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The Interactive Fiction Technology Foundation: Interview with Jason McIntosh

By Hannah Flynn, July 21, 2016 · Narrative Things We Like

The Interactive Fiction Technology Foundation (IFTF) was announced last month as the first-ever nonprofit to support the success and growth of all forms of interactive fiction — text adventures, choice-based games, visual novels, and more. The IF scene is close to our hearts, and our founder emeritus Alexis Kennedy is an advisory board member. We spoke to IFTF president Jason McIntosh about what IFTF means for creators.

What are your immediate plans, now you’ve launched?

Our very first active program is the IFComp itself — more specifically, assuming stewardship of it. The competition has run since 1995 by a series of individual volunteer organizers (myself, most recently) who have each worked with a small, informal group of assistants and advisors — and it’s worked great all this time. But as the competition only continues to grow in popularity, visibility, and cultural importance, it has become clear that it could use a firmer legal foundation, as well as a way for the community to support its continued operation and potential growth. IFTF’s adopting it gives it all these, quite tidily.

As you can see on IFTF’s programs page, the organization’s next planned projects include extending a measure of stewardship and support to Twine, and researching ways to measure and improve the accessibility across all forms of modern interactive fiction play. We hope to start both of these programs before the end of this year. In both cases, each program will be operated by an autonomous, program-specific committee populated with community volunteers whose interest and expertise align with the task at hand. This is how we plan to operate all our future programs as well, and we have plenty of ideas and proposals about projects we can help next — but limiting our initial commitment to just the three we’ve announced at present seemed like a smart way to start.

I should note here that we always love to hear from folks who might be interested in volunteering their time and talent towards our work. Anyone can write us at info@iftechfoundation.org.

What does the IFTF mean for individual creators and writers of interactive fiction?

In short, IFTF stands for stability of the technologies and services that IF authors depend upon to create and share their work.

For example, IFTF’s Twine-stewardship program will help make sure that access to this key technology rests on a permanent, publicly funded legal and financial base. With IFTF’s assistance, this increasingly important IF development tool will have access to legal counsel, and will be able to accept tax-deductible funding contributions from the public, which should help keep the codebase in a healthy, actively maintained state.

IFTF’s accessibility initiative, in the meantime, will aim to find ways that current IF play-platforms could use improvement when it comes to welcoming players with disabilities. It may then follow through to help enable the improvements that it recommends, as well as record a permanent set of community design and development guidelines for accessibility. This should help all IF creators reach many players who today may find themselves simply unable to play their games.

What are your greatest ambitions for interactive fiction? What do you hope IFTF will achieve in the long term?

Speaking as IFComp organizer, I can only hope that IF continues down the ever-broadening experimental paths that it’s explored for some years now. It’s my own tremendous luck to have begun my tenure at the IFComp at the time that I did: I get to run an event whose annual crop of entries serves as a microcosm of everything creative people can do today with playful, interactive text work. IFComp entries have lately strode the whole continuum from parser-driven text adventures through hypertext games and onward to unclassifiable experiments, and I just love it.

It’s outside of IFComp’s purview, but I am also very interested in seeing the reanimation of commercial IF, which itself embraces the whole range from the neo-traditional (e.g. Andrew Plotkin’s “Hadean Lands”, just recently out on Steam) to the entirely modern, syncretic, but still text-driven computer games that companies like Failbetter publish.

As for IFTF, I only hope that it spends the next several years achieving its mission to grant legal stability and financial security to a range of IF infrastructure, while allowing that infrastructure to continue operating in the way that it knows best: as a beautiful mishmash of passion-driven projects run by people who care a lot about keeping interactive fiction alive, relevant, and wonderful. I would like IFTF to be just visible enough so that people know where to lend their support if they’d like to pitch in, but not so visible that it actually gets in the way of the real work.

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