as I said,unique.

  28. Araex Says:

    The City of IF is great fun. I have been in and out of it for about two years now, and I was there when it was called InterFable. Since then, the site has grown exponentially, with hundreds of ongoing storygames, and it is much a social place as anything else. The whole layout is designed to be easy to use, and it doesn’t take long to join in with a story. In addition to playing a part in how the story works, you also get to elect one story each month to join the ranks of stories with their own forums in a Story Game of the Month competition. The whole thing is great fun, and recently there have been additions of a technical institute and somewhere for people to engage in more traditional roleplaying games. I strongly encourage people to join!

  29. Kalanna Rai Says:

    IF is still around and still going strong folks. I’m a much more recent member but I enjoy my time on IF and have found it a wonderful place for people who love stories and writing. It’s helping me with my work to have people who have no reason at all to coddle me, i.e. best friend, teacher, family member, read my work and give comments. I strongly suggest that anyone who wants to join a vibrant community of characters should really look IF up. If you can get past the wonderful oddities and attudes you’ll fit right in. If you’ve got something against fun…well maybe you should stick to a dictionary.

  30. The White Blacksmith Says:

    Same here. Sadly, because of many members growing older and moving onto other things (college, WoW ect.) the city is nowhere near as big as t was when I started, but it still has just the smae atmosphere. I find myself in a Geography class, thinking on what I’ll vote for in one storygame, or sitting on the bus absorbed in thoughtsof fun times. On the site there is no bad feeling towards people. There will always be someone your age and your writing experience on there, so you don’t have to worry about being left out. There was one person, The Meaning Of Fear, who joined shortly after I did and for months we would muck about and try and ‘hurt’ one another, but despite that we had what was possibly one of the best friendships on the site (other than those who know each other in real life). Over the summer, when posts are at their lowest because of holidays, he started to not look on there as often as he did and, sadly, he’s not active on the site anymore. However, there is a whole crop of newbies coming steadily and the site seems to be on the rise. Not only has it helped me gain new friends, but it has also helped me with my typing speed and my spelling. I don’t write on there, but I read other people’s stories and as I correct them, or read corrections other people have made, I remember those mistakes.

    Another note on the community aspect is that everyone has a nickname, or several nicknames. Kalanna Rai is Rai, I am Whitey, The Meaning Of Fear is Meany, or Fearo, and others have different names. People don’t feel afraid to say something because they’re worried it might sound stupid because even though it’s in someways more friendly than real life in others it’s more detatched, and seeing people spell things wrong or make grammar mistakes helps you to feel less ashamed of your own mistakes. I’m not saying that there are no boundaries, it’s just easier to keep inside the boundaries than in RL.

  31. Rubes Says:

    I’m glad TWB commented on this, since I never would have seen it otherwise. I hadn’t heard of City of IF before, and I spent the last few minutes checking it out.

    It sounds like a great idea, and I’ll have to look into it more. But it reminded me of an activity I was involved in many years ago, some time in the mid-1980s. I was involved in an online community back then (it was probably CompuServe, if I remember correctly) and there were people doing something very similar to this. So I started one of my own — it was basically a D&D-style storygame, where I created the initial background chapter and world structure, and one online player participated by suggesting the main protagonist’s actions at the end of each section. We did it primarily by e-mail, with each one of my “chapters” ending in a decision point for the character. Eventually, the player got into it enough where he would write entire paragraphs in response, and we made a pretty interesting story out of it over a long period of time. Unfortunately, we never made it through to the end — or, at least, the ending that I had envisioned at the start.

    But it’s fascinating for me to see the emergence of “storygaming” in the past few years in a form that is almost exactly what I and others had done some twenty years ago.

  32. The White Blacksmith Says:

    It’s only really IF that has worked in this context, I think. At least, I haven’t seen any other storygaming sites. [blantent sdvertising] But yeah, do join if you’re interested- the Great Slump means we’re always looking for new members, and if you want to participate in stories that are new check out New Storygames, or if you want to learn more about the city go to the Tales of If storygaming forum. [/blatant advertising]

  33. christalnightshade Says:

    Hi there folks I’ve been ‘n member for about a year and so on and I think that cityofif is a great place to make new aquintances in this communaty. I’ve read archers flight and I think it is a great book with alot of toughts to what should happen. Now cityofif is a great place for new writers and old ones, well personally I think it can mess with your head, but you’ll learn alot about others writing. one tip stay in the rules. Enjoy cityofif

  34. Algu Says:

    Hey people. Algu here, and i’ve been a “citizen” of IF for a time… About 4-5 months i think. I really havn’t got much info or such on the city (You will have to check it out!) but i have made only one storygame… It failed miserably. I tried again (I tried ressurecting my old one), failed miserably. I generally have no idea when to make DP:s so i think thats the problem. I made a RPG in the city’s games subforum, and it survived a couple of months, but now it has died out. It’s a good place though, and if you join i reccomend the “Tired of Death” Storygame as a first read. It’s made by Chinaren, current mayor of IF. Algu out.

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