IF and text adventures

I’m aware that it seems to be more common to classify text-based games (whether parser or otherwise) as interactive fiction now. But I also see references to text adventure games as perhaps a subset of this?

I’m pretty new to all this and I come from making things I’d explicitly label as games (you can win/lose, the goal/mechanics are perhaps more important than the story, points are awarded), and as someone who grew up with Scott Adams’ adventures that’s likely to be what my stuff will be like. I’m aware my tastes are largely trapped in 1982.

So, is the term text adventure now dead? Or is the term still used for more ludographical experiences while IF is used as a label for the more creative, artistic stuff that’s being made now?


The term “text adventures” is not dead. However, I believe it does summon the old-school-type IF works rather than the more literary, or at least modern, works.

There’s been an enormous amount of progress in creating text adventures, both on the puzzle side and the literary side. I would highly recommend reviewing these changes as you approach your own creations. Not to say you shouldn’t just start writing, by all means please do…but as a part of your reintroduction, check out scottkim.com.previewc40.carr … bates.html as well as Emily Short’s blog and look for others as well. It may be helpful to play some of the IF Comp and Xyzzy winners to see what’s out there.


Like almost every name in the field, this gets used very differently in different contexts, so there’s no simple answer here.

For some people ‘text adventure’ does refer to parser-based games with an old-school sensibility; what ‘old-school’ means here, exactly, might also vary, but is likely to centre around the kind of Scott Adams model you mention (weak narrative elements, treasure-collecting, puzzle-oriented). That’s probably the most standard use around here: if you use ‘text adventure’ there’s the assumption that you’re mostly interested in IF as a nostalgia gamer.

For others, often people who are not heavily engaged with IF but remember it from the old days, it means ‘parser-based interactive fiction.’

And I have seen it used to mean ‘any all-text game’, including CYOA, which is odd to me but makes sense if you assume that people have just heard the term and are trying to figure out what it means without context.

I think the other key overlapping term here is “adventure game,” which also has no clear meaning, but generally involves a game that combines puzzles, narrative, and exploration. (You can still be an “adventure game” with just two out of those three, but perhaps not with just one of them.)

Within “adventure games” you can have “point-and-click adventures” and “text adventures.”

Choice-based text-based games without puzzles or exploration are not very “adventure-y” and so “text adventure” doesn’t apply well to those.

text adventure really sounds old

otoh, IF has led to much confusion these days. Indeed flipping a page on a conventional book is about as interactive as some IF today.

parser-based game is too long. how about dialogame? chatgame? you read and write, after all

it’s in reality a rpg, thankfully without all the tedious pavlovian combat

Hi BadDog.

I got involved in this community for the first time in 2010, though played and made a lot of text adventures way before that. I don’t think I ever used the term IF before I came here. I know why I still feel weird using it - because at one end, I feel like I’m just using Infocom’s marketing term from decades ago. At the other end, IF has now becoming an enormous category used to describe non-linear prose things ranging from text adventures and the extremely gamey, to the completely not-gamey.

Since what I make these days continues to tick the text adventure boxes -


I tend to talk about it as both ‘IF’ and ‘text adventure’ interchangeably when promoting it to signal to all relevant camps.

  • Wade

I played the Infocom games back in the early 80s, but I don’t remember the term interactive fiction. I didn’t come across the term until I found this site a short while ago. I always used Scott Adams’ term text adventure, and it’s what I’m still comfortable with now. But I’m from the old school. I played the first text game ever, Adventure, in the late 70s on a mainframe computer when I was 7 years old. Then a few years later I played the Scott Adams and Infocom adventures, as well as many others made by independent people as shareware. I’m still getting used to calling it interactive fiction.

That was the label on their stripy boxes. (And they switched to the stripy boxes… 1984, right? Between Planetfall and HHGG.) (gallery.guetech.org/hhgttg/hhgttg.html)

I’m in the crowd that habitually used “text adventure” and “interactive fiction” interchangeably, up until a few years ago. Then “IF” was being used so broadly that it required extra labels, and some of the folks under the umbrella just hadn’t grown up with the phrase “text adventure”, so I more or less gave it up. Except when saying “Hadean Lands is an old-fashioned text adventure.”

I tend to use IF instead of text adventure for the simple reason that it’s a lot quicker to type. In my mind, though, I always think of text adventures as something from the commercial age where the games generally tended to be treasure hunts, adventures, etc, and IF as the kind of games we get these days.

Historical trivia: Jimmy Maher has pointed out/discovered that the term “Interactive Fiction” didn’t originate with Infocom but was used by one Robert LaFore in 1979. (His works were choice-based structures with a grab-the-keyword-from-the-player’s-input parser.) I don’t know if Infocom got the term from him. Actually, anyone know when “text adventure” started getting used?

The problem with IF as a term is that it’s absolutely impossible to search for. But yeah, like everyone else “text adventure” sounds more old-fashioned to me.

[quote="David Whyld"I always think of text adventures as something from the commercial age where the games generally tended to be treasure hunts, adventures, etc, and IF as the kind of games we get these days.[/quote]
Quoted for truth. Text adventures have two-word parsers and time limits, take place in maze-filled caves, and revolve around putting a collection of treasures in a treasure room. Often success will hinge on using a piece of inventory in an unorthodox and unclued fashion. The adventure is a puzzle-box, and the playing of it is a successful triggering of its various player-hating surprises.

Generally speaking, IF tells a story that is not primarily about outsmarting carry limits, time limits, hunger daemons, mazes on non-cartesian grids, and avoiding walking dead situations and unlit rooms: it could be represented as a conversation between two people. It rewards exploration (which the text adventure simultaneously requires and punishes) by enriching the player’s sense of What Exactly Is Going On In This Game And Why Is It Interesting, questions which typically remain obstinately on the back burner in text adventures.

You could recount the plot of an IF game you played to a friend and it might be a) interesting and b) coherent. Less so for text adventures.

Infocom provided what largely amounted to very well-heeled text adventures, with writing and text parser interaction of extraordinary sophistication. It laid the foundations for the IF that followed, but despite some postmodern steps toward that development, never really went there in its time.

Nope, I’m not willing to draw a bright line there, nor use the distinction as a genre label. Deadline is technically crude by modern I7 standards but there’s nothing about its design that puts it firmly outside of “what we get these days”.

That’s a good question. I’m pretty sure there was a clear transition from saying “adventure game” (meaning “game like Adventure”) to “text adventure game” when graphical adventures got popular enough to talk about. But I don’t remember whether that was 1980-ish (Mystery House, Wizard and the Princess) or a few years later.

I didn’t know the term “interactive fiction” until about 2001, I think? The text-based games I loved were “text adventures” and I didn’t know the modern term for them. I would have found the modern IF scene a lot faster if I did. (That’s why the byline on my site is “modern text adventures” instead of “modern interactive fiction” - it taps into that nostalgia for me.)

I googled “text adventures” just now and found that the second hit for “text adventures” today is Wikipedia explaining about interactive fiction, so term confusion shouldn’t be a problem for anyone else with similar nostalgia. This makes me happy.

I agree with zarf. Once upon a time Adventure Games just meant text as they hadn’t evolved into point and click graphical at that point. So I assume Text Adventure came about some time after the advent of point and click as a way to differentiate between the two.

Not all text adventures had two word parsers. The one used in The Hobbit and Sherlock was pretty advanced.

I should probably add that ‘Interactive Fiction’ wasn’t a term I knew until my interest returned to the genre which was fairly recently. As such I see ‘IF’ as the umbrella term covering both parser and hypertext / choice works and text adventure specifically meaning parser games. I suspect it’s an age thing.

A Mind Forever Voyaging.

I’m only going for the most obvious, non-controversial example - the one no one can possibly dispute. Zarf already mentioned Deadline. So… I agree with him; less of the bright line between the terms, I’d say. The “TA is oldschool and IF is newschool” is a helpful guideline, but when you get down to the nitty-gritty, IF is TA is IF is TA.

I tend to think of IF as the broader term. TA are IF, but not all IF is TA. TA is the “genre” of IF that includes things like inventory management, movement through space (Usually with compass directions), puzzles, and “systemic interactions” (Eg closing and opening doors, being able to THROW most things in savoir-faire and having them break if it makes sense for them to break, the letter-remover in Counterfeit Monkey that can be pointed at almost anything). Much in the same way that the term “adventure game” has come to mean a specific type of game, so that something like Elite isn’t an “adventure game” even though the player character is presumably going on an adventure.