Interactive Text

Our kids are no strangers to computer games. While we’re very selective about what they play, and limit their computer time to about half an hour a day, their world at school and the world they’re growing up into is being shaped by computer-based media.

At home, they’re playing with Minecraft, Kerbal Space Programme, Into Space, Light Bot and Scratch. Each has some level of educational merit; due to playing Minecraft our kids have asked questions about and shown an interest in coal, ore, or even animal husbandry. The games span a variety of genres – from first person experiences, to flight simulation, to arcade, logic puzzles and programming. They’re rich in colour and art – which of course makes them appealing, as well as competitive in a modern computer games market.

But it got me thinking – there is a type of game kids aren’t really exposed to today: text adventures. Games where the story’s special effects are formed in the player’s mind. They were popular thirty years ago – but quickly died out as the computer entertainment industry grew.

I wanted to introduce our seven year old to this game type. But at his age, something like Zork would be, well, too much. He needed something much simpler.

So I put together a very simple text adventure in Ruby, in which he’s in his room, smells smoke and has to get out of the house. It’s just a maze – there’s nothing really to do but enter in compass directions and try and leave the house – and there’s only five ‘rooms’.

There were no graphics, no art. Just white text on a black background. He had to read the story and make decisions based on what he read. And sure enough, a minute or two later, he’d reached the end. His reaction: “That was awesome!”

Watching him get immersed in an interactive story was fascinating. The compulsion to keep playing was generated by his own reading and imagination. And it got me thinking – have we lost something along the way, with computer entertainment? Have we so diluted story and imagination with pretty pictures, that we’ve forgotten just how great these old games used to be?

I’m tempted to find out – either by writing another for him, or by exploring a site I just found (which saves me making my own!): Quest¬†appears to be free, and allows you to create your own text adventure and share it with others. I might just have to try it out on the seven year old again!


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