Parser vs PC vs player

In parser-based IF, how do you think of the relations between the parser, the player character and the player?

Should the player refer to the player character as “me” or “you”? Is the player sitting inside the head of the PC, or is the player a different person, telling the PC what to do?

Should the parser/game have a voice as if it’s a living entity in its own right, referring to itself as “I” and the player or the PC as “you” (i.e. “That would be dangerous. I can’t let you do that.”) or should the parser/game talk like it’s a part of the player or PC (i.e. “I think that’s too dangerous. I won’t do that.”)? Or keep some general voice where it’s external to the player/PC but never refers to itself (i.e. “You can’t do that.”)?

I realize some games do it this way, others do it that way etc, but I’m asking what feels the most natural to you, and thus (?) gets the least in the way of immersion.


Personally, I don’t have strong feelings about it as long as it seems to fit what the game is trying to do. But I know other people are more sensitive to certain things…

I’m guessing you’ve probably seen the triangle of identities chapter (player, protagonist, narrator) in the Inform Designer’s Manual?


I personally find the “you” of the parser habitual and inconspicuous, so I don’t get up in my head about wondering who’s speaking to the player unless a game plays with that idea on purpose. (As you mention, I have a slight preference for avoiding the parser’s “I” where possible, though never to the point where I’ve actually gone as far as overriding its generic “I didn’t understand that sentence”.)

“I think that’s too dangerous. I won’t do that.” is distracting and obtrusive to me.

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I personally feel drawn to games that make you feel like you are the protagonist and the parser is a third person that acts as a consultant, even being able to warn you from harm or refuse doing something stupid. That’s how I do it in my games. But one needs to consider that there’s just a thin line between taking someone by the hand or destroying the feeling of freedom in the microcosmos of a text adventure / IF piece. With that concept in mind it is absolutely okay for the parser to refer to himself as “I” but I am not forcing it and when looking at the code of my current work in progress projects, it almost feels like I unconsciously avoided this form of expression.

Generally I do think there is no ultimate answer to this. We are all different and what might work for me could fail to build up immersion for someone else.


Yeah. You might have a style or philosophy and make every game that way. Or you might decide the voice and person on a game-by-game basis.

In answer to the original question, I don’t think anything’s the most universally natural-feeling. Whether the choices made feel natural will come down to whether they work in the case of the particular game. Second person in general has the longest tradition in IF for a range of technological and cultural reasons. I’d say the use of first person has increased in line with the advance of technology allowing us to traffic in the larger amounts of text that lend themselves to create characters by inner monologue, and so create more characterisation-heavy IF.



Personification of the parser is a stylistic choice. Sometimes it can be a character (see VIOLET), or it may just be a dry report of the player’s actions. Some people do not enjoy default parser snark “You jump on the spot, fruitlessly.” and will alter the messages accordingly.

It’s possible to rewrite all the library messages to avoid the 2nd person “you” - again as a stylistic choice, such as changing “You open the red door.” to something like “The red door is now open.” I think there’s an extension called “Neutral Library Messages” that did this, but now I7 makes it easier through the index to change default responses.


On that note, it’s also possible to change the person and tense of a story via Inform - such as if you just want the parser to narrate in first person or in a different tense like, “I opened the door.” 14.1. Tense and narrative viewpoint.

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I prefer retro hardcore identity: player = PC.

In any type of interactive fiction, we as writers are always struggling to maintain the suspension of disbelief ( AKA immersion ).
At a minimum, we are asking the player to believe that they are in another environment.
It is an even greater suspension of disbelief for the player to believe that they are another person in that environment

IOW, if player = PC, the player has to believe one thing. If player <> PC, then the player has to believe two things. ( Or you can count with any granularity you like, but it is still one more thing that the player has to believe. )

The more times that the player has to suspend disbelief, the greater the chances that the player will ‘fall out’, or lose their immersion.

Granted, when player = PC, the writer has to do more work. When other characters greet the player, or refer to them, the writing has to have a certain everyperson character to it. ( When the rickshaw driver greets the player, he can’t use “Sir” or '“Ma’am”. He has to resort to something like ‘stranger’ or ‘honored visitor’ ) The writing can very easily become clunky. It is harder to do it well.

But the writer is the one who is supposed to be doing the work here, not the player. That is the central point of this post. IMHO, too many writers forget that they are the ones who are supposed to be doing the work, and instead they pass it off on to the player.

It is easier for the writer to simply ask the player “are you male or female.” Then the writing is simpler. But the player has to consciously set aside his disbelief, answer the question, and then try to regain immersion. It is harder on the player.

Some writers will go further: " Are you tall, short, or of medium height?". “Are you straight, gay, bi, nb, bestial, or prefer not to state?” Equipped with enough answers, it gets easy for the writer to produce a custom experience.
But the player begins to feel like they are filling out forms at Quantico, not playing a game. They are doing all the work, and are not immersed at all.

For the best player experience, the writer should do the work. It may get tricky to write not knowing how the player sees themselves, but the writer owes the player the most unobtrusive game that they can produce.

So the conscientious writer should make the player = PC, and not make the player work for his entertainment.

The more that the player can feel like they have agency, the more likely they are to stay immersed. If the parser says “I can’t let you do that”, the player begins to feel like someone else is making the decisions, and they do not enjoy it as much.
To maintain immersion, the parser should be as neutral as possible. If the game really requires that the player not do something, the parser should oppose the player within the context of the game.
For example, if the player will get killed prematurely if they go into a certain room, the parser can tell them “As you open the door, several skeletons fall out. One of them jams the door, making it difficult to open further.” If the player tries again to enter the room, the parser tells them “The door screeches like a hungry grue, and there are echoing calls from inside the room.”
The parser does not directly recommend not doing something, rather, it stays ‘in character’, decribing only what the player can see and hear, and it shows the player enough so that only a fool would proceed.


I started off with exposure to the CYOA type paperbacks where the “you” first person singular is standard, and it never felt weird to me. I suppose that, since it was a book, the “you” just felt like a narrative framing device.

But on a computer? Honestly, I always felt like it was set up for blind people who can type. The phrasing and the way the PC sometimes blocks you from doing things or advises you not to do things is exactly like having a sighted social worker or companion walking around with you.

I’ve heard from plenty of vision impaired people that parser games are a lot of fun. But the narrative format of the computer saying either “No, I won’t let you do this” or “Okay, I let you do this” is pretty frickin’ weird for players able to read the text themselves.

Then again, the way movies are edited is also weird, but we all got used to it, too.

First, there’s an “establishing” shot from a distance so we know what the environment is. Then, there’s a middle shot, placing the actor in the environment. Then, there’s the closer-in shot, and throughout all three shots, the audio remains the same. In other words, our visual focus changes but our auditory input doesn’t.

Media is trippy… :exploding_head:

How retro do you want to go? Even in the earliest commercial IF games, the Scott Adams Adventures, the relationship between player and player character was somewhat complicated:

“The top portion of your video display will tell you where you are and what you can see; the bottom section of the display is devoted to inputting commands to your robot computer and receiving messages that may arise as the result of your orders.”

I don’t agree with this. If I play a fantasy game where I’m required to wield swords and slay dragons, it’s actually easier to imagine I’m some Conan-like hero than to picture my real-life self in that setting (I wouldn’t last five minutes). Nor do I think most players would struggle with believing two things at the same time; sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast. Nobody who plays Super Mario World struggles to picture themselves as Mario, and I really don’t think text games are all that different.

It can actually help to think of the Player Character as a separate person from the Player, because then refusals-to-act can be contextualised as something the PC wouldn’t do. For an extreme example of this, see Rameses by Stephen Bond. Some of the best parser games of recent times, Violet, Lost Pig, What Heart Heard Of, Ghost Guessed, depend on strongly characterised player characters and/or creative treatment of the triangle of identities. Personally, when I write a game I like to know exactly who my Player Character is, but in the end, it is just a matter of personal taste. It’s your game, do it your way!


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Fun bump.

I think separating the player and the protagonist is more interesting and affords more opportunities for interest.

There was another thread about this somewhat recently, in which I think that I said estranging the player from the action invites questions about narrator reliability, the player’s knowledge of the game world, etc. etc.

Also–I don’t guess this will surprise anyone who’s followed my writing–despite a game’s interactivity, I consider the player a reader separate from the text. The reader is not the protagonist. I do not think I would enjoy playing as myself for very long!

In my writing, I always come up with nicknames for protags. Since I believe that we are what we do, protagonists have more character than many might think by game’s end.


I can told in my spanish if experience that this questions lead roughly to problems. At the end it rules the verbs tense: firts person if PC is identified with protagonist, second person if PC is guiding the protagonist and infinitive in both cases.
The parser has no problem with lack of memory as authoring systems for 8 bit computers. So you can implement a variety of synonimus.
The strict spanish authors can get his game unpla6able due to bad implementation.

  • Jade.

I think it depends on what makes sense in the context of the particular game being played.

A wish-fulfilment parser game is much easier to imagine working if player = PC. A strongly-characterised protagonist who is very different to most likely players is much easier to imagine working if it is clear that player =/= PC. Many games work well somewhere in the middle - with a character that is not exactly the same as the player in every particular, but having at least some traits in common (the relevant ones of which a player can decide for themselves) to help with suspension of disbelief.