Interactive fiction and learning (or I’m a Zork dork)

zork.jpgOk, I admit it. I’m a dork — in the kindest sense of the word. I love interactive fiction. Back in the day, I used to call them text adventures, but it appears that they have since upgraded their status. I can still remember the first time I played once of these games. I had a TI-99 4A computer (this was my second computer…my first was a Timex Sinclair 2068 – I did not remember the number until I looked up the image) and I had this game by Scott Adams called “Savage Island”. I had to load the game from a cassette recorder to the computer’s RAM to play it. Man, that game frustrated the heck out of me. I don’t think I ever made it very far in the game, but I loved playing it.

Interactive fiction is a game that contains no graphics, just text. For example, in “Savage Island” you are stranded on this island with little idea of what to do or how to do it. The game uses simple commands like ‘go volcano’ or ‘climb tree’ to interact with the world. Fun to explore and interact with. Eventually my TI-99 soon gave way to a Commodore 64, and I left “Savage Island” behind for the greener pastures of Zork, Trinity, and Leather Goddesses of Phobos. These are more complex text adventures with a form of interplay that was a bit smoother than the earlier adventures and with a bit of humor thrown in for the mix — these were made by Infocom.

Now that I’m all grown up (sortof…), I see tremendous potential for these games in education.

What I love most about these adventures is that they are similar to reading a book, but one you interact with. It is intrinsically satisfying when you figure out how to combine items to solve a problem, and when you discover new and unknown areas of the game. I think these would make a great practice, reward, or enrichment for students in middle or high school. They are free, available online, and combine reading, writing, and problem solving skills. What more could you ask for?

Below are two links for these games. There are loads of games at these sites, and they should get you and your students started. (Note that, like all online content, it is always good to play the games a little before allowing students to view them. Leather Goddesses of Phobos contains content of a sexual nature, so be forewarned on that one. The others are likely to be more innocent.)

There’s plenty here to keep a Zork dork like me happy for a long time. I’m disappointed, though, that I cannot find a game called ‘Trinity’ online yet. This one was fantastic. I’ll keep looking for it — hmm, all this hunting for an old game is like a…it’s like a real-life text adventure!

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1 Comment

Filed under educational technology

One response to “Interactive fiction and learning (or I’m a Zork dork)

  1. There’s a community of IF authors, gamers, and critics who are still developing the form. The parsers on the modern games are a lot more forgiving… you should try out some of the top-rated games on this site.

    http://www.wurb.com/if/genre

    http://www.wurb.com/if/rating/5

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