Interactive Fiction

Interactive fiction. Or in other words, text-only video games.

Long, long time ago, where graphical user interfaces on computers are still science fiction, interactive fiction (IF) is the only way computers can provide entertainment. That, and regular fiction. Games like Zork and Colossal Cave Adventure are basically what PC games are. Nowadays, having “only able to display text” as a display limitation is simply laughable, and game graphics have advanced tremendously. Interactive fiction is now not an obligation due to technological limitations, but a choice.

And it is a weird choice, to be sure. No one plays a game expecting to read. I mean, I play games to kill large things, use weird weapons, pilot giant mechs, and wear silly hats. A lot of the appeal of video games today lies in the visual and audio aspect of it, which interactive fiction simply does not have. Gamers today expect many different things from games, but not many will expect to be reading for 98% of the game.

What interactive fiction does well over regular video games, however, is to create settings that the latter can’t.

Say, for a game, I want to create the following setting:

The world seems to have curled upon itself. The city has turned into a giant cylinder, and you can just barely see the city’s port port above you through the clouds. Ships dock at the port, suspended above your head as planes flew over you below them. With every step you take, the world seemed to curl upon itself just a little bit tighter, the ships, the port, and the sea edging towards you just a little more.

It is basically impossible to recreate this in a 2D game. It will be prohibitively expensive to create it in a 3D game and a nightmare to run. This is, however, ridiculously simple to create in an interactive fiction, since the reader’s mind conjures up the image after reading the text. In fact, I have already done so when I typed the above description out. The brain, after all, is a far more powerful processor than anything Intel can hope to produce.

I literally got on Twine just to make a cover image
I literally got on Twine just to make a cover image

It is also far easier to create small, one-off stories in it too. Say you have an interesting story narrative you want to try out, and the narrative is your only concern here. Creating an IF may be worth considering, as it is more-or-less built for this and nothing else. Sometimes, IF are used as a small bit of bonus content for other larger things, like the small game for Business Casual Man in Slap City.

There is no denying that interactive fiction is extremely niche as of now, in this age where 1080 HD is extremely common and text-based interfaces are basically non-existent to the average person. However, it is a niche worth exploring. The Interactive Fiction Database contains a large collection of interactive fiction, which has been rated by users. I will personally recommend trying out Eat Me, by Chandler Groover. It is what got me interested in the genre in the first place, and is an example of something weird and surreal.

One thought on “Interactive Fiction

  • March 11, 2020 at 5:51 am

    They’re super fun to write too! It really expands your brain to practise video game writing with a text-based adventure game, since they’re not that far off from Choose-Your-Own-Adventures.


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