XYZZY Awards 2013 Eligibility

I’m reposting this, with permission, from the intfiction forum. I did not write this announcement; it is by Sam Kabo Ashwell. But it is about how the XYZZY Awards are changing to attempt to incorporate works that weren’t promoted to or didn’t originate inside the traditional IF community, and to avoid imposing unnecessary formal barriers to people who might be interested in having their work considered.

If that’s something you’re interested in, read on.


As XYZZY season moves along, we’ve been thinking about some improvements. Here are the biggest ones; we’re essentially solid on them right now, but it’s something I’d like to float anyway in case I haven’t thought of something. We’re addressing two long-standing problems that the Awards have faced.

The eligibility problem. More and more, IF is published in venues beyond the ken of the mainline IF community. Some such venues don’t archive or index games in a readily-accessible manner, or include any consistent way to confirm basic things like the game’s publication date. Public betas are becoming more popular. It’s neither practical nor desirable to try and find everything that might possibly be described as IF, nor to winnow down that pool according to some standard of what IF Really Is.

So starting in 2013, the new standard is going to be simple: the eligible games are going to be games published as substantially complete in the appropriate year and listed on IFDB. Since anybody can add their own game (or any game that they think is of interest) to IFDB with only a few minutes’ effort, this is a pretty minimal level of gatekeeping. It reduces the workload of compiling the list – we’ll still have to confirm that those games exist, aren’t beta releases, aren’t actually Bioshock and so on, but it’ll at least be a consistent process. And as long as the standard’s clear, and we’re sure to remind people about it, it matches up to the IF community’s usual standard for inclusion – games that we’re interested in, and games by people who are interested in us.

It motivates people to help make IFDB a more comprehensive resource. It means that we don’t get blindsided by games that most of us have never heard of. (Hopefully, it’ll also give people from contexts outside the traditional IFsphere more cause to engage with the full range of games on IFDB, though this may be puppies-and-unicorns thinking on my part.)

The problem of the text-entry categories. First-round voting in the text-entry categories (Best Individual NPC, Best Individual PC, Best Individual Puzzle, Best Technological Development and Best Supplemental Materials) is typically low with a scattershot kind of distribution. Some of this is for particular reasons; some people just like to play games and don’t follow the tech side of things, and the importance of big set-piece puzzles has faded somewhat in recent years. But in general, it’s not too hard to understand: the range of choice is even greater than with games in general, and it’s the sort of thing that’s easy to overlook six months or a year after the event. I know that when I go through the Tech Dev list, for instance, I often have to go and check which year something actually came out in; or I’ll remember an NPC but not be able to place their name, and have to look it up – and that’s the sort of information that can be buried in a game, accessible only after hours of play. So much easier if there was a list somewhere.

So what I’m planning on is an annual series of IFDB polls, one for each text-entry category. (These can be found here: Best Individual Puzzle, Best Individual NPC, Best Individual PC.) Over the course of the year, if you play a game with a noteworthy PC or puzzle or whatever, you vote for that game in the relevant poll and include a comment naming the particular thing. That gives people more time to check games out. I’ll plan to post reminders about those polls at strategic points over the year – comp season, for instance. Authors can self-promote in these polls if they want. This will be an experiment; we’ll see how well it works before deciding whether to do it twice.

(What about Tech Dev and Supplemental Materials, which suffer from those text-entry problems but may not be tied to any one game? IFDB only supports polls for specific games at this point. Lucian Smith suggested using any game that uses that tech in the poll, or Adventure if no such game exists yet, and explaining in comments. That’s a bit awkward for my tastes, but it could work. Or we could work with IFDB to get something special set up.)

We could, of course, do this on the XYZZY site itself. But IFDB is something that people already use year-round; it’s already set up to do this sort of thing, and to facilitate play; and the half-an-arm’s-distance from the XYZZY site makes it a little clearer that this isn’t strictly a nomination round, just a XYZZY-approved brainstorming process.

Teal deer: if you want a game to be eligible for the 2013 XYZZYs, make sure it has an entry on IFDB. If you play a game with an interesting PC, NPC or puzzle, mention ’em in IFDB polls.

10 thoughts on “XYZZY Awards 2013 Eligibility

  1. What types of game are eligible for the awards? A quick glance through the FAQ wasn’t enlightening – it said “all games released in the previous year are eligible”. The line about making sure games “aren’t actually Bioshock” made me wonder… what is it about Bioshock that makes it ineligible?

    • The XYZZYs are an interactive fiction award, and IFDB is an interactive fiction database. Here is one recent discussion of what’s meant by ‘interactive fiction.’ It shouldn’t be taken as authoritative, but it gives a good idea of the territory.

      The historical core of IF as used here is computer-based, parser-controlled, text-only, single-player, turn-based, heavy-world-model narrative games, as descended from Adventure. The definition now is something like ‘that, plus its neighbours,’ the most prominent of which at present are choose-your-own-adventure/hypertext novel things, but could also plausibly include graphic adventure, for instance. I picked Bioshock as an example of something that’s straightforwardly far, far outside that.

      This is a family-resemblance kind of definition, and like all family-resemblance definitions it is a) difficult for people who aren’t part of the relevant language-community and b) frustrating for the sort of person who requires neat dictionary definitions. But in this case I think it does a better job of tracking actual usage.

      • I think I was just curious quite how far this widening of the boundaries was intended to reach. If it potentially extends beyond text and into the realms of graphical games at all, I don’t see it as a vast stretch of the imagination that a game such as Bioshock would be included. After all, the original Bioshock delivered one of the cleverest narrative twists I’ve experienced in any interactive medium since playing Plotkin’s “Spider and Web”.

      • I think the important thing to recognise here is that this isn’t really a widening of boundaries so much as a tidying-up of the status quo, in a way that looks less abstruse, arbitrary and cliquey from the outside. The difference is really more to do with how we compile the list of eligible games, which was formerly a rather time-consuming, fiddly and opaque process. The major IF institutions and competitions have been including CYOA to some degree for many years; the traditional approach of the Comp, for instance, has always been “let in everything that fits the publication requirements (not based on copyrighted material, not previously published) and let the voters decide what counts as IF.” Games in the CYOA mould have already been nominated for, and won, awards at the XYZZYs; this change is mostly to give us a nice clear answer to the entirely reasonable question ‘why is X nominated but not Y?’

      • (Note that this change has as much to do with Playfic and Quest, which encourage the publication of very large numbers of practice/incomplete/coding-exercise games, in the traditional parser style and without much bibliographic information, as it does with ChoiceScript or Twine or Inkle or other developments outside the traditional parser model.)

    • I’d say Bioshock is unavailable because it is not a text game, and therefore not interactive fiction even in a broad sense of that term.

      • That’s entirely fair, and also a much neater, more well-contained definition than any I’ve come across yet. So long as I can imagine the word “textual” existing between “interactive” and “fiction”, that makes things a lot simpler.

    • This is a point under ongoing discussion.

      Personally I might be more inclined to say “because no one cares about Bioshock winning a XYZZY; it has much bigger fish to fry.” But I imagine there will be vigorous discussion about this if the issue actually comes up.

      Personally, I suspect a more likely thing than Bioshock being added to IFDB would be, say, for a fan to link in Telltale’s The Walking Dead series, or Kentucky Route Zero, or Christine Love’s Ren’Py work — things that have partially or primarily graphical interfaces but that also use some text in important ways; deal heavily in moral choice and character interiority or similar issues that are of interest to the IF community; and are intensely oriented towards story content. If that happens, I’ll be watching curiously to see what happens next.

      • I think it was the possibility of someone nominating a graphical game such as the ones you mention which led me to wonder where exactly the line could be drawn, and to speculate as to why a game like Bioshock would be so definitively on the other side of it. That and the fact I’ve recently finished playing Bioshock Infinite, and found it rather intriguing narratively (not least because it was ultimately entirely linear in structure, and totally unapologetic about the fact).

        I guess I was tempted to extend the definition of “interactive fiction” to its logical conclusion: anything which is both interactive and fictional. That makes a nonsense of the label, of course, making it even broader than the term “game”. Your definition, that “IF is the stuff made by people who want to call that stuff IF”, is most definitely more useful, so I’ll happily go along with that!

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