Notes on running interactive fiction workshops

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As I’ve run a few introduction to text-based interactive fiction workshops for the library service (both staff and the public), I thought it would be useful to share information about how I’ve organised them, if anyone was interested in running their own.

Each participant will need access to a computer with an internet connection to participate.

Each of the workshops were between 1.5 & 2 hours in length and followed this structure:

  • Introduce the group to the concept of interactive fiction (IF) as a form of writing for creative writers. (5 mins)
  • Introduce Inklewriter as a free online software tool that can enable them to produce IF quickly and easily, and show an example of IF created using Inklewriter. (5 mins)
  • Run through step-by-step notes on creating an Inklewriter IF, showing basic techniques (branching, images, re-using text passages) and overview of more complex techniques. (30 mins)
  • Give them time to create their own short piece of interactive fiction.
  • Wrap up the workshop (5 mins)

Here are a few handouts I used for various workshops:

It’s also useful to have some creative writing prompts just in case any participant is hit with a blank moment.

The majority of the workshops were aimed at adults, but I’ve also run one for teens, which used the cut-down notes instead of the full step-by-step information.

So, that’s how I’ve run sessions myself, but I’m also interested in hearing any suggestions from others about how I can improve these workshops.

Health & Science Library Camp #HASLibCamp

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About a month ago I attended HASLibcamp at CityLIS, which was a library camp (informal unconference style event) focused on health & science aspects of libraries, librarianship and knowledge management.

I pitched a session on how public libraries can support health and I also attended 3 other sessions during the day. There was a mix of people attending – including librarians in the health sector; those who supported academic health courses; private and public sector; and information and library students. I have to say I was surprised that I was the only representative from public libraries there, especially as one of the Society of Chief Librarian “Universal offers” in public libraries is focused on health.

I attended 3 sessions and pitched a session myself on how public libraries support health.

The first session I attended was focused on health apps and stemmed from an app swap session that happens regularly at St George’s Medical School (London). During the session people discussed the type of health apps that were available; the emergence of related technology such as fit-bits; how health apps can be useful for people to understand and take control of their own health literacy. Many of these apps rely on recording users data, so the discussion also covered concerns around data privacy for health apps; possible use of health data for things you don’t want it to be used for eg health insurance; lack of governance on medical data privacy in apps; and how we (as information professionals) could play a role in educating users about data privacy.

From a public libraries & techy perspective I’m keen to promote health apps on health awareness days that come from reputable providers. eg mental health; living healthier. But the difficulty for me is identifying those apps.

The next session I attended focused on Wikipedia and Wikimedia editing. It was interesting to hear about the background to both resources; how they link together; how they link to other resources (for example The British Library is busy digitising images from out of copyright materials, & detailed subject tagging of the resources on Flickr for them is sometimes created by Wikipedians); and the role of a Wikipedian in residence as someone who is able to focus on specific subject areas for an organisation.

The final session I attended focused on an initiative at Imperial College to archive software that has been created as the result of research projects. It covered questions such as… How can this software be identified? How can it be archived, given that hardware, operating systems and platforms are constantly changing, with some now obsolete? Could virtual machines and emulators be used to run the software? What are the licensing requirements for archiving the software and the platforms they run on, especially if the software produced as the result of a research project is released as a commercial project?

I also mentioned that I pitched a session on how public libraries could support health initiatives. My intention was that I was keen to find out more about how public libraries could do this, as well as sharing some thoughts about areas I knew about. This was a very useful discussion, with around 10 other people in attendance from a variety of health backgrounds. I spoke about the sort of things my library service is involved in including the Society of Chief Librarians health offer; Books on prescription; mental health support; provision of a reminiscence collection; accessible computers and technology; services for those unable to visit the library; dementia awareness training for library staff as part of a bigger “Dementia Friendly Surrey” County Council campaign; the privacy benefits of self-service issue/return; alternative versions of reading materials inc large print & audio books, and Penfriend; creative writing workshops for survivors of domestic abuse; partnership working with local hospitals, health organisations and national organisations inc signposting to reputable healthcare information; producing health related reading lists linked to our catalogue.

Other areas that were discussed were the blocking of sites in public libraries that genuinely provide helpful health related information; providing open access to medical information in public libraries and the best way to do this; the development of sign-posting to further health information; the value of signposting to information on ageing in general; the value of health information professionals coming into public libraries to train staff on signposting.

I have to say that I found this session useful, but at the same time I felt like I didn’t have many of the answers to questions that others attending were asking me about. My day-to-day focus isn’t health in public libraries; it’s tech and digital, and in this instance, I could only really give detailed answers about where tech and digital is used to support health initiatives in public libraries. Hopefully, if this event is run again there will be other representatives from public libraries attending who are better placed to answer the questions I couldn’t.

I thought it was a really useful and interesting event, and I can see the benefit of having other library camps with a focus on specific subjects like this. Well done to all who helped organise it and those who were involved in the session discussions on the day.

If you want to read about other sessions run during the event take a look at this page on the HASLibCamp site.

The interactive Bard & future writing jams

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As I mentioned previously on this blog, in April I decided to run Bard Jam – a Shakespeare themed game jam with a focus on text based games. I decided to go for the Shakespeare theme, as Read Watch Play, the online reading discussion my library service is partnered with, had a Shakespeare theme (#bardread) during April. I decided to focus on the written word to try and draw closer links to the reading, writing, literacy aspects of libraries.

Initially I billed it as an interactive fiction game jam, but then decided that I wanted to give entrants the scope to create and submit any type of text based game – the word was important, but not necessarily the way it was presented. So, this could include visual novels and other text adventures with images as well. I wanted to give people as much freedom to experiment with text as they wanted. So, even though the majority of submissions were interactive fiction, a visual novel and a visual (but text heavy) adventure were also submitted. Bard Jam was open to anyone at all in the world to enter, including those who might never have tried producing a text based game before. Like the interactive fiction workshops I’ve run I’m keen to show creative writers that interactive fiction is a genre they should take a look at. And I’m aware of at least one entrant who created their first game for the jam, which I was very pleased about.

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Overall 13 people signed up to join the jam, but in the end only 5 other people (besides myself) submitted a finished entry. I say “only”, but I’m happy that it encouraged more than just myself to participate and I think it’s something that can be built on. In hindsight, if I’d promoted the game jam on various interactive fiction and text adventure forums to promote it more widely there may have been more entries. I can honestly say I enjoyed playing all of the submissions, and they were so wide ranging in content, style and length. The submissions included a quiz hosted by a sharp-tongued Stephen Fry; A high school play rehearsal about teen friendships; Shakespeare’s lover & real writer of his plays; the boatswain from The Tempest; and a paranormal investigative newspaper. I’ve already posted a fuller run of the entries down here. If you get a chance please try the Bard Jam games out. They’re mostly browser based, and the majority are pretty short – about 10/15 minutes.

The future…

Following on from Bard jam I feel this idea has legs, and I’m keen to run themed online text based game jams focused on authors and/or their works as a regular thing – and they would be open to everyone again to participate. One idea I had for next year is an Arthur C Clarke game jam. I also think there’s scope for libraries to get involved in this as well – for example, encouraging creative writing groups that meet in their libraries to try out interactive fiction, and give them a specific focus for trying out ideas. Ideally the entry level would be accessible for many people including children. I’m still unsure about whether entries should be given scores – in this jam I avoided scoring, but I don’t know if entrants want to be rated on what they’ve created or not. I’m easy either way – if the jam is of interest to me I’ll just submit something whether it’s being judged or not.

Anyway, if anyone else thinks this is a good idea let me know.