Interactive fiction is the craft of writing for games. Whether you want to write beautiful, evocative video games like Night in the Woods, delve into the tabletop joy of Dungeons & Dragons, or even craft choose-your-own-adventure novels, there's an art to building worlds, creating characters, and weaving story arcs that accommodate choice, creativity, and freedom for your players.
In this six-week workshop, we will study that art, examining its history, its canonical works, its craft, and its possibilities as a literary art. We'll collaboratively explore an aesthetics of interactive fiction through discussing writings by Umberto Eco, Jorge Luis Borges, and Janet Murray, and playing a range of innovative interactive narrative games, such as Zork I, Queers in Love at the End of the World, Passage, Wardialler, and many others.
This workshop is open to writers of all levels with an interest in crafting fiction for, and playing, games. All tastes in games are welcome here, from Monopoly to Cyberpunk 2077, and experience in coding, design thinking, and the creation of visual assets is not required. Writing interactive fiction is the perfect opportunity to try out learning some of these skills!
Throughout, you will design and develop either a short text-based interactive narrative game like A Lovers' Escape in Twine, or a short visual interactive narrative game like Roomba Quest in Bitsy. You will also workshop your prototype through open playtests with the members of the class.
Class meetings will be held over video chat, using Zoom accessed from your private class page. While you can use Zoom from your browser, we recommend downloading the desktop client so you have access to all platform features.
- Interactive fiction and digital environments have unique properties that confer benefits and limitations that are significantly different from traditional fiction.
- Writers and literary scholars have been studying "open" work since long before the advent of the digital age, and work in this medium connects writers with a vibrant, diverse, and evolving artistic tradition.
- The process of writing fiction for games is iterative, collaborative, and time consuming, requires a healthy control over scope and ambition, and thrives with an attitude of joy and playfulness towards the reader-player.
- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes
Students will need to spend between 1-2 hours a week playing games or completing readings, with the time varying according to how fast they read and play. They'll also have a flexible workload for their game projects each week, which will vary greatly depending on the student. They could spend anywhere from 2-8 hours on the project each week, depending on scope and interest.
Week 1: Introduction. Discuss examples, make trashgames, and choose a platform.
Week 2: Discuss Murray and Zork I. Publish your first prototype.
Week 3: Discuss Borges. Write a game design document.
Week 4: Playtesting! Digital session of a GMless roleplaying game.
Week 5: Discuss Eco, Queers in Love at the End of the World, and Passage.
Week 6: Playtesting and final game showcase.
Nat Mesnard is a writer and game designer based in NYC, where they teach Narrative Design at Pratt Institute and co-host the podcast Queers at the End of the World. They did their MFA in Fiction and taught at the University of Illinois, and have published work in Bodega, Blackbird, The Kenyon Review, The Gettysburg Review, Ninth Letter, and elsewhere. New work includes poetry in We Want It All, an anthology of radical trans poetics, and a tabletop roleplaying game, Business Wizards. Nat has taught at the Hudson Valley Writers Center and with the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop.
"Nat has one of my favorite professors this semester. They created a great environment to learn in and I loved everything we did in class."
"I enjoyed the way the course was structured. The games were always fun to play and discuss. I liked how we spent time appreciating the strengths in our art instead of criticizing where we fell short."
"Nat was an awesome professor! I learned so much from them and feel like I am no longer such a newbie when it comes to gaming knowledge. They genuinely felt excitement for all of our work as a class and were available reasonably outside of class time for feedback and help. I'm so happy that I was able to take this class and I'm sad it's almost over. 10/10!"