If you’re enjoying IF and would like to get more involved in the community of authors and players, here are some things you can do.
Play games with other players
It’s easy to get stuck on interactive fiction, as you may already have discovered, especially if the work is a challenging puzzle game. IF players sometimes play together (two or more heads are better than one); and they often exchange hints on forums for IF players. Your input here would be welcome too.
As a rule, it is considered polite to announce what game you’re about to talk about and then leave some blank “spoiler space” before continuing if you are posting to a forum or newsgroup about some aspect of a game that should remain a surprise (plot twists, puzzle solutions, and so on).
If you’d like to play live with other people, you may enjoy ClubFloyd, which meets weekly online for shared play sessions. ClubFloyd often runs through games from recent competitions, and they post their transcripts after the fact.
Meet IF enthusiasts in real life
Several cities have in-person meetings roughly once a month, where they may play games together, discuss games they’ve already tried, workshop new projects, and more. (At the time of writing, this includes Boston, Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco, Vancouver Canada, and possibly New York City.) Check out the right-hand sidebar of the main page for links for these groups.
If you’re not in a city with an existing IF group, you might want to consider starting your own: posting on the intfiction forum looking for interest might be a good way to start.
Finally, roughly once or twice a year someone organizes an IF convention intended to draw participants from far afield. In past years, these have included meetups at PAX; this year (2012), there will be a gathering of some players and authors at the Boston No Show Conference. The “upcoming events” sidebar at the People’s Republic of IF often contains useful information about significant IF gatherings.
Judge in competitions
There are a range of competitions for interactive fiction. Some of them have special panels of judges chosen in advance, but several (including the most popular, the annual IF Comp) allow anyone to vote on the games as long as they have played some minimum number of the entries. You do not have to be an IF expert to play and vote. Voting for the annual XYZZY Awards is also open to the public.
Much interactive fiction is free, which means that a lot of the time the only reward for the authors is the feedback they receive. If you want to show your appreciation for a game, a short email to the author is almost always welcome. If you want to go further, you might consider writing a review for one of the newsgroups or review websites: they are almost always looking for more content. The quickest way to do this is to register for an account at IFDB.
Write hint guides or walkthroughs
Difficult games often come with files of hints, walkthroughs, and maps. Sometimes these are written by the game’s author, but often they are prepared by other players. You can write these and host them on your own webspace, or you can contribute them to the interactive fiction archive.
New IF needs to be tested, and that’s where beta-testers come in. Beta-testing is usually a time commitment of at least a few hours. The requirements are a bit of discretion (you should never release an unfinished game you have received, and it’s also polite not to discuss the defects of beta products with the general public) and tact (your job is to give the author your honest opinion, pointing out whatever flaws you find, but be gentle).
Interactive fiction is written in a number of (human) languages: English, Italian, and Spanish are most represented, but there are also communities writing in French, Dutch, Swedish, German, and more. Translating interactive fiction to new languages broadens its audience and allows members of one community to find out more about progress in other communities. If you want to translate something, it’s best to start by contacting the author directly.
Write or collaborate on games
Writing your own IF can be hard, but it’s usually rewarding. See the “Writing IF” section for some suggestions, especially the Getting Started article and links. IntroComp is a friendly competition offering authors feedback on the first portion of a game, and is intended especially to help ease new authors into the process of writing.
If writing an entire game is more than you want to take on, consider working with a collaborator. Several excellent IF games have been produced by pairs or teams of authors. People looking for collaborators often post at the collaboration subforum of intfiction.
Offer your services as an artist, designer, or musician
Not everyone with the skills to write and code a game have the additional abilities required to make cover art or illustrations. Authors looking for creative help sometimes post requests on the collaboration subforum of intfiction. If you’re interested in making cover art, feelies, etc. for games, you might post your offering there. Art and design time are also popular rewards in competitions, as they allow successful game authors to dress up their work with some additional packaging.
Create library extensions
Most of the major IF languages allow authors to create extensions — code that can be shared and used in many games. (For Inform 7, these extensions, and guidelines for writing new ones, live here.)
Create languages or tools
If you think there’s a gap in the technology for IF and you have the skills to fill it, you may want to check out what other coders are currently working on and join forces, or start your own project. At the moment (2012), there is a particularly strong interest in providing more attractive interfaces on a wider range of devices: building interpreters that work attractively on tablets and mobile phones, allowing for better browser front-ends, and more. If you want to discover whether a tool or project is already addressing your area of interest, you may want to ask around on the intfiction forum or consult the information on authoring systems and interpreters on ifwiki.
Share your ideas about craft and design
Several venues, including the intfiction forum and the ifMUD chat area, are appropriate places to discuss your general ideas about interactive fiction: what it does well now, what it could do better, and how these improvements may be conducted. The community tends to be interested in new ideas, but also skeptical of very blue-sky plans that aren’t accompanied by concrete demonstrations. Still, these discussions can be stimulating and fun.
If you’d like more room to share your views and reviews, you might start your own blog, then register it with planet-if. Planet-if is a feed aggregator that shows interactive fiction content from scattered blogs across the web. Instructions for joining can be found in its right-hand sidebar.
Donate prizes to competitions
Some competitions give prizes to the winners. Usually the prizes are donated by members of the community. The yearly IF Comp is a particularly significant example, though of course there are also others.
Competitions are run by anyone who feels like stepping up to organize one. If you have an idea for an interesting competition, come up with some rules and announce your idea.
In devising your rules, you may want to think about deadlines for submission; whether there will be prizes for winners; how the winners will be determined (voting by the public? a panel of judges? will beta-testers be allowed to vote?); whether entries may be discussed publicly during the judging period; whether you will accept previously-released works; whether you will accept works in languages other than English.
Hold an IF reading or exhibition
Interactive fiction readings and exhibits have been held in a range of venues: public libraries, academic writing houses, museums, conventions for games or science fiction, demoscene events, and more. These events can create a space where new audiences can be introduced to IF.
Teach with or about IF
A number of teachers have found IF useful in the classroom — either as a way to introduce new subject matter, or because writing IF is itself an educational process. Some resources related to this are available from the Inform website, the Quest website, and from various blogs on planet-if.
Support IF projects on Kickstarter
Several IF or IF-related projects have been successfully Kickstarted. Contributing to these projects can help get new games off the ground, or create new distribution channels for those that already exist. (Here is my Kickstarter profile, if you want to get notification of IF-related kickstarter projects I hear of.)
Share IF with readers and players in your other communities
The interactive fiction community is not huge, and it needs occasional fresh blood to keep things interesting and prevent stagnation. If you’ve got friends you think might be interested in IF, you can share your hobby with them; or you might want to build a website, mention IF on other threads or internet fora where you think someone might be interested, or submit works to more general-interest game competitions or digital media exhibits.
Fortunately, over the last several years a number of websites and blogs have sprung up specifically to cover indie games, and some of them are interested in IF. JayIsGames, GameSetWatch, The Independent Gaming Source, Play This Thing!, and (very very occasionally) Joystiq all run reviews of IF from time to time, mixed in with their reviews of other game styles. Different sites have different policies about suggestions and outside reviews, but if you want to contribute to one of these places or to a similar site, it may be worth contacting the site management. If you do submit something, familiarize yourself with the kinds of games that the site otherwise promotes and try for an appropriate style. JayIsGames, for instance, promotes casual games to a wide audience, while Play This Thing! focuses on serious games and gives them edgier write-ups. A short but highly polished puzzle game might be better targeted to JayIsGames; a long game or a literary-IF work with controversial content might be more suitable for PtT. (There is often some overlap, of course.)
Another fruitful approach is to cross over into specific other groups. People who might not frequent indie game forums or be that interested in IF in general might be intrigued by it if it explores a particular topic or setting that they’re into. Peter Nepstad has had a fair amount of luck selling his game 1893 to Chicago history buffs, many of whom have never heard of IF before; similarly S. John Ross has written Treasures of a Slaver’s Kingdom for fans of a setting he’d already introduced in RPG format. This is easiest to do if you’re an IF author who is part of another fandom or interest group and can target your work for that group, obviously.