“You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door.” This is the opening line of Zork, one of the earliest interactive fiction computer games (or “text adventures”). Interactive fiction confronts players with a simulated (real or fictional) environment they have to explore and interact with by issuing natural language commands, such as “open door,” “drink water,” or “walk around the house.” What does this have to do with formal models (and your thesis)? Well, despite its game-like and literary appearance, a work of interactive fiction is effectively a formal model that can be manipulated by and through the computer, i.e., a computational model. Writing interactive fiction thus essentially poses the same challenges as the creation of other computational models: What am I modeling? What is the purpose of this model? What aspects of the original does the model need to capture, and how should they be represented in the computer? And so on.
The goal of this two-day course is to encourage participants to take a step back from their particular research question and to reflect upon modeling on a higher level—and to then apply the insights to their work again. We’ll do this by discussing theoretical issues—and by creating small sketches of interactive fiction using the Inform 7 system.
Now, even if writing interactive fiction amounts to formal modeling, it is unlikely that any of you are writing interactive fiction for their thesis—so why not teach some useful tool instead? In fact, we are using Inform precisely because it is not a “useful” tool. This avoids the temptation to simply apply a tool without thinking about whether it is actually suited to the task and thus adapting the model to the tool rather than the other way around—as they say, if all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail. Furthermore, modeling the physical world and everyday phenomena gives us a common ground; at the same time it forces us to think about things we otherwise take for granted, the unspoken assumptions, and the seemingly banal—which is something we also should do in our research. Apart from this, interactive fiction is also a fun way to approach the topic…
The course is taught in English.