I have been using game writing and narrative design for 10 years now; all this time, I’ve had students making parser-based interactive fiction games (a.k.a. text adventure games). One of the biggest challenges is for students to understand how these games work – they’re not a mainstream commercial genre any more. But I keep them on my syllabus because this genre teaches the foundations of story-driven games very well: how to tell stories through objects, establishing interactions, basic dialogue systems and AI for characters. On top of this the rise of intelligent agents like Siri, Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, and Microsoft’s Cortana — all of these parse spoken input instead of written. Turns out that this old-fashioned type of games still have a lot to teach us.
So my main hurdle is how to get students to play parser-based interactive fiction. The nice thing about the format is that there is so much out there that there’s a game for everyone. In the past, I used the collection put together by my friends at the People’s Republic of Interactive Fiction. It’s an exquisite selection, but there’s not a lot. My introduction to parser-based contemporary interactive fiction was a wide list of works, and I just picked and chose whatever sounded interesting. So I decided to make a larger, updated selection, so my students could find whatever they’re interested in. This list is not a canon – I’m not a fan of canons – but an invitation to find one’s own way into the world of parser-based interactive fiction.
What follows is a primer to understand the conventions of interactive fiction, alongside a collection of games to pick and choose from.
How to play Interactive Fiction
Interactive fiction (IF from now on) starts with text and then invites you to type what you want to do. The commands follow specific conventions, so you have to learn those first. Start by having a look at this quick cheatsheet. If you need more details, this old guide is still very handy.
There’s several ways in which you can play IF. You can do it on your browser directly – most of the links below include a link to a browser version of the game. Games can be as short as 30 seconds to more than an hour. For longer games, you may want to play them on your computer or even your phone to be able to save your game. In order to do that, you need to run an interactive fiction interpreter, which is a program that loads the game and plays it on the platform of your choice. The most reliable interpreter for modern platforms is Andrew Plotkin’s Lectrote.
One nice thing about IF is that If you want to play games on your phone or tablet while huddling under a blanket, you can! There’s interpreters for Android (Hunky Punk,
ZMPP Free,Fabularium) and iOS (Frotz).
Some of the games require to draw a map if you want to know where you are. So be sure to have pen and paper at hand to take notes.
The Interactive Fiction Collection
These are some recommended games, grouped in different categories to fit a variety of interests. You don’t need to play them all, though I’d start with the ones on top of the list and then explore the rest of the list based on your interests. Enjoy!
It’s better to play these once one’s familiar with IF.
These are Emily Short’s games based on traditional fairytales.
For some reason, all of the horror games that ended up in this collection are based / inspired by Lovecraft.
- Anchorhead (Illustrated version on Steam available here)
- Cragne Manor (homage to Anchorhead)
- The King of Shreds and Patches
- Slouching towards Bedlam
- Hunger Daemon
Science Fiction / Fantasy
Patanoir (also available on Steam and Android)
Weird and Wonderful
(a.k.a. Andrew Plotkin does his thing)
Hadean Lands (it’s a commercial game, so purchase it through http://hadeanlands.com)