my secret hobby project revealed

I don’t mean to presume that you care, but some people are curious. If you are, here goes:

Many academics harbor a fantasy that perhaps one day they will write a novel. I used to be one of those, especially because I tend to see the professional environments I’ve been in as awesome mystery plots just waiting to happen. A nice thing about progressing through one’s thirties is that one comes to be more at peace with one’s limitations, and a limitation of mine is that any novel I wrote would suck. It would have a few good animating ideas, sentences, and bits of dialogue, but connecting them would be stretches that are weak, awkward, trite, and otherwise dismal. The end product would excruciating for even loved ones to read, and I’m fine with that.*

Yet I did greatly enjoy a short-short fiction class that I took a couple years ago. “Short short” being 250-1000 words.** With short short fiction, you can have a go at being clever, you don’t have to worry about the connective tissue between scenes that destroys the amateur novelist, and it’s basically done by the time you’ve concluded that it sucks.

As I’ve said before, I also enjoy computer programming. It’s what I would want to do full time if I couldn’t be a professor. I can spent hours engrossed in it, with a continual sense of the reward you feel when you are working out a puzzle. Debugging is tedious, of course, but even with that you get a sense of progress->progress->progress until finally something gets done.

My secret hobby project is the sedentary counterpart to chess boxing: putting together short fiction and computer programming.

If you were around in the 1980’s, remember all-text adventure games like Zork? Well, nobody does that for money anymore, but there is a thriving indie culture for “interactive fiction.” The games are shorter and more diverse, and in my opinion the best games are better than their for-profit predecessors.

Kind of like comics, only there are no drawings and you have to type stuff.

There is an annual contest. My secret hobby project is that I am working on a game for it. I am happy just that I will be completing an entry, as I feel I’m doing a bit toward reclaiming a creative side of myself that hasn’t been as satisfied by my job as I might like. But, as motivation, I have also officially set a goal of trying to finish eighth in this contest. In more exuberant moments, I revise this goal upward to fifth.

Most interactive fiction is sci-fi/fantasy, broadly defined. My game is not. There are no monsters, treasure chests, swords, dungeons, zombies, caves, spells, spaceships, or alien pirates (not that there is anything wrong with games featuring those). Instead, my game is about a graduate student who has a problem with his dissertation.

I have an alpha version, so this is neither vaporware nor a joke.

* One could write a sucky novel just for the joy of writing, I suppose, but, for me, initial writing enthusiasm would soon be undermined by awareness of ultimate suckitude that would lead then to loss of motivation and project abandonment.

** For example, there was a recent thread on this blog about hooking up at conferences, here was my (non-autobiographical) story about that.

Author: jeremy

I am the Ethel and John Lindgren Professor of Sociology and a Faculty Fellow in the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.

25 thoughts on “my secret hobby project revealed”

  1. There seems to have been a generational shift in the what’s-in-the-bottom-desk-drawer category. Used to be, everyone was writing a novel. The next generation (my guess is that the shift started in the 1970s) was working on a screenplay. Now it’s video games, and of course, there are no more desk drawers, just folders on the computer. I once knew people who fantasized about making it in Hollywood. Their younger counterparts imagine knocking the socks off Electronic Arts.


  2. Jeremy, in what language are you coding your game? TADS, Inform (or Z), Glux, or some other platform?

    [Corey.. demonstrating there are other sociological types with this geeky hobby].


  3. I hope the fact that I never once gave away (or sold to the highest bidder) your secret will serve as proof of my loyalty to our friendship!


  4. @Corey.5: Inform 7, compiling to Z(v8). It’s possible I could end up changing it to compile to Glulx. Part of the intrigue that led me to having a go was Inform 7’s natural language system.

    (Inform 7 maximizes the extent to which the statements you enter are simple English sentences. So like, “Corey is a person. Corey is in his office. Corey is geeky. Instead of examining someone who is geeky for the first time, say ‘No way! I thought I was the only one.'” is Inform 7 syntax.)


  5. I will definitely be looking for people willing to play the beta. I won’t be to the beta stage for quite awhile, though, especially with all this pesky ‘work’ I need to be doing.


  6. I play IF games on most of the platforms (though I prefer playing games that run on the WinFroz and TADS interpreters). Recently, I started goofing around with coding my own attempt in TADS. I was led to believe that the object model of Inform was more difficult than TADS. I’ll have to revisit that now.

    Not that this would ever actually work, but I’ve had fantasies of writing a “Classical Theory” game/exercise where students would interact and dialog with a virtual Simmel, Marx, Weber, Durkheim, Simon, or whatever. The player would need to use the thinker’s concepts to solve some puzzle. Corny, perhaps…

    Of course, my coding skills are such that I’m still at the stage that most of my dialog is plagued with guess-the-noun & guess-the-verb bugs.

    see… Geeky.


  7. @Corey.11: I didn’t try TADS, but I’ve become a regular reader of the IF programming usegroup and I’m pleased with my choice Inform 7. I could do stuff right away and have been steadily marching up a learning curve since. The Inform 7 community is also larger and so it seems questions about it are answered more swiftly and thoroughly.

    Some sociologist wrote a mystery novel about classical theory and had an ASA thing about it. Maybe two years ago.


  8. > root for jeremy

    Jeremy is not underground.

    > cheer jeremy on

    Cheer Jeremy on what?

    > quit

    You have not completed your grant proposal. Are you sure you want to quit? [Y/N]


  9. This just doesn’t seem all that nerdy after the list of possibles (including my own nerdy hobbies) were revealed. Count me in as a beta tester.


  10. I would love to beta test it as well.

    Well, it seems that none of us find this geeky at all. Rather, we find this awesome and entertaining. That either means that: (1) It’s not geeky;(2) You are the least geeky of all the geeks; or (3) You are the most prototypical group member whose height of geekdom we all aspire. Jeremy “King of the Geeks”?


  11. I have no idea why this is to be hidden, it’s actually very, very nerd cool and I hope to see it one day. I’d love to see it when you are done.

    As a side note, my father taught one of the first CS classes in his high school. I was thrilled when he brought home an Apple IIE and had me grade a Dungeons and Dragons text game that a student wrote as their project. The more fun and functional the game, the better the grade!


  12. Some sociologist wrote a mystery novel about classical theory and had an ASA thing about it. Maybe two years ago.

    Around 1980, Randy Collins gave up on academia for a while and wrote a Sherlock Holmes/Ludwig Wittgenstein mystery novel called The Case of the Philosopher’s Ring.


  13. …and the pendulum swings! can’t wait to hear about your win! ;-)

    btw, in reference to, “My secret hobby project is the sedentary counterpart to chess boxing: putting together short fiction and computer programming.”

    i keep wondering how one (or more of us with quantoid inclinations) could ‘capitalize’ on the booming Second Life economy by doing virtual-demographic estimates within the game – think virtual ‘fruit loop’ market studies!


  14. Thanks all, especially those who have offered to beta test. Expect a bleg sometime mid to late summer.

    Corey: I am desperate not to have any guess-the-verb/guess-the-noun problems, as the online reviews from past competitions seem to suggest that’s the quintessential rookie mistake.

    Kieran: I knew about Collins’s novel (that it existed, not what it was about). This was something different, from someone who I think was maybe at one of the California state colleges. My recollection is that it was supposed to take place in 1905.

    Sal: What’s a Fruit Loop marketing study?


  15. This was something different, from someone who I think was maybe at one of the California state colleges. My recollection is that it was supposed to take place in 1905.

    Yeah, I remembered this as well. I was just adding to the stock of examples.


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