A choice-based interactive fiction syllabus

Hi Interactive Fiction friends,

I started writing a Twine game with a friend of mine who is a published fiction author and a biology professor. He is really into ethics, theology, birds, and evolution. We’ve thought of some weird and wonderful things to write about! Problem is, he wasn’t that familiar with IF. I decided to make a class for him that is kind of like a choice-based IF book club, with both craft and theory readings. I’m probably trying to do too much–I’m thinking of using Anna Anthropy’s Twine book as a textbook for the tandem twine tutorials.

Anyway, I have some good texts to ground my study of choice-based IF, but I know that my knowledge of the “canon” is limited. The theme of our game idea is cyberpunk and sci-fi, so it’ll be good for us to know what else is out there, but at the same time, I want to show the cool breadth of subject material that Twine games have. If it strikes you as interesting, could you take a look at my initial notes, especially the “ideas for other games to read closely”? I would love to hear suggestions for how to group games in ways that help both theoretical and craft discussions, and also for crucial theoretical texts (I have read things like Hamlet on the Holodeck and Ergodic Literature, but I’m not sure how much of it is really relevant for writing).

(I’m posting this right as I’m expecting to be really busy with family stuff for a few days but I’m looking forward to seeing your suggestions!)


Choice of Robots isn’t a time cave. That game uses lots of statistics to keep track of things and allows for delayed branching (so a choice earlier can affect something later, without having to mess with the structure in between).

You can see their pattern in the post here

For a pretty good time cave, maybe You Will Select a Decision

Will think about more to put.


There are also Twine games that have more of a parser-like feel, with a bit of a world model: maybe a good fairly short example of this is Agnieszka Trzaska’s Plasmorphosis, a little humorous sci-fi game about a plucky robot explorer.

Weird biology sci-fi makes me think of Bitter Karella’s Toadstools though I don’t know how much it actually fits.

I was going to suggest Jacq’s The Fire Tower (and Aaron Reed’s article about it) as a linear nature game with a strong sense of place, but of course that’s a parser piece. The article might be worth reading anyway.

Weird and long, maybe furkle’s SPY INTRIGUE?

And for theoretical texts, there are two approachable 8-page papers that I always go on about… Stacey Mason and Mark Bernstein’s On Links; Exercises in Style takes a brief piece of text and demonstrates a whole bunch of different ways to break it up and connect it with links. And Susana Pajares Tosca’s A pragmatics of links explores a theoretical basis for how readers interpret and interact with links (I recorded a quick reading of the three main sections a while back for a friend who prefers audio…).


Ok, here’s a full list of 12 in the sequence I’d do. Feel free to take or ignore what you’d like. I put in two historical pre-Twine games, there’s a lot more out there of that nature but for this kind of survey it is ok just to get a feel for it

You Will Select a Decision

(very light and fun time cave, and it’s a lot harder to write a good time cave than you might think)

Choice of Robots
(you have)

Depression Quest
(you have)


(much different formal structure, this is a wiki for an imaginary TV series and things get weird and mysterious as you explore)

The Absence of Miriam Lane
(very recent, vibes close to an adventure game, just fantastic writing)


(See how to download in the comments. Use the Sorceror version. The very first choice-based computer game I know of. You don’t have much space for pre-Twine history but I squeezed in a little.)

Neon Haze

(I’m putting this instead of Howling Dogs, just seems like it’ll hit your interests more and I think Porpentine’s later stuff is better just in a craft/writing sense)


(repeating Josh’s recommendation, it is good, just go in unspoiled)

Queers in Love at the End of the World

(you have only 10 seconds, interesting formal experiment)


(not actually Twine! but choice-based in a way that feels like that, with novel use of footnotes)

Flight from the Dark
(one more historical pre-Twine – this is a gamebook from 1984, the first of the long-running Lone Wolf series, includes dice rolling and stats, good for getting a sense of the design of this kind of thing, can play well entirely online)

Creatures Such As We
(you have)


oh, right you are! Choice of Robots isn’t a time cave. I changed that on the page (you may have to force-refresh). After thinking about it, I was less and less sure that Creatures Such As We is a gauntlet… it’s more of a sorting hat situation? I think I need to play it again.

I’ve been trying to figure out why Choice of Robots feels so different from many other Choice games I’ve played. I found this interview where Kevin Gold talked a little more about his design:

Like Robots, this is an especially long game with some very diverse branching at the end. Tell me a little bit about the structures there.
Many games drive endings with variables, but I drive which climax you get with variables! Each of the five magic schools has a big disaster associated with it, and each resolution of each disaster leads to a very different ending. The disasters aren’t entirely decided by your ability scores—it’s more like they’re decided by events that are themselves triggered by your decisions to use magic in particular ways.

I think it could be worthwhile to look at the various triggers authors use in their games. I know how to look at a Twine game from the web in Twine. It looks like there is a way to look at the source code for Choice of Games games… hmmm… that might be a project for another day.

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Just be cautious to not focus overly much on structure! For one thing, the original Ashwell classifications work fine on strictly node based content but start to fall apart a little when statistics are involved (they allow structures too complicated to really graph by hand if you wanted to “convert” a game to nodes).

Second, at least one item I put on this list isn’t exactly stat based but also doesn’t follow any of the structures.

Third, a couple of the categories (like “Quest” or “Open Map”) have the category do a lot of heavy lifting on something where there are lots of subtleties. (Kadath for example has a pretty open map, but does a trick with its navigation which throws player navigation for a loop; someone might think they are going to node 4 when they actually are going to node 6.)

Now, I still absolutely would include them in your thought process, but please don’t get hung up on them either in the analysis.


Awesome to see a course syllabi. I love reading these syllabi in order to get a sense of what’s introductory and necessary in the field; it’s how I got into my own research field.

My personal recommendations would be:

Open Sorcery
This is a polished Twine game that stays faithful to text adventure games and still taps on what makes Twine such an interesting engine. Not only does it exercise the imagination (programming as magic!) but the structure and QOL are really worth investigating.

Another modern Twine classic that will definitely appeal to young audiences, it has very strong mechanics that make it easy to figure out where you need to go.

This title’s structure is very tantalizing and interesting as a choice-based work.

I echo people recommending this game. It’s long and hefty, but it’s doing a lot of neat choice-based mechanics that would excite the analytical spirit within students. Easily a good example of ergodic literature as well.

The Archivist and the Revolution
I think college students will be able to relate to this dystopian title and it’s got a refined structure that encourages exploration and replay.

Repeat the Ending
Since you brought up ergodic literature, I think this text adventure game will be worth bringing up. It’s not choice-based, but it is about reading academic and intfiction discourses. There’s even a parody of Porpentine’s Twine manifestos that’s worth chewing on. This could be brought up in the final days of the course since it requires some IF theory knowledge.


Ahhh thank you for the suggestions, I have so much stuff to play! I’ve been updating my “syllabus” as I go (we’ve already started to discuss the games). You can see my list of ideas for units and the games that could go with them here. I’m curious if there are other interactive fiction adaptations of literary works other than 80 Days. I’m sure there are, I am just having a hard time finding them, but I found a few adaptions in visual novel form, like Animal Farm and The Cherry Tree.

I found that playing a game more than once is really instructive about how the game is structured. More of the narrative design is “revealed” on subsequent playthroughs.

One thing that I’m not as confident about is the “classics” of the secondary literature. Emily Short has a “further reading” section in her entry on Interactive Fiction in The John Hopkins Guide to Digital Media, and I am pretty good at finding stuff, but sometimes it’s difficult to relate the theoretical readings to the games themselves.


When it comes to parser interactive fiction, I only know of Peter Nepstad’s Tales of Wonder adaptations of Lord Dunsany’s works, The Hobbit, Infocom’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Shogun.

There’s definitely more in the realm of visual novels at least.


True! I think that might be an issue of literary theory/criticism more broadly: it’s a pretty rare for a literary theory essay to readily connect with a text and open it up. I see you already have the 50 Years of Text Games entries linked for the games that are covered in that project. I was going to recommend that as a really great example of scholarly/critical essays that make good connections to the game and really help readers to see the game in a new way.

I suspect this book is mentioned in Short’s entry on Interaction Fiction for the Guide to Digital Media, but I do really like Nick Montfort’s book, Twisty Little Passages. He makes a great theoretical argument about how interactive fiction can be seen in the literary tradition of the riddle, bringing in examples from medieval literature through to the present to establish a deep historical context. I find the argument compelling, and I think this framework provides a really generative way for looking at IF. Montfort focuses a lot on Infocom stuff, but also touches on some indie IF from the 90s. I recommend checking it out!


I saw on your syllabus AI / cyberpunk. Circuit’s Edge is a graphical IF written as a follow-up to the novel When Gravity Falls (and I believe author George Alec Effinger worked with the game developers on the storyline). It was an interesting experiment in video games providing a pseudo-canonical story in a preexisting universe.


The other parser adaptations that I know of:

There are of course various sequels, spin-offs, pastiches, etc. out there too.

EDIT: oh and duh, there’s The King of Shreds and Patches if you count adaptation of a tabletop RPG scenario.


Anybody mentioned Infocom’s Arthur? That’s a good one - my personal favourite game (though you’ll need Frotz and the blorb file to play it). Oh and Sherlock, but I’ve never finished that one.

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