Reading IF aloud in class

I just finished teaching an IF course this semester. One of the things we did regularly was to read IF aloud together during class. I wasn’t sure initially how this would go, but @desilets recommended it, and in the end I was quite pleased with the results. I thought I would share some of the things I learned from this experience.

We would usually play one game for an entire class session. I would generally have three different students reading aloud, each for 15 minutes or so. This gets more students involved, and the change of readers makes things more interesting. There tends to be a wide variety of student ability/comfort levels with reading aloud in front of the class, but I made them all read at least once over the term.

Here are some of the IF works from this semester where reading aloud went particularly well.

  • Lost Pig. Grunk’s voice is a lot of fun to speak aloud, the characters are interesting, the puzzles aren’t too hard, and the game is highly polished (and thus responsive). The game world is also small, so the students aren’t overwhelmed with keeping the geography in their heads. We were able to get about halfway through the game in a 50-minute class session, and the students finished it on their own. This is a great game for playing in a group, and it should work for a wide variety of ages, too. It was my class’s overall favorite game this term.

  • Aisle. A one-move game, where lots of plausible player actions are implemented. Highly replayable - in fact, the replayability is the point - which means that it’s easy to bring a play session to a reasonable close whenever you want. The game is probably too short for a full class session, but we spent a solid, productive 30 minutes on it.

  • Will Not Let Me Go. This was another one of the class’s favorite games. Be aware that it might be emotionally wrenching for some.

  • Galatea. Longer than Aisle but also quite replayable, with a complex NPC and many, many different endings. The class found some really interesting endings I had never seen before, too.

  • Shade. This game is just the right length for a 50-minute class session. Plus the slow reveal of what’s going on kept the students interested.

  • Terminal Interface for Models RCM 301-303. Another short game with replay value that’s just the right length for a class session. In addition, group play may be the ideal way to experience this game, as in a large group different people are likely to notice the game’s various clues and so pool knowledge in a way that an individual player might not. In our playthrough, this meant that the timing of the class’s realization of what’s actually happening could not have gone better if I had planned it myself. Be forewarned that the main NPC uses some language (including a racial slur) that might not be appropriate for younger children.

  • Counterfeit Monkey. This game is WAY too large to be completed in a class session. However, its puzzle mechanic is so creative, delightful, and deeply-implemented that I found spending 50 minutes exploring the early parts of the game and solving a few puzzles to be a rewarding experience for the students.

In general, the games that worked the best for reading aloud tended to be shorter and polished, with strong voices, fewer/easier puzzles, a small geography, and generally short passages of text between choices/player input. Large, puzzle-heavy games (many of which I love to play on my own!) were generally too hard for the students to get into given the time limitations.

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I wonder if any of the CLASH of the TYPE-INS podcast episodes would be appropriate for class listening? (Ryan Veeder and Jenni Polodna play a work as read by its author.)

Hi, All,

In my IF Club, I’ve used some episodes of “Clash of the Type-ins” to introduce stories that we were about to read. These worked quite well. I think I’ve listened to all of the “Clash” episodes, and most seen appropriate for use in classes, as long as the story in question is right for students. My club is for kids aged eleven to eighteen, so some of the stories would not be good for my younger interactors.

Peace,
Brendan

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Hi, All,

Mike’s list of qualities of a good story for classroom use seem right on target. However, I’ve found that a moderator/teacher can offer well-tailored hints that enable students to get on with puzzles that are pretty difficult, including those in the old Infocom mystery games.

Thanks to Mike for this thoughtful post. I think I’ll try “Terminal Interface,” when I get a chance.

Peace,
Brendan

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That’s a good point. Next time I teach the class I’ll keep that in mind.