A friend of mine is looking at doing an interactive fiction unit with his 6th, 7th, and 8th graders next year and wanted suggestions for tools and resources. Off the top of my head, I could think of Twine and possibly Playfic. What am I forgetting/ignorant of?
Inform 7 outside of Playfic. Vorple, Parchment, Quest.
Vorple is an extra layer of complexity. Probably not ideal for a beginner audience.
Joe Pereira uses IF to teach English as a second language, and has written quite a lot about introducing students to IF in that context. See his blog, and his Twitter also looks relevant.
Quest has been used successfully with that age group - a few examples at textadventures.co.uk/education/
We’re also setting up a new site activelit.com/ which will help with managing groups of students playing, creating and sharing interactive fiction - please sign up if you’re interested and we’ll let you know when this is ready (shouldn’t be too much longer now - got a number of groups keen to use it starting from September)
ADRIFT, maybe? It’s mostly menu-driven, right?
If your friend wants to do parser based stuff, Quest has to be the most approachable tool for a complete beginner. Twine is super easy too for CYOA, and the results are very visually appealing. Also, your friend is awesome. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’m so damn jealous of these kids getting to make IF in school!
I’ve been doing some IF teaching in my role as a teaching artist at a children’s museum, which means that I’ve mostly done either casual drop-ins or sign-up workshops which end up essentially being drop-ins because members of the public are flaky. Nothing makes the kids stay there (and the rest of the museum is pretty tempting to them), and I often only have one at a time, so I’ve given up on structured lessons in favor of a more “dive right in” approach.
In my experience, 10-year-olds (5th graders) are generally at the cusp for typing skills: most can do it, but slowly, and often with a lot of typos that they’re not very good at catching. Typos are, of course, the bane of programming. Older than that is incrementally more likely to be able to type at a satisfying-to-them speed, but not necessarily any better at typos. Younger than that is probably not going to happen, and we just show them Scratch instead.
Some experiences with specific systems:
-Inform has been been great for the kids who have longer attention spans, though I usually end up doing the actual typing of the code for them and of course inserting a lot of translation into Informese. When we do Inform stuff, I usually teach them in the downloaded IDE because it’s fast and has easy access to the documentation (not for their sake, but for mine), but if they’ve completed a game they’re proud of, I might put it on our Playfic page. Either way, I’ll send the parents home with URLs for Inform 7, Playfic, and the IFDB. (I ended up playing through a large chunk of Lost Pig with one visitor after she wrote some of her own code, and emailed her Parchment saved game when she had to leave for the day.)
-Twine has been better in terms of bugs for those on-the-cusp typists, and the choice-based format makes more immediate sense to the kids than parsered IF does. We’ve still had a lot of problems with having to title each passage with the exact string they made the link with (lots of spurious spaces/punctuation), and I’ve also gotten some pushback on the barebones visual style of the Twine editor. (Kids these days, amirite?) These two things have lead me to strongly consider…
-Inklewriter. I haven’t tried Inklewriter on the kids yet, but I’m drafting a workshop that will take place in a couple of weeks. I like that Inklewriter hosts the games online, like Playfic, so they can show off to their friends. And the interface is certainly visually appealing. So I’m optimistic.
-Ren’Py. I’ve never written anything beyond the basic tutorial code in Ren’Py, but we get a lot of middle-school-aged kids who say that they’ve been learning Python in their tech classes, so I sometimes mention its existence, or show them the tutorial code. Also, this happened.
I wish we could give karma, because great answer tove!
Maga, thanks for the plug! Unfortunately, I just noticed that a recently updated plugin had messed up my permalinks, so navigation on the site was impossible. It’s fixed now in case anyone wants to give the site a second chance. I am in love with the idea of using Inform 7/Playfic with my students, but I would have to agree with Mostly Useless (and Alex, of course) that at this point, Quest/textadventures.co.uk may well be the easiest way to get young students to create complex (ie. with implemented object interaction/puzzles) parser-based games. It does get a bit complicated, but even what they are able to come up without too much help is simply amazing. I’ll have a blog post on the case study up soon.
Thanks for awesome infos, guys! Turns out my friend wants to get into ESL (who knew? I didn’t) so this was super special relevant even.