From Story Papers to CYOA: An Interview with Demian Katz on VuPop

In case you missed it, Villanova University hosted VuPop, a conference on interactive fiction featuring some great speakers discussing everything from gender in historical fiction to bioethics awareness. Demian Katz discusses the conference, noting the highlights and reflecting on what went well and future possibilities.

Why Villanova University? What is the brief history of VuPop?

VuPop started in 2013 after a forgotten collection of dime novels was rediscovered in the basement of Villanova University’s Falvey Memorial Library. This seemed like a good excuse to begin a series of events highlighting interesting areas of popular culture worthy of deeper academic study. The second year’s topic was chosen as gamebooks simply because it happens to be my area of expertise; next year’s will look at 3-D technology in entertainment to tie in to the installation of a CAVE system in the library.

What were some of the highlights from VuPop?

Attendees at VuPop were rewarded for their travels with some nice give-aways courtesy of ChooseCo and Tin Man Games – not bad for a completely free event. Some of the day’s presentations offered solid overviews of several areas of interactive fiction: gamebooks, electronic adventure games, and visual novels. The remainder were either inspirational – Chris Liu’s talk on special considerations for writing interactively, and Randy Cook’s reflections on the power of the form – or more specialized – Rebecca Slitt’s look at handling gender in historical interactive fiction, and David Perlman’s discussion of utilizing interactive fiction for educational purposes, specifically in the area of bioethics. Many talks prompted some good audience questions, and all had something interesting to offer both the veteran and the newcomer. This was capped off with a live reading of my new gamebook, The Groom of the Tomb, which went a long way toward reassuring me that the book is actually fun to play, and an informal game night that offered opportunities for attendees and speakers to get to know each other better. Given the extremely specialized nature of this event, it’s unlikely that Villanova would ever repeat it – but I’d love to see something similar happen again in another venue.

The schedule of events mentions a Special Collections Tour. What did that involve?

Since some people were traveling some distance to the event, we wanted to extend our hospitality for an extra day to those who were interested. Thus, we offered the option for people to get a tour of the library’s Special Collections department, where we keep all of our rarest materials. We don’t have much in the way of interactive fiction (the IF exhibit currently on display in the library for the summer term comes largely from my personal collection), but many of our other popular culture materials help show the evolution of genres that eventually became interactive. It’s hard to look at a turn-of-the-20th-century children’s story paper without seeing many of the same themes that would populate the Choose Your Own Adventure books a century later. To demonstrate the library’s digitization efforts, we also gave a tour of our scanning lab, where we scanned an issue of “Happy Days” (one of the aforementioned story papers) which is now available online: http://digital.library.villanova.edu/Item/vudl:351596

How did you feel about how VuPop went? What was done well, and what do you think could be improved?

I was extremely pleased with the content of VuPop, and I really enjoyed meeting the various people who attended. My biggest disappointment is simply that we didn’t get as many attendees as I would have hoped – we could have accommodated a great many more. Obviously this is a function of timing and location – an event in the city and/or on the weekend would likely have been a greater draw – but I hope that the online video has allowed a wider audience to enjoy at least some portions of the event.

Anything else that you’d like to add?

As of this writing, you can still watch the afternoon sessions through the “streaming now” link at http://vupop.org, and I’m working to get these videos (plus recordings of the morning) available more permanently somewhere. Stay tuned for more details!

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