Narrative based IF is predominantly for the over 40s?

So. In conversation with random drunks, it was posited that text-based IF and, in general, IF with a strong text component, are the provinces of the over 40s and that, by extension, younger audiences do not want such amounts of text, preferring say Visual Novel style short, spoken “lines”.

This got me thinking; how true is this? And what are the relative levels of demand?

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I’m not sure, I always see two big younger groups around: grad students in stem or lit and 20-30 yr old LGBTQ people.

Both seems to enjoy huge text dumps. Of course there’s a lot of older people, too, but even this last IFComp had a bunch of people from the two younger groups I mentioned.

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I suspect that’s generally true but doesn’t need to be a directive to reduce everything to cater to a short attention span. Are your random drunks also positing that people under 40 don’t read books?

People 40+ are more likely to be familiar with verbose Zork-like text adventures and have patience for them. Younger generations are conditioned with shorter attention spans reading Twitter and blog posts and short form information and may gravitate towards that. I actually advocate to avoid the dreaded “wall of text exposition” in interactive narratives of any kind, especially toward the beginning.

Many Visual Novels are actually quite long but dole out that prose line-by-line. That is unacceptable to some readers. I won’t read a VN if it forces the player to watch the prose generate in a typed-out letter-by-letter manner (even worse if there’s a Nintendo-style JRPG boopy-sound along with the typing). I don’t mind short lines of text so long as they appear close to instantaneously. Especially if you can advance with the spacebar or the engine allows good control over auto-advance pacing.

I’ve seen VN fans post “The longer, the better!” and many of them will replay over and over to see every route, which means for a narrative they like they actually have more patience.

I understand for a VN part of that pacing is because there need to be frequent stops for cues where a character sprite is changing to reflect the dialogue and situation, which wouldn’t work if you had a full page of text. Also a long page of text wouldn’t leave room for the visual part. Well-directed and paced VNs are great, but where this can fail is either there’s not enough sprite action to justify the pace, or some translated texts end up feeling way over-padded in English.

I don’t know if that’s just an issue between phrasing in Japanese vs. English, or perhaps written words take up different amounts of space and there may be three hard-coded sections in one instance where an English sentence only needs one and a translator needs to fill that out.

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I have used a couple of IF games to introduce students to new material. Granted they are multimedia but predominately text. The students get into it. I am always leery of generational pronouncements like ths.

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I have struggled to get youngsters into parser IF, but they generally tell me that it’s the typing they don’t like, not the amount of text. Which is what people of all ages tell me about why they don’t want to play.
If we want more people of any age to play parser IF, then the parsers need to be friendlier and without the traditional Zorkian frustrations.

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Being under 40, I can confirm that I am an acephalous rampage devil snuffling at the earth for sustenance, howling incredulously to each moonrise. My consciousness is a hyperpermeable mesh incapable of distinguishing stimuli.

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In some visual novel engines, I can confirm that the (up to) three-to-one segment padding issue is an issue. That said, not every engine is limited that way, and not all visual novels that are bound by such restrictions handle it as well as they might.

Touch-friendly interfaces (and indeed flexibility of interface in general) do appear to be the way to go if mass market interest is desired. However, I think the number of people interested in predominantly text-based IF is growing, if slowly.

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Depends on what you consider IF. ChoiceScript has a very lively community, and from subjective personal perception, it skews younger, anything from 13 to 30, and games average on the hundred thousand words.

Speaking only for myself, I do most of my reading/playing on mobile and most parser IF do not display nicely on mobile.

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“People who play IF” is… I wouldn’t use the word ‘elite’ because I don’t think such interest necessarily indicates that people are better than the norm, but the preferences of the masses do not necessarily apply to such small, self-selected groups.

I suspect the limitations of mobile computing displays have more to do with this hypothetical preference difference than any divergence in the natures of the young and the old. No one, no one likes walls of text, but a properly-formatted text with indenting can reach considerable length before the reading comprehension skills of even the flightiest reader are strained.

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Thanks everyone for commenting.

@HanonO, the “books” point was something in my mind too. I still see people of all ages reading books. So reading can’t be such a barrier.

In general, most people have suggested what I’ve been thinking along these lines. Which boils down to two main ideas:

  1. Avoid “walls of text”.
  2. Alleviate typing as best possible.

Note, that for (2), this doesn’t mean, getting rid of, say parser input, instead make it a bit easier.

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I like walls of text. I read classics including Princess of Mars series, Sherlock Holmes, and even Moby Dick, on a Palm 3 with tiny green screen. All you have to do is check out the sales of ebook readers such as Kindle, to check the validity of your hypothesis.

I like lots of text. I don’t like walls of text; with only a few rare exceptions, when it’s actually necessary and appropriate in context, page-long or multiple-page-long paragraphs with no breaks are terrible.

They’re hard to read, because if you glance forward or back or lose your place, there aren’t any ‘landmarks’ for you to find your place again. And it is often the case that such text walls are poorly written, and would benefit by being condensed.

I further note that very large blocks of text probably display poorly on mobiles.

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I’ve long felt that point-and-click text adventure systems, like Gruescript, will be the future here.

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I’m sure you’re right. But I think parser IF would do better with younger folks if we’d just take better care to make parsers friendlier. For those of us waxing nostalgic for the '80s, a difficult parser can be fun. For people who didn’t grow up on EXAMINE being different than SEARCH, it’s annoying and they stop playing. I know there are a lot of strong purist feelings out there about implicit actions and nudges, but I think parser could be more popular if it was just a wee bit more user-centered.

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I’m not sure there’s actually much in the way of “small improvements” possible. “Examine” vs. “search” is probably bad design even for experienced players, but even if we forbade “search” (or “look under/behind/inside X”), the gap for new players is still huge.

IMO, even just knowing that you have to type “examine” is already expecting a bit too much of the player.

But if you try to implement a parser game without assuming the player knows the verb “examine,” you get a noun-first parser game like Blue Lacuna. Blue Lacuna is already 80% of the way toward being a Gruescript game!

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Oh yeah, I meant wall of text in the sense of being slapped with a page of exposition right at the beginning of the story. If I have to read a page of world building before the story starts that’s a fail. There are ways to break up exposition with interaction, well-chosen page breaks, or showing instead of telling.

But I think you’re also talking about justified text, which yes, is the worst to read for long stretches because it’s easy to lose your place. For the love of all that is holy, don’t justify all the text in any page layout!

(Sorry, don’t mean to derail the topic.)

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I don’t play a lot of IF but one thing that has turned me off a bit from a couple of the games I’ve tried is the lack of a tutorial in a general sense. Which isn’t to say IF games should have a mandatory tutorial level or make all of it’s verbs explicit, but instead that the game should be designed in a way that naturally introduces the player to the mechanics of the game. I recently watched this GDC talks on tutorials that I found really helpful in this regard. Obviously what this looks like specifically will vary widly between games, not only in what mechanics or verbs need to be introduced, but also what the best way to implement them naturally is.

Generally speaking some designs I’ve seen (some done by IF games some by non-IF games) that I think are helpful are, the slow introduction of mechanics, telegraphing mechanics to the player before they need them, and building upon things the player is already familiar with. I forget if it was this talk or another which talks about the mechanical introductions of portal but I think that game is a great example of slowly introducing mechanics (and really most puzzle games are) where the player starts with one thing to learn (the first portal gun) before introducing other mechanics (the second portal gun, companion cubes, gels etc) so while the game ends up with a lot of mechanical depth it isn’t overwhelming to the player because it is introduced over time.

Similarly building off pre-existing mechanics allows for the player to easily understand new complexities in the game, with portal for example once the player needs to understand how velocity is kept through portals they already have a solid grasp on how the portals themselves work making it easy for the player to grasp.

A great way for introducing mechanics though, without outright telling the player what verbs they can and cannot use (which can be spoilerlry or just boring) is telegraphing them to the player either through the environment or npcs. In the GDC talk the presenter talks a lot about this in the form of Half Life 2 where the player learns how to fight certain monsters, and use certain guns not by telling them directly but by world design, such as having a room with several monsters that have had their limbs cut off to demonstrate how the player should go about fighting that kind of monster, which is introduced right after.

One IF game I tried playing because I had heard a lot of good things about it was Varicella and I quickly found myself completely lost on what to do, not only was I not familiar with any of the mechanics of the game specifically since there wasn’t any real introduction on what to do that I saw, but this was also one of the first parser IF games I’d played so I wasn’t familiar with the general convention of the medium either. To use this game as an example it may have been more helpful for me to be introduced into how one was supposed to go about intrigue and plotting by seeing other characters doing it early on. What this would look like specifically, and what would work best for the game is hard for me to say but something that just immediatly comes to mind would be overhearing two characters discussing the recent king’s death and their own plots/thoughts on the situation or other topics the player should be asking npc’s about to give me an idea of what sorts of things I should be thinking about while playing the game.

There’s definitely a fine line between helping introduce a player and hold handing or even railroading too much. And again it depends a lot on the game. I’m not sure if my suggestion would make Varicella more enjoyable for me, or if it’d diminish from the game in some way. But I think it’s atleast something to keep in mind when designing a game as the player and the author often have very different interactions with it (especially since the author already knows everything that’s implemented in the game), so it can be important to think of the game from the perspective of someone coming in with no knowledge whatsoever while still being fun for players who already have an idea of what their doing.

As for text, as other people have mentioned I don’t think the ammount of text is that important to whather someone plays it, but instead it’s about how that text is utilized and given to the player. Another video I recently watched was Reading in Video Games (and why I barely do it) which while focusing on non-IF games I think demonstrates a lot of problems people make with text in games, even in text based games. A large problem which is demonstrated by the failure of text entries or even audio logs for a lot of players is that the text isn’t well integrated into the gameplay, the player often has to stop what their doing to read or listen to these entries.

A better aproach in this regard then is to make the text engaging, not just making it interesting but as a part of the gameplay. Some examples of this would be things like, in a mystery where reading room descriptions is important since things may change and provide clues, in an action game reading what the opponent is doing could be important to deciding the right action the player has to take (such as attack defend or parry), or in through dialogue a player may learn information they can use to influence other people.

Kind of tied into this point is avoiding long exposition/world building at the begging of the game. It’s important that the player both has a context for the information and use for it. I remember recently playing a fantasy IF game which dropped a lot of world building info before introducing the main conflict where someone may have been poisoned or magically harmed by another nation. In this game if the conflict had been introduced first, and then the player had to learn about these two nations to determine which they thought was more likely would have worked much better while still conveying similar amounts of information in the same amount of time.

As others have mentioned breaking up text can also be helpful. The video on reading in games talks about how this is done in Outer Wilds, Disco Elysium is another good example of this. I think this may be partially true for younger audiences that they are used to text in shorter bits (such as Disco Elysiums inspiration from Twitter) but I think more important is pacing and efficiency with words. While very descriptive text can have it’s place it can often be a lot more elegant to leave some holes for the player to fill in, and short text can help engage the player by having them fill these holes.

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I don’t think that’s a derail, given that the topic, broadly is about whom IF is accessible (not meant in an accommodation sense this time) to and why. Or, if it was a derail, I’m about to derail worse.

For a medium that’s definitively about text, typography has mostly been tragically neglected. The thing people are saying when they’re saying walls of text are bad is that layout and typography matter. Of course I’m not suggesting there’s anyone literally saying “I can’t play that game – the kerning is awful”… but I think that if more games created immediate impression of aesthetic appeal, fewer people would bounce off right away.

And yeah, the deck’s stacked against us in the digital world, 'cause we can’t predict what devices and screen sizes people will be using. I didn’t say it’d be easy.

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If I were forced I’d say parser IF is for over 40s but I’d guess that the CoG/Tumblr crowd both skew significantly younger, and a bunch of CoG games have playthrough counts that are very long.

Honestly I don’t think that the word counts of older text games are very long? The actual “number of different words” you encounter in most parser games seems pretty small, whereas the prologue & first chapter playthrough counts of, say, wayfarer (https://idrellegames.tumblr.com/) is listed at 75k words (approximately the first Harry Potter) and if the majority of people playing that game are over 40 I’ll eat my hat.

Actually I’m not sure what you’re asking - what are examples of old games with strong text components? Like, pure parser games? CYOA games? It seems like the question is not about the volume of text but about the presentation of text? I think I may have misinterpreted the question, if the assertion is that younger audiences prefer text not in big blocks…

…but then I’m confused because a lot of the old, “traditional” IF doesn’t have big blocks of text either! Even the most verbose parser games are mostly medium-size blocks of text interspersed with, like, gameplay.

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Your random drunk is poorly informed.

First, very few people over the age of 60 play computer games, especially not text-based IF.

Second, obviously, the heyday of commercial (money-making) IF was from the late 70s to late 80s. A certain subset of people in that era owned computers, played IF, and continue to enjoy it today. I think you’ll find that a younger cohort is equally interested in playing (emulated) old NES games, etc, etc.

Third, as many of others have said, Choice of Games’ most active fanbase is teenagers and people in their 20s, and their most popular games are ENTIRELY text, and quite lengthy at that.

Fourth, the most popular games in the world are things like Minecraft and Fortnite which have a minuscule amount of text in them.

Fifth, younger people tend to play games on their mobile devices more than laptops/desktops, and this lends itself to different display styles, including VN and VN-adjacent “images + dialogue” stories. However, plenty of these stories have an aggregate total of a lot of words.

Sixth, it’s difficult but possible to find accurate statistics on game sales. It is downright impossible to know who is playing free games, freeware/fremium games, out of print games, old games ported to an emulator, or games that were paid for years, if not decades, ago, and are still being enjoyed. In other words, there’s no way to calculate “demand.”

Seventh, blind gamers and those who are visually impaired of all ages have always been interested in text-based games, for obvious reason. But there’s literally no way to track sales/interest by disability.

But yah, if two drunks want to spitball about the state of IF these days, I suppose any sweeping generalization will do.

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