Interactive Fiction & Text-Based Games

Interactive fiction is text-driven games and stories most commonly associated with the dawn of the computing age and games like Zork. Depending on one’s definition, you might be able to stretch the category to include games like Nethack.

Today, it is a thriving sub-culture with new works being created by independent creators. The Interactive Fiction Database is a good way to find great games or genres. The Interactive Fiction Competition a good place to look for new works. For a gentle introduction, try one of the many guides available.

Play Now

The game 9:05, playable via the link, is a commonly referenced entry point to interactive fiction and is also used by English as a Second Language teachers to teach basic English vocabulary.

If you’d like to go old-school, some have been made playable in a web-browser. Want to play Zork without installing any software? Now you can.

Or, if you want to get a feel for these types of games but still want some graphics, try Nethack, a dungeon exploration game with permadeath which has recently been updated. Easy to learn to play, but very difficult to master. “Internet user needs food badly!” Best played cold, but it is also interesting to play if you read the spoilers.

The Waiting Game | ProPublica

“Based on the real case files of five asylum seekers from five countries and interviews with the medical and legal professionals who evaluate and represent them, The Waiting Game is an experimental news game that lets you walk in the shoes of an asylum seeker, from the moment they choose to come to the United States to the final decision in the cases before an immigration judge.”

The Waiting Game

The New 8-bit Heroes

“While visiting his parents’ home in Central New York, Joe Granato discovered a box of forgotten illustrations, designed by he and other eight-year-old neighborhood friends—concepts for a video game for the original 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System. He decided it might be fun to try to realize those ambitions.

But instead of creating it for a mobile device or modern console, he set out to use the same techniques and adhere to the same limitations that would have been employed in 1988 to make a new cartridge-based game actually playable on the now-archaic hardware.

Gathering a small team of modern creatives, what began as an explorative novelty project about building a video game for a system 30 years removed from relevance escalated to a two-year, ten-thousand-mile journey into an esoteric subculture made up of devotees to creating new NES games; artists who thrive on limitation.”

The New 8-bit Heroes

h/t Tedium.

The Game of Everything, Part 1: Making Civilization

“Why, we might ask, did Civilization turn out differently? A big piece of the reason must be Sid Meier’s unwavering commitment to fun as the final arbiter in game design, as summed up in his longstanding maxim of “Fun trumps history.” Meier, Bunten, and Crawford actually met on at least one occasion to discuss the games of everything they each had in progress. Crawford’s recollections of that meeting are telling, even if they’re uttered more in a tone of condemnation than approbation: “Sid had a very clear notion: he was going to make it fun. He didn’t give a damn about anything else; it was going to be fun. He said, ‘I have absolutely no reservation about fiddling with realism or anything, so long as I can make it more fun.’”

—Jimmy Maher, “The Game of Everything, Part 1: Making Civilization.” The Digital Antiquarian. March 16, 2018.

Interesting throughout.

Polybius: The Urban Legend of the Government’s Mind-Controlling Arcade Game

“Gamers who tried it couldn’t stop playing, and began acting oddly: they were nauseous, stressed, had horrific nightmares. Others had seizures or attempted suicide, many felt unable to control their own thoughts. It was only later that they recalled how Polybius was serviced more often than other games. Men in black suits opened the machine every week, recorded its data, and left, with no interest in its coins. Soon after it appeared, the mysterious arcade game vanished without warning—taken by the men in black suits, leaving no record of its existence.

That’s the story, at least. This legend is one of the big unsolved mysteries of the gaming world, though most concede that the game never existed…”

—Natalie Zarrelli, “The Urban Legend of the Governments Mind Controlling Arcade Game.” AtlasObscura.com. April 28, 2016.

Eclipse Phase

Eclipse Phase is a transhumanist, science fiction roleplaying game with anarchist tendencies. The second edition is currently in open play test (read: free)  on Drivethrurpg.com. In an interview, Rob Boyle, one of the creators of the game, describes how politics can drive story and serve up critiques of technology. I particularly liked this quote:

“[There is a] cyberpunk maxim that the street makes its own uses for things, meaning that even technology deployed for purposes of control is often subverted and repurposed…”

—Rob Boyle, “Interview: Eclipse Phase – The anarchist RPG.” freedomnews.org. October 29, 2017.

A Mortician’s Tale

“Why was it so striking, though? In its refreshing brevity, A Mortician’s Tale is eminently successful at what it sets out to accomplish. It’s wholly pleasant and always instructive, even in its mundane moments, which, in themselves, are educational. It pries open a less accessible life experience and gives players the opportunity to understand a real-world perspective that, likely, is quite unlike their own. It elicits dark feelings, but asks players to consider where those feelings came from and what makes them dark.”

—Cecilia D’Anastasio, “One of 2017’s Best Games is About Being a Mortician.” Kotaku.com. October 16, 2017.