I don’t know if it has been noticed here yet, but the latest episode of the show The Big Bang Theory (4x06) features Sheldon playing IF!
More precisely, at the beginning of the episode (5th minute) Sheldon is featured playing an interactive fiction (“You are in a forest. There is quicksand to the west, a path leads to the east.” – rings any bell? ), and Leonard comes in; Sheldon says he found an emulator for 80s text-based games, and borrows the tagline of one Infocom ad (“it runs on the most powerful graphics chip: the imagination”). Sheldon then encounters a troll and franctically types (“hit troll with axe”), etc.
The scene is quite short, but noteworthy, still! Is it IF’s big break into the mainstream? (11 million viewers on average for the show!)
Of course, the show isn’t big on internal consistency. This recent episode had Sheldon ‘just’ discover he can play games from the 80s in an emulator. In the second season, however, episode 20 had the guys planning to play Zork (“The buggy beta version”) on vintage gaming night.
There’s no reason to assume that it was an Infocom game. It could have been an emulator for any old computer system that happened to have text adventure games written for it (ones which excited Sheldon because, unlike Zork, he’d never played them before).
I should re-watch the first few episodes of the first season. I’m almost positive Sheldon didn’t start out as quite so neurotic and socially clueless, and Penny was a lot nicer in general (almost to the point of not realizing these guys were geeks). I could be remembering wrong, but it seems like the characters didn’t just evolve – they abruptly changed.
The game described in the recent episode? It’s a portmanteau of several early IF games.
Zork had a troll with an axe. (You could hit him with the axe if you were lucky enough to disarm him, but most people just whaled away with the sword.) A dragon and collecting mud were puzzles in Scott Adams’s Adventureland. And getting lost in the forest was a feature of Zork, Adventureland, and Colossal Cave. (Although Adventureland’s was one room, so you couldn’t really get lost.)
Not the point, I believe — add up all the ‘little breaks’ in all the little callback references going on around the world. That’s what tips the balance. One thing being mentioned by one popular figure, rarely changes anything, no matter how popular the figure. Not impossible, but it’s unlikely – highly popular figures mention obscure things all the time, and it gives those obscure things a momentary boost and maybe even a crashed server for a day or two, but changes little in the scheme of things.
What effects real change is thousands of little references, pressing on the culture, over time, such that people begin to perceive it as happening now. One mention cannot do this – it takes hundreds and then thousands to approach that tipping point. The good news is that no one mention needs to particularly significant for success to eventually become inevitable, so it’s counterproductive to interpret a minor mention as a defeat or as signifying that a topic is minor.
It seems to me that a re-awareness of IF (and, in fact, the roots of gaming in general) is pressing harder on the culture with each passing year, as it becomes clearer and clearer to people that the so-called ‘Triple-A’ game studios have gone the way of Hollywood and have converted themselves into largely soulless sausage factories.
As a follow-up on this thread, I stumbled upon this article on MacStories: one gamer describes watching this particular episode and being curious about this kind of games, only to discover the wonderful world of contemporary interactive fiction (and then proceeding to write a very nice and quite comprehensive article about it to tell everyone else how awesome this is).
BBT obviously didn’t make IF enter the mainstream, but apparently it made the number of players of Interactive Fiction go up by at least one, which… is something I guess?