Categories of Interactive Fiction?

I am planning to create a website about Interactive Fiction, which will cover parser-based text adventures, gamebooks and interactive novels.

However, I am having a little trouble deciding on the exact terms to use for categorising the different types of works available.

For example, I’m a little confused about the distinction between the terms “choice-based” and “hypertext-based” as used in the IFWiki Engine List. I’m also a little vague on the differences between “gamebooks” and “solo RPGs”.

Are there any websites explaining the differences? How do people choose which terms to search or browse for when they want to find a particular type of IF?

I believe the engine list makes a distinction between having clickable words inside the main story text (hypertext) and having the choices as a list after the story text (choice-based).

Hypertext (“east” and “west” are clickable):

You are in a forest. Paths lead east and west.


You are in a forest.

  1. Follow the path east
  2. Follow the path west

From the player’s perspective the distinction isn’t very important, I don’t think there are many players who specifically want to play one type but not the other. In practice when people talk about choice-based games it covers both of those.

I’m not as familiar with gamebooks but I’d assume that “gamebook” refers to a physical book (“If you follow the path east, turn to page 42”) or a digital game that emulates a physical gamebook. Gamebooks may or may not have RPG elements.


@Juhana 's description of hypertext and choice-based is pretty good, but there’s one missing element: Choice-based games tend to focus more on story than exploration, whereas hypertext can go either way, though they generally lean towards exploration. This is mainly due to the fact that hypertext games tend to have shorter pages (usually just a screen worth), because it’d be annoying to have many pages of text and then have to scroll to the top to click a link to look at an object or whatever. Choice-based games don’t shy away from many screens of text because their choices always follow the text.

Choice-based games and gamebooks are basically one in the same these days. Gamebooks generally refer to physical books where you track stats like health, money, and equipment, and you are sometimes required to roll dice (or some other way of choosing a random number) for success checks or battle. You’re also required to keep track of keywords that are given to you so that the story knows whether you made a previous choice or not. All of these things are handled behind the scenes in software choice-based games like those created with ChoiceScript, Ink, and Twine.

Actual gamebooks are still being created and released on platforms like Kindle though.


I think I understand now.

“Choice-based” and “parser-based” are both subcategories of “text adventure”. Text adventures are only available on electronic devices, as they keep track of the state of objects etc. for the player.

Gamebooks do not fall under the umbrella of “choice-based” as they can be available in paper or electronic book form. Keeping track of any objects is up to the player (possibly with the aid of dice, cards or pencil and paper).

Interactive novels are also not classed as “choice-based” as they too can be available in paper or electronic book form. There are no objects or score to keep track of and the emphasis is on story rather than gameplay.

My confusion arose from thinking that “choice-based” was a subcategory of interactive fiction, rather than of text adventure.

I’m still not certain of the differences between a gamebook and a solo RPG though.

Choice-based isn’t very much like parser text adventures. I’d put it under the interactive fiction category since they rarely have puzzles and are usually story-focused.

Basically hypertext games have their links (or actions, if you want to think of them that way) dispersed throughout the page, whereas choice-based games have them neatly collected at the end of the page in a series of “What will you do now?” choices (like a typical CYOA story). This formatting lends hypertext to being more exploratory like text adventures and choice-based more story heavy like interactive fiction. But just like with parser games, the lines between text adventure and interactive fiction can blur and its really up to the author which one they choose to create with that format.

I never really played a solo RPG, but my understanding is that solo RPGs are single-player targeted campaigns for a pen&paper system like D&D. You use the rules provided in its own separate official rule book to go through an adventure on your own. It’s pretty similar to a gamebook in this regard (although gamebooks provide their own rules for that book and are generally not very complex), but solo RPGs tend to be really light in story and gamebooks can be pretty story heavy with well-defined characters and multiple story paths and endings.

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I don’t think most of that is right.

Given these terms:

  • Text adventure
  • Adventure games
  • Interactive fiction
  • Text-based
  • Choice-based
  • Parser-based
  • Hypertext
  • Point-and-click adventures
  • Gamebooks
  • Interactive novels
  • Solo RPGs

And these characteristics:

  • The game is exclusively/primarily text
  • Exploring a place
  • Exploring a tree of possibilities
  • Solve puzzles to win (or to unlock the next part of the game)
  • Allocate resources to win
  • Get lucky to win
  • It feels like you’re playing a story
  • The story has multiple endings (or at least multiple variations)

Adventure games are games where you explore a place (like a dungeon) and solve puzzles to win. They usually allow you to pick up items in your inventory and use them to solve puzzles. Adventure games trace their lineage back to the game Adventure (aka Colossal Cave).

Text-based games are exclusively/primarily text. Text adventures are text-based adventure games.

Some text adventures feel like you’re playing a story, with lots of narrative events that unfold as you play; others have little or no story at all. Some text adventures have multiple endings, others have a fixed story that never changes (except maybe you can fail/die, but those failure/death endings aren’t the “real ending.”) Colossal Cave has little or no story.

“Interactive fiction” is the broadest term, though sometimes people like to debate about what’s “truly” interactive fiction. Usually IF games are at least text-based, but some people use “IF” to refer to any game with multiple story variations, including games with little/no text at all. Some people have argued that “interactive fiction” implies (or should imply) an emphasis on story, and especially multiple endings/variations, and so text-adventures with little/no story aren’t “living up to the name” of interactive fiction. (IMO, debate about what’s “really” interactive fiction is not helpful, and just serves as gatekeeping.)

In parser-based games, you type in commands; the game parses your input. In choice-based games, you take actions by clicking on options, often whole sentences (“open the door”).

In the old Choose Your Own Adventure books, there was often no way to guess which options would lead to victory and which would lead to failure. You were expected to explore the tree of possibilities, and find a lot of bad (failure) endings before you’d find a good (victory) ending. Finding a good ending on the first try was often pure luck.

We publish choice-based interactive novels at Choice of Games. Our games typically have little or no exploration. Once you choose an action, there’s no “back button” to undo. (Of course, you can play and replay to explore the tree of possibilities.) I would not describe them as “text adventures,” but I wouldn’t bother to “correct” anybody who described them that way.

In point-and-click adventure games, you solve puzzles by clicking on objects in the game to take actions on them. For example, you might click on a door to open it, or click on a key then click on a chest to unlock it, or click on a verb (“drink”) then click on a potion to drink it. Point-and-click adventures had their commercial heyday in the 90s. (Myst, Monkey Island.) Most of the most popular point-and-click adventure games are not text-based and would not self-identify as “interactive fiction.” Detectiveland is an award-winning text-based point-and-click text adventure.

Hypertext is a style where you click on words in the text. You can make all kinds of interactive fiction that way, including choice-based interactive stories with no puzzles, or point-and-click text adventures, or poetry where you turn the page by clicking on a word in a stanza.

Twine is overwhelmingly the most popular tool for developing hypertext interactive fiction. Hypertext has become culturally synonymous with “Twine games” and what Twine authors often do. Hypertext games are often exploratory, either exploring a space or exploring a tree of possibilities. Bogeyman includes a mix of clicking on actions to take and clicking on objects to explore a space.

Role-playing games (“RPGs”) is a vague term with some family resemblences. There is no one criterion or definition of RPG, but they tend to have character sheets with customizable numeric scores, opportunities to improve your scores during play, and randomized combat. You’d typically create a character sheet by allocating a limited pool of points.

The term “gamebook” has fallen out of fashion; it’s typically used to refer to paper or non-software books (e.g. PDFs and ebooks). There were a bunch of them in the 80s, especially including the Fighting Fantasy series, which asked the player to use paper, pencil, and dice. I would describe the Fighting Fantasy games as solo RPGs—they had character sheets, experience points, and randomized combat.


For me, defining game genres is not about gatekeeping, but rather about meeting player expectations.

If I were to visit a site called bestinteractivefiction dot com and every page was about Mario Kart clones, I’d be annoyed and leave.

If that same site actually had information on interactive fiction, but it was categorised badly, I’d be less annoyed but I would still be likely to leave as it would be difficult to find what I was looking for.

Fortunately, the site I’m planning will only cover text-based games, so I will not have to worry about where to place pages related to games like Myst or Monkey Island. However, it will (eventually) include information on text adventures with incidental graphics, such as the Magnetic Scrolls games.

I haven’t played any of the Choice of Games products, but from the screenshots on Steam they seem to have more in common with gamebooks than interactive novels.

I recently purchased several gamebooks and interactive novels for the Kindle, and the ones described as gamebooks generally had shorter text passages with more choices at the end of each one.

The term “gamebook” is still being used by authors on Amazon, mostly for works similar to Choose Your Own Adventure books, but also for those that require dice, cards and/or pencil and paper.


What’s an example of a major “interactive novel” in your mind?

Instead of categories, have you considered a tag system? I think that way works best for things like this where it’s difficult to decide if something is a text adventure or choice-based (quite a few parser games have choice-based dialogues or events in them). You could just give it a tag for both.


Dan: I’m not sure what you mean by “major,” but you can use the “look inside” feature on these Kindle books:-

Best of You Say Which Way
Strange Times on ZZyzx Road

I would consider both of those to be closer to being interactive novels than gamebooks.

Alice’s Nightmare in Wonderland is more like a gamebook, although from earlier posts it could also be classed as hypertext fiction.

tayruh: I’m not keen on using tags to replace categories. I would rather they sorted content in another way.

For example, if categories were used to sort by genre, then tags could be used to sort by format.

All: I’ve just had a thought. If text adventures were divided into “parser-based” and “choice-based,” would dividing other text books/games into “story-based” and “option-based” work?

This would help separate games/books with an emphasis on telling a story from those that emphasise giving the reader/player lots of choices about what happens next.

Friendly mod reminder: We don’t do “What is interactive fiction?” debates on this forum because it inevitably turns into a flame war! This entire discussion is fine, I just want to build a fence around the “What is interactive fiction?” question specifically.

Taking off my mod hat, I think the term “text adventure” doesn’t have a broad consensus around how it’s used… some people use it as synonymous with “interactive fiction” (the text adventures website has all sorts of things), some people reserve it for the more puzzley-less storyey end of things.

And “adventure game” has a huge spread, to the extent that the wikipedia entry claims that Half-Life 2 and Grand Theft Auto are action-adventures! Since you are only concerned with primarily text games you don’t really need to worry about that.

My personal take: I think interactive novels probably refers more to physical books, such as the branded Choose-Your-Own-Adventure titles, or something like House of Leaves or S which are nonlinear narratives that are read and interacted with in physical form with feelies or page-turns. And I think Gamebooks refer to more D&D style single-player modules that require stats, combat, and dice to play - which is further confused that there are electronic gamebooks now.

The main divisions I hear with regard to IF on the computer are parser based and choice based. Parser does not offer explicit choices, asking the player to type in commands, and Choice means the choices are displayed as hyperlinks, explicit choice options, perhaps with occasional text entry fields for customization. For definition purposes, I think of “hypertext” as a kind of choice-narrative. Your PDF television documentation manual with active links is “hypertext” but not fiction.

There is also a QBN or “quality-based narrative” which usually implies a random set of texts or passages (or ‘cards’) are available to the player based on a large set of qualities (variables) the player builds up. Prime example of QBN is Fallen London. You can think of QBNs like “Do you draw a random encounter from the Chance deck of cards or the Community Chest deck of cards?” in Monopoly, with the “quality” being what space player landed on, limiting the card they can draw to one deck or the other.

It’s hard to come up with standards for categories of IF, because many modern games are hybrids of different types. A Visual Novel is a choice-narrative, but usually tracks relationships like a QBN.


We pretty much exclusively use the term “interactive novels” to describe our products at Choice of Games. Our games typically have:

  • lots of text: our games run from 100,000 to 600,000 words; a single playthrough is typically ~30% of that length
  • a strong emphasis on characters and plot
  • a significant variety of endings and mid-game variations
  • resource allocation / optimization challenges
  • little or no “early deaths,” so even if you fail all of the optimization challenges, you’ll still have a substantial playthrough with a satisfyingly tragic ending
  • little or no free exploration of any kind (except exploring a tree of possibilities on subsequent replays)
  • little or no randomness

When you play our games, you feel like you’re playing a novel.

Our games feel very little like Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, which are exploratory, light on story, and heavy on randomized combat. They’re not even close to puzzley parser-based text adventures, except that they’re text-based.


And of course there are always hybrid games, like


Which is like a parser game in structure and design, with the only difference that there is no text entry, only buttons (interestingly enough, I believe that the engine converts the buttons to typed commands to run off a lower layer which is an actual parser system)

Or there’s

Superluminal Vagrant Twin

Which is made in a parser engine but relies on keywords you type in, making it functionally identical to systems like Twine.

And these aren’t just obscure examples; Detectiveland won IFComp and Superluminal Vagrant Twin won the XYZZY award for Best Game and has more ratings on IFDB than any other game since it came out.

I think classifying by programming language is one of the few classifications that actually makes sense (Inform/Choicescript/Twine/custom)


And that’s why classification is so hard. There are no exact niches. CS projects would be ‘choice, NOT hypertext, with elements of QBN, Gamebooks and Visual Novels, but with no graphics’…

So we eschew severe pigeonholing. If it’s fiction and interactive, it is probably IF.


That and the cheese rating of course.


No way! :smile:

But yeah, that’s why I don’t really recommend trying to fit things into neat little categories. In its infancy, you could generally do things like this with games (not just IF but all games), but these days nearly every game incorporates an elements of more than one genre to keep it fresh. Parser games are probably the most resistant to change (possible due to the target audience, but I have no idea), but they too can incorporate choice-based dialogue, combat, relationship systems, etc.

And so, this is why I suggested the tag method of categorizing. Steam and other places use this well. They have games listed by broad categories (“adventure”, “FPS”, “RPG,”, etc), but those categories are actually tags themselves and it’s very common for a game to be listed under more than one with a combination of “adventure” and “RPG”, for example.

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If I were an academic, the title of my thesis would be “Not IF but WEN”.
IRL I’m just an amateur but I currently think of my stuff as Web Enabled Narrative.

I do think the current taxonomy lacks a structure. The classification space is multi-dimensional. From the inside out:

  • What is the nature of the internal model; dungeon or dialogue

  • Single or multiplayer

  • Persistent or ephemeral world

  • Remotely or locally hosted

  • Strict or fuzzy interface (ie: point and click or parser)

  • Thick or thin client?

  • Proprietary or open source

I think this forum is one of the very few places in the world where this hypercube might be explored, mapped, colonised, and of course fought over :slightly_smiling_face:


You forgot “emphasis on action or story?” :wink:

Already a schism from the Unified Model :laughing:
Yup, I missed that one.

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