Friday, 7 February 2014

What is AIF?

The traditional answer to the above question has been that AIF is any text adventure that contains explicit (and preferably interactive) content. Such games are the subject of the vast majority of the discussion at the aifarchive Yahoo! group, for example. However, the problem with that definition is that text adventures are a medium rather than a genre. For example, the very first adult text adventure was Softporn Adventure (1981), published by Sierra with a cover that featured legendary game designer Roberta Williams enjoying some naked hot-tubbing with two other women.

Softporn Adventure cover, featuring Roberta Williams
Copyright 1981 Sierra On-Line

Best remembered today as the precursor to the Leisure Suit Larry series, Softporn was also the only 'pure' text adventure that Sierra ever published. All of their other games used graphics, at first in a small way with Mystery House (1980), but eventually becoming primarily graphical, and ultimately dispensing with the text parser altogether. However, despite those changes in format, most of Sierra's games still fit into the adventure genre.

Fast forward to 1991, when X-Trek made its debut. Although text adventures are no longer viable as a commercial genre, they are about the only option for the amateur hobbyist who wants to create their own games. Thus, the text adventure format became the default medium for AIF. Fast forward again, this time to 2014, and aspiring authors can choose from RAGS, various CYOA formats, HTML, Flash, SCI, Ren'Py, and probably others that I've never heard of.

Given those changes, does it makes sense to restrict AIF to only text adventures? For example, did the Christopher Cole game Tim's Mom suddenly cease to be AIF when it was ported to RAGS? To me, it's still essentially the same game with or without a text parser. More importantly, it's recognisably of the same genre. So what is AIF now? Where do you draw the line between AIF and adult games in general? Is an appropriately modded commercial game AIF? Can adult visual novels be AIF? What about HTML dating games? And so on.

It might be that no simple, straight-forward definition of AIF is possible and we'll be left with the Potter Stewart definition of obscenity ("I know it when I see it"). But it would be a pretty short post if that were the case, so I'm going to have a crack.

I think it's safe to start by defining AIF as a subset of adult games in general. Adult games must obviously be both 'adult' and 'games'. The first half of the equation is easily disposed of. If the author intends for the game to titillate or otherwise sexually arouse the player, then it's adult.

However, the second half is a little more complicated. In his essay "I Have No Words And I Must Design", Greg Costikyan talks a lot about what is a game and what isn't:

Here's a game. It's called Plucky Little England, and it simulates the situation faced by the United Kingdom after the fall of France in World War II. Your goal: preserve liberty and democracy and defeat the forces of darkness and oppression. You have a choice: A. Surrender. B. Spit in Hitler's eye! Rule Britannia! England never never never shall be slaves!

You chose B? Congratulations! You won!

Now, wasn't that satisfying? Ah, the thrill of victory.
There is no thrill of victory, of course; it was all too easy, wasn't it? There wasn't any struggle.

Most people would agree that "Plucky Little England" isn't a game in any real sense. It follows that in a game the decisions the player makes must be meaningful, not a choice between options where one is obviously better than the other, or where there is no way of distinguishing between them. Likewise, the solution to any puzzle in a game must chart a course between being so well signposted that the player doesn't have to think and being so opaque that the player has no chance of discovering it. Basically, 'winning' a game should require effort from the player without being impossible.

If we're yoking those two things together to form an 'adult game' then I think it makes sense to connect the concepts behind them as well. That is, the effort required of the player should be directed towards accessing the adult content. Thus, the adult content can't be incidental to the gameplay, or vice versa.

So far, so good. But what distinguishes AIF from other types of adult game? This is where it gets trickier, not to mention more subjective, but I think we can take a cue from history. The term 'interactive fiction' was popularised by Infocom in the early 80s in part because they believed that text adventure games were the storytelling medium of the future. They got enough people to share that belief for Deadline (1982) to be reviewed in the New York Times Book Review, and for Steve Meretzky and Dave Lebling, two of Infocom's main authors (or implementors, as they called them), to be admitted into the Science Fiction Writers of America. Those high aspirations foundered with the demise of text adventures as a commercially viable genre in the late 80s. However, they live on in the idea of having a story in which the player controls the protagonist, which I think is a key feature of interactive fiction, independent of format.

Having the player controlling the protagonist of a story is fairly common in modern gaming, so the definition needs to be narrowed further. My next thought was that the effort required should be primarily mental, rather than involving things like hand-eye coordination or reaction speed. There's no a priori reason for that, other than a feeling that non-mental gameplay (such as shooting zombies, fighting orcs, or jumping across a series of platforms) would overwhelm the story elements that are supposed to be AIF's focus. But what about games where the player has to solve a puzzle minigame in order to see the adult content, such as Seduce Me (2013)? That doesn't feel like AIF to me because the puzzles that the player has to deal with are abstractions that represent what the PC is actually doing (talking to the other characters). But if the PC was actually playing a card game, I think it would be fine. From that I conclude that it has to be the PC (on whose behalf the player is acting) who overcomes the obstacles that prevent the narrative from advancing.

You could probably also add that AIF should be primarily text-based, but I think that's something that automatically follows from having both a story and mental gameplay. Text is simply the most straight-forward and least expensive way to tell a story. Telling an effective story without text would probably require professional quality voice acting, art and animation. And if by some chance you had access to all those things, why wouldn't you use them for the gameplay as well?

So where does that leave the various formats that I mentioned earlier? Any of them could have adult content, so it really comes down to how that content is presented in the gameplay. Text adventures are AIF, obviously. I think RAGS games qualify as AIF as well. The interface replaces the text parser, but beyond that the only real difference with text adventures is the presence of graphics (which is expected, but not mandatory). Although the player's ability to act as the PC is diminished, I think CYOA games can also be AIF as long as the player is still making the choices that guide the story. HTML dating games are basically a subset of CYOA games, the only difference being the more prominent use of graphics to support the story, so they also qualify as AIF in my opinion. Visual novels can be AIF, although in my (albeit limited) experience then tend not to be because the choices the player is presented with tend to be both rare and opaque.

So that's what AIF is, to me at least. What do you think? Should AIF be defined more narrowly? More broadly? At what point does something become too graphical to be considered AIF? More to the point, what kinds of games should this blog concern itself with?


  1. I've always felt that the IF in AIF refers to text adventures either of the classic Infocom-type or, by extension, CYOA. Primarily text-driven, interactive games. Images are fine and traditional parsers aren't required, but when I'm looking at a screen that's mostly an image with a line or two of text, as I see most HTML dating games, I don't think that's what we're all about. Games that prioritize images over the written word don't belong here IMO.

    We really ought to call it ATA (Adult Text Adventures) instead of AIF.

  2. I agree with pretty much every word ExLibris wrote. The hard part for me is stuff like Lesson of Passion's games. I like them, but I don't think they're AIF. I do, however, think something like Date Ariane is AIF, and I can't for the life of me figure out what the difference is that makes me say it is while the LoP games aren't.

  3. There is certainly a lot of wiggle room around what exactly AIF is. I think part of the confusion is that the term was originated when games that would be primarily picture based weren't really feasible (certainly not for non-commercial). Thus, as Nick points out, we tend to be focusing on Adult Text Adventures, if there is a desire to be literal in word usage.

    When I think of what AIF games represent, they focus upon the player controlling or guiding a character(s) and at multiple opportunities have decisions. These decisions might be simple (north/south), and they may even be irrelevant in the long run (game will never progress until character goes south), but the ability to make decisions important is what defines the quality of the game, not its category.

    What I think makes AIF different from CYOA (whether text or game) is the amount of choices. I don't think those things are far outside of AIF, but I certainly don't consider things I wrote for Chyoo to be anyway similar to games I see here.

    On the other side of the issue, outside of AIF but close, would be indie games made with programs like RPG Maker. The player controls a character, on multiple occasions, guides their actions, and while the story is commonly told by text, the graphical interface is so dominating that it kind of eliminates it from AIF contention.

    While typing this reply, I thought of a possibly good answer: If the person playing the game could only see the text, would it still be good? If the answer is yes, the work would survive on its own without any accompanying graphics, it falls into category AIF (assuming it is still interactive, as ExLibris mentioned, some dating games really don't branch off their choices).

    Personally, I'd favor a broad definition of AIF. I've played and enjoyed pretty much all of the non-AIF games that have been discussed, though obviously that isn't reason enough and others likely don't have the same experience A second reason though is that as a niche community I'd rather welcome things that might be AIF then keep them out.

    1. "If the person playing the game could only see the text, would it still be good?"

      While I agree with the underlying sentiment, the flaw I see in that definition is that it treats the text and graphics as being completely independent, which isn't necessarily the case. It would exclude HTML dating games, but that's because the text in those games is designed to be supported by the graphics (hence the lack of any description). Applied literally, it would also exclude some text adventures, such as Peril In Pleasantville or Tesliss Equation.

      "Personally, I'd favor a broad definition of AIF..."

      Definitely agree. Part of the reason I wrote this is because there is a fair amount of AIF (even if you define it narrowly) being created outside of the AIF community. Consequently, I see defining AIF as only what the aifarchive group discusses to be unhelpfully restrictive.

  4. I personally think that AIF should be what ever you want it to be, not what others want it to be, I was about 90% though a game I was writing, a game that and last night it found itself promoted to the recycle bin and purely because of the line "EXPECTED BUT NOT MANDATORY" Expected by who??? You will put more new authors off than you gain . You should encourage and applaud new efforts rather than give a set of bullshit guidelines that YOU expect but "hey, don't worry, it's not fuckin mandatory!!!

    1. I actually agree with you to a degree, your right, no-one has the right to expect and I do applaud your effort thus far but, you really need to go to the recycle bin and recall your project, there was a post a few weeks age at the AIF Archive by someone wanting to know of good games with no pics, I too like a game with no pics I always think of the term 'Just IMAGINE the possibilities' keep up the good work my friend and even tho I know nothing of your project, I really look forward to the result as I am sure do many others, we all love a new title.

    2. That's a real shame. It's exactly this sort of attitude, being propagated by a particularly annoying segment of players within our community, that is scaring prospective AIF authors away. Last time I checked the AIF community isn't so vast that we can afford to screen authors based on luxury factors that some of us have come to expect in recent times.

      Please retrieve your work from the recycle bin and continue.

    3. In the above post, the line "expected, but not mandatory" applied only to RAGS game. Given that the default RAGS interface (which as far as I know you can't change) has places to put graphics, I don't think it's too much to say that they're expected.

      Secondly, this post was attempting to be descriptive, not prescriptive. You certainly shouldn't consider yourself bound by what just one person thinks anyway.

    4. "I personally think that AIF should be what ever you want it to be"

      I don't want to discourage new authors, but this is just factually wrong. ExLibris' post doesn't in any way say 'you must put this in your game'. We're just trying to define words. Obviously, AIF has to be 'something' that distinguishes it from other types of writing/adult material. No one is saying X is good, Y is bad. It isn't even being said that something has to be AIF, obviously people commenting in this post have read/played things outside of AIF, but enjoyed them.

      What you think is erotic is completely up to you. What you find to be an enjoyable story is also a matter of personal preference. Those are all opinions. Whether something is an erotic story, a CYOA, an AIF, a game, or multiple things at once, is a matter of definition.

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  6. Just as an aside, ExLibris, I am thrilled that we finally have a medium where we can all discuss AIF while contrasting the use of abstractions versus simply solving puzzles.

    Thanks so much for creating this forum for all of us intelligent perverts in the world.

    1. You're very welcome. I hope you find the discussion here stimulating.

    2. "Thanks so much for creating this forum for all of us intelligent perverts in the world."

      AIF Central: The Most Sophisticated Discussion of Porn You'll Ever Find

  7. Not sure if anyone has mentioned it or not but, if you wanna program for making people go to, I know I should have mentioned this in a previous thread but I forgot all about it, you can make people and the bring them into daz or poser or whatever you choose, it's a great program and 100% free.

  8. I remember finding softporn on a BBS when I still had my shinny new 2400 baud modem that was bigger then a toaster. Was as close to "porn" as I ever got as a young teen.

    remember when we had to work for our porn ? lol