What does "text adventure" mean any more?

Let’s discuss this … My own opinions follow …

(In my view) A fundamental and core tenet of “text adventure” games is not to be on rails. You must in some way have the ability to be able to build a command - whether that be by keyboard, menus, voice or more. But that interaction has to be more than an enumerated list of things to do.

You can try anything you like within the defined scope of the parser, and the game itself might not understand it, but you are free to try it.

Even graphic adventure games understand the adventure part involves the player building commands by interacting with the graphics.

I like multiple choice games too but they have completely different design goals and design sensibilities compared to text adventure games.

It helps to not conflate two completely different design styles.

Hybrid multiple choice games, with the ability to submit a bespoke command can reasonably be referred to as text adventure games, because there is the ability to be try your own ideas and see if the game responds. You feel joy in the creative step.

Text adventure games with voice recognition - still text adventure games because you can build a command. A game that is choice only - even though it could be the most awesome thing in the world - still not a text adventure game.

… anyway, that’s my point of view. Interested in seeing if I’m outlier here.


Personally I’ve mostly stopped reading your blog entries or articles or whatever because of your constant harping on what these terms “should” mean. You can’t control how people use language; that never works. There was tons of debate about this stuff back in the day and then most people gave up on trying to enforce it.

You often have a lot of good thoughts, but personally I don’t have the patience to push past the irritating pedantic bits to get to the good parts. My two cents, other people may feel differently, etc.

I do agree that the distinction is useful (though I feel like it’s more of a spectrum than an either/or), but IMO it would be much more productive to try to invent new terminology that describes the distinction directly than to keep fighting a long-lost battle to “rescue” old terms that no longer have the meanings you want.


To self-plagiarise what I said about this elsewhere: interesting, but inconsequential. This stuff is just piffling semantics. Call it whatever you like - it won’t invalidate your art.


I agree that many people have different thoughts on this. I think it’s pretty easy to see major differences between, say, Zork I and 80 Days by Inkle, and to have a preference for one vs the other. (I personally enjoy both more than most graphical/controller based games, with a slight preference for Zork).

That said, this question comes up a lot, and I have a running list of each conversation as it happens. Here is a timetable of discussions of this question:

1996 (rec.arts.int-fiction)
Does int. fiction have to be a game?

1998 (rec.arts.int-fiction)
Are there any alternative to puzzles? (contrasts puzzle games with CYOA/branching)

1999 (rec.arts.int-fiction)
Defining IF (yet again) (was: Are there any IF+RPG?)

1999 (rec.arts.int-fiction)
What is IF?

2002 (rec.arts.int-fiction)
What is IF really?

2003 (rec.arts.int-fiction)
class on if (update)

‘interactive fiction’, a meaningless signifier?

2005 (rec.arts.int-fiction)
Why newcomers struggle with IF.

2006 (rec.arts.int-fiction)
Defining IF (again)

Communicating the type of game to the player

CYOA trend

Emily Short – Down with Parsers!

What is CYOA as opposed to IF

Surprising conclusion: CYOA is not MCA!

IF and Choice (or, another goddamn CYOA thread)

Something I noticed

IFcomp is gone all hail IFComp

On the overwhelming response to non-IFComp events

Making CYOA Challenging

Why are there so little parser games now?

IF is dead

Why can’t i get into CYOA or restricted parser games?

IFComp 2018 Reviews

Should we distinguish between games and literature

Can we split IFComp into two categories?


If the point is to distinguish parser from choice games, I think we’ve got a pretty good terminology for that… parser versus choice! Clean, accurate, gets the job done. And we don’t need to gatekeep the term “text adventure”, which is surely an added bonus.


I fully agree with you Victor. Delving a bit deeper I also agree with Josh who said it is a spectrum. Furthermore, internally a parser is still a finite amount of choices and could be fully simulated by a hierarchical menu of choices (albeit likely an unweildy one). I think the only true difference lies in the parser choices being hidden from view, demanding guesswork from the player to construct. It wouldn’t be hard to make a hybrid game blurring the line even further, where some choices are shown and others not. Surely that already has existed somewhere.

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For this, see the work of Robin Johnson, including games like Detectiveland:

In this game, the options you see depend on the object you are wielding, giving the same quadratic difficulty as parser-based verb-noun games.


Personally I consider CYOA only in context of NPC dialogue (as used in modern WCRPG) and I consider perhaps the best solution for one of the most complex issue in NPC coding.

I generally put the line between the text adventures and interactive fiction along the ratio puzzles/narration.

Generally my WIP involve a sort of new take on the old “treasure hunt”, considering knowledge of the game world as “treasures”, hence my WIP generally have few, if any, puzzles but large narration. so I tend to classify this as “interactive fiction”, albeit has roots in the oldest, treasure hunting, text adventures.

so, my prospective on the question of this debate isn’t CYOA vs. parser, but puzzles vs. narration.

Best regards from Italy,
dott. Piergiorgio.


Technically speaking verb noun games with an n char parser present you with 26 to the power of n finite choices, and Detective land and many other games present you with finite contextual choices depending on context, but they are still parser games in that the player thinks of.a command they want then enters that, even if the game itself is constrained in the vocabulary that can be used.

It is a very diffeeent experience to a list of (typically) 1 to 6 things you can do.

The distinction is that a text adventure games until very recently a game in which the player takes a creative step in trying something.

I recently wrote a choice hybrid version of spooky adventure to see how a choice version of a game that was designed to be a parser game might feel. It feels pretty good, but it’s not at all the same kind of experience. It’s something else. You also can’t present a creative step without somewhat providing an n-1 spoiler for a revelation that should be instigated by the player themselves.

A text adventure game has always been about the player exploring things and trying things. Not about the player being presented things to try. The latter does work well for strongly structured narrative experiences.

I grew up with gamebooks and loved them. Games like house of hell, appointment with fear, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. Those were gamebooks (or CYOA). Choice adventures.

Why are in such a hurry to throw away perfectly good terminology that was universally understood to represent a class of games with very particular traits until it means nothing at all any more? Why do we have to find a new pithy genre name when we already have one?

If someone accidentally or purposefully uses the term “bit” when they mean “byte” and a correction occurs is that gatekeeping? The alternative surely then is to understand to treat bit or byte interchangeably, and require a qualifier in front of them. “Long bit”, “short byte”?

I don’t like prescriptive classification, and this specific classification debate has been done to death over the last decades.

That said, I always thought it was interesting that video game genres signify the game’s form, rather than the setting. Novels, for example, fall into genres like science-fiction, fantasy, romance, thriller, etc. (ie. “genre literature”, as opposed to “real literature”). Video game genres, however, are usually things like first-person shooter, strategy, puzzle, role-playing game… And text adventure.

Or is “text adventure” actually the kind of genre that we apply to novels? Does it describe the form, like including puzzles and a parser, or does it describe the setting? I recently read Twisty Little Passages by Nick Montfort, and came across this passage early on in the book:

Not all interactive fiction works, and not even all classic works in the form, are text adventures. The third work from Infocom, Marc Blank’s Deadline, is not a text adventure but a detective mystery, in contrast to the fantasy adventures of the Zork series and contemporary adventures such as Infidel. The setting is a house, and the entire plan of the house is provided in the documentation. Although interviewing murder suspects may be unusual for the interactor and may involve some danger to the protagonist, the situation is a very ordinary one for the main character, a detective.

According to this definition, it’s not the parser that makes something a text adventure, it’s whether the game setting is an adventure, whether there’s exploration, etc. I think most people agree that the term “text adventure” refers to Adventure, ie. it describes a game that is “Adventure-like”, but what parts of Adventure do they imitate? The parser and interactivity, or the adventurous plot? Likewise, we have MUDs, which are “MUD-likes”, and MUD itself is a Zork-like (or Dungeon-like, as it were).

And this reminds me of a similar genre classification debate in video games: Roguelikes. They’re a class of game that imitates Rogue, the famous turn-based dungeon crawler (itself inspired by Adventure). Of course, the problem with genres that are based on specific games is that the definition of the genre relies on a fairly strict definition, defined by the original game. When several games started eschewing principles of roguelikes, probably primarily being turn-based, people in the roguelike community sat down and wrote down a set of “rules” for a game to follow in order to be classified as a roguelike (games that fell outside were usually amusingly called “roguelike-likes”, and more recently, “roguelites”). That’s the Berlin interpretation. I guess the IF community could have done something similar once, if they wanted, but instead the genre definitions have evolved and adapted (which of course is the natural order of things).

“Hurry”? Like zarf said earlier, this change in terminology has been happening since the 90s. Anyway, restricting the term “text adventure” to parser-based games isn’t necessary nowadays, since we have the more precise term “parser IF”.


Maybe for videogames, the term genre isn’t as accurate as template, but that ship sailed decades ago.

Yes, of course. (Just like the “text adventure” ship itself, hehe.) But my point was: Is “text adventure”, or was it originally, a template like other video game genres, or actually a genre like other literature genres? Interactive fiction is part video game and part literature, after all (and this might in fact moreso apply to the later interactive fiction that the original poster wouldn’t classify as “text adventures”).

Parser IF is an incorrect term. Not all text adventures are interactive fiction.

Now you’ve really lost me.


OK, but that’s completely irrelevant, as you’ll have to discuss those non-IF text adventures at another forum. This is “The Interactive Fiction Community Forum”, after all.

That’s a joke. You can discuss them here. But I do think this talk of “incorrect terms” and strict definitions is counter-productive and unnecessary outside of an academic setting.


I don’t think it’s academic to note that “interactive fiction” (interactive story) and “parser based state manipulation games with optional story” (aka text adventure games) might have zero overlap whatsoever - therefore text adventure games are not all parser IF. It’s about what it’s being judged against.

Interactive Fiction is often over-simplified as “an interactive story”, but there are many games that have no story at all - they are parser controlled state manipulation puzzle boxes without anything except a goal.

Even the most barren of text adventures surely becomes a narrative through play, consisting merely of the transcript of play. Unless the state being manipulaed is so abstract to have no narrative capability at all. Something I have never seen, though it may be possible.


Basically text adventures started with Adventure and were just called “adventure games” until graphic adventure games came along and they had to slap “text” on there for clarification. The adventure genre in gaming has become so broad that it covers basically anything that includes exploration, whether it has puzzles or not. This includes Legend of Zelda, Detroit: Become Human, The Stanley Parable, certain visual novels (like Eve Burst Error), Tomb Raider, Resident Evil, etc. I think the same deal applies to “text adventure”. It’d have to be a strict choice game with no puzzles or exploration to be excluded from the text adventure umbrella, I would think. And even then I would forgive someone for calling it one, because who cares.


You could describe your interactions jumping on the heads of goombahs as a narrative experience. That doesn’t make Super Mario Brothers interactive fiction.

I guess the issue is that it’s nice to have a term that encompasses all games that are primarily text-based. Many people use many terms, but ‘interactive fiction’ has been applied to all games that are primarily text-based.

It seems like your definition is an attempt to remove text adventures from that umbrella, possibly because ‘interactive fiction’ might be associated by some with academic, pretentious, or literary connotations. But then, if we take text adventures out of interactive fiction, what are you going to call the new category that includes both text adventures and interactive fiction?

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