Several months ago I listened to a number of interviews with Jon Ingold of Inkle Studios, which produced the commercial interactive fiction games 80 Days and Heaven's Vault, as well as others I haven't played. In one interview Ingold commented that he likes writing interactive fiction compared to standard fiction because with interactive fiction he doesn't have find the most compelling form of a story or scene, he gets to explore many possible versions.
I like the idea, but so far I haven't been able to do it. Any time I try writing interactive fiction I branch so quickly that the possibility space explodes and I have more branches than I know how to manage. After writing the previous post, however, I realized that part of the problem might also be that a lot of my training and practice have been to do exactly what Ingold doesn't have to: finding the most compelling version of something.
"Compelling" isn't a word I often use in an aesthetic context, but I have a feel for what it means. Dictionary.com defines it as a "force or push toward a course of action; overpowering" and "having a powerful and irresistible effect; requiring acute admiration, attention, or respect".
Ingold used the word "compelling" to talk about prose, and I've heard it used for other arts, such as visual media and musical composition, but I'm now realizing that it also applies to technical disciplines. What is the concept of mathematical elegance except another way of saying an expression or idea is compelling? It makes people want to do something with it. The same goes for well-written code. When people see good code, they want to use it, to extend it or emulate it elsewhere.