Does anyone else ever overestimate average IF knowledge?

Naturally under the pressure of actually coming up with it I’m stumped (fellow olds, help me out: I’m thinking of the article that leads with something like “If it’s 1 AM, it must be Zork” but searching along those lines is not taking me anywhere useful.) There’s this Time Magazine article from 1983 but that’s definitely not the one I’m thinking of.
(edit update: JTN found it, I am conflating a big Washington Post article with a weekly magazine article)

I mean. A median Gen Xer would have been elementary-school aged when the Fancy Apple II Oregon Trail Most Normies Think Of came out in 1985. Someone 10 years old in 1985 could easily be a grandparent by now.

I’m not so sure about this. The oldest Gen Xer is pushing 60, which means they were finishing up high school at a time when many if not most public schools had a number of student-accessible computers ranging between zero and five. There’s a sweet spot of “computers are common in many schools, but there’s not a lot to do on them” which you start to get later into the 80s.

Also keep in mind that some people just don’t cling to the details of things they did ~40 years ago as much as some of us do. As a case in point, a (younger) friend had fond but extremely hazy memories of playing a submarine-themed text adventure* in her youth but recalled essentially no details other than that it existed. So even if someone had exposure to (let’s just keep saying) Zork at some point, it’s not like you can go up to them and say “Kinda like finding a nasty knife, a sack lunch, and a bottle of water in an abandoned house, know what I mean?” and expect them to have the first idea what you’re talking about.

* (We eventually worked out that it was Softside Nuclear Sub Adventure)


I’ve no memories here, but rummaging through infocom/articles/ on the IF Archive, that sounds like the 1983 Washington Post article “Through the Zorking Glass”:

If it’s 2 in the morning, this must be Zork. Not even Ted Koppel can keep the nation up so late – or so long, with an average play-time of 30 hours.

(Other articles there in what I vaguely understand to be quite prominent USian publications: TIME as you mentioned, Newsweek, the Boston Globe. But I’m not from the US so I might have the wrong impression.)


Not really. I’ve always kind of been wary that my personal interests and knowledge are not common. I usually preface things with, have you ever seen/read/heard ___? …and then determine how to progress with a topic. Sometimes I abandon the topic all together if what I want to share wouldn’t even compute.

I vividly remember playing Oregon Trail though. Fantastic game! :slight_smile:


You know your peers better than we/I do, but, given what we’ve batted around here (and we haven’t even mentioned the wave of “YOU HAVE DIED OF DYSENTERY” pixelart t-shirts that went around on major retailer racks in recent years, etc.) is it just possible that everybody in that orbit is too cool to admit that they know perfectly well what Oregon Trail is?

(Or is it true what the cultural/media critics imply and the constant wash of short-form video content shoves any reference more than 36 hours old out of one’s brain? Or–)


It’s not really relevant to the conversation anymore, but my earlier poll closed, with 40 votes, shows 20% of voters had played the 6th place IFComp game from 3 years ago:

so I was off by a factor of 2!


One of my friends put “Beware of the Grue” on the whiteboard at their IT company. Only one colleague understood the reference. The people who missed the reference included two gamers who had been gaming since Zork was new.

I know that if I talk to someone about my visual novel work, there’s a 50% chance the first question will be “What’s a visual novel?” and many of the other 50% don’t know the names of any others. Calling it “interactive fiction” or even “a text-based game” would not improve the situation.


This one’s interesting to me. For context I’m in-between the millennials and gen-z.

In elementary school some of the classrooms still had the old macs that actually ran Oregon Trail. I remember being jealous that I never got to try it because all the other kids mobbed to play it first.

I haven’t played Oregon Trail with fresh eyes but I’m still aware of it’s place in history. And I wouldn’t be surprised if other folks my age are aware of it too. But one thing that I realized is that my initial awareness of the game may be because my old school is in a privileged area and probably had the budget to buy those old computers in the first place.

But I wouldn’t be surprised if someone does know about it. 1 or 2 years ago a friend gave me his copy of the Oregon Trail card game that they sell at Target.

And to answer your question: No, because no one I ever talk to knows about IF save for an extreme minority of older white guys who remember playing the Infocom games and younger members of the queer community who enjoy playing obscure games.

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In my experience most people who are “into games” are aware of some Twine games, which they just call “Twine games”, and Zork etc. as just “early computer games” in a kind of linear evolutionary trajectory where games without graphics got surpassed by more advanced technology. The notion of “interactive fiction” as a distinct genre or body of work that is still going and is not just a few games with a retro text parser gimmick seems to be completely alien to almost everyone I know, including game studies scholars. Whenever I use the term people nod but seem to think it means either Twine games or electronic literature (in the vein of afternoon, Patchwork Girl etc.)


To the people old enough to have played parser games when they were popular: how many others in your age group, do you think, know/can play parser IF?


In my age group? Practically no one. In the 1980s, very few people owned a personal computer. Those that did played arcade games. Let’s face it, no one went to an arcade to play a text adventure.

So text adventures were always a niche.

As people grew up and personal computers became the norm, both at work and at home, both text adventures and arcade games got better and better, but all the new users played arcade games, puzzles, simulations and god knows what else, while text adventures languished in their own little niche. Authoring tools became better and more common, some dominating the market while others fell into obscurity. Over 40 years later and nothing has changed.


The popular Dungeons & Dragons kids used to relentlessly harass the text adventure nerds back then… but that’s why text adventure players are so tough and don’t take no shit from nobody.


(Sorry I’m late to the party.) I love that comic! 'Fraid I’ve never heard of ‘The Oregon Trail’ (except that actual Trail).
(Lazily replying to someone else’s comment here) I’ve played Zorks I, II, and III but I think the Enchanter series is much better.


for sure in Creative Cooking I overestimated the convention “stock response = don’t care about this”…

Best regards from Italy,
dott. Piergiorgio.


I’ve never yet met another gamer (in real life, at least) who has heard of Twine before I tell them about it. I suspect your “most people who are into games” may already be a pre-selected group. The sort of gamer who buys for the PS/XBox/Switch doesn’t know Twine from a ball of string :slight_smile:

Now, they might know a game made in Twine without knowing it was made in Twine, I guess.


Perhaps now that the Gaming Historian, most of whose previous documentaries have been about classic Nintendo games and peripherals, has made a video about The Oregon Trail (both the original and the second edition), the name recognition will improve.

If not, I suppose I will have to find another way to tell people I belong to the Oregon Trail generation.