What does "text adventure" mean any more?


I’m not trying to remove it from the umbrella of IF, I’m trying to point out that a puzzle game should not have to identify itself as a narrative game. A game should not have to define itself as something it is not.

IF is all encompassing for narrative experiences, including narrative text adventure games. I just think that non narrative text adventure games are not IF, and choice based games are not text adventure games, without a qualifier.

The IF moniker subsumption is something that happened without a lot of discussion and now text adventures are forced against their will to identify as IF. My games (The Path, TWO) are categorically not IF, they are text adventure games - but somehow if I want to put them on Itch for example, I’m forced to identify them as interactive fiction. Now choice based games are coming to erase the final qualifier.

Interactive Fiction and Text Adventure games have a lot of overlap, but text adventure games is not a subgroup, it’s an overlapping set of traits, with a LOT of overlap.

All that is left is to call the games “Parser Based State Manipulation Puzzle Games With Optional Narrative Elements”. I don’t find that state of affairs to be academic for people that just want to make state manipulation games in the style of original text adventure games.

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You could, but Super Mario Brothers doesn’t, and that’s why it’s not interactive fiction.

A parser- (or, say, Twine-) based adaptation might very well be, though. There’s nothing inherently preventing it.

But Super Mario Brothers isn’t interactive fiction because it doesn’t take that approach, not because of the inherent limitations of the subject matter.

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I don’t think “interactive fiction” implies that it’s narrative. It implies that it’s interactive text that isn’t fact/non-fiction. In that case, puzzle games without a story are still IF.

I wasn’t trying to get into semantics, but if I touch on it for a second, these are my thoughts on the subject.

I think that “IF” is the all-encompassing umbrella that covers all text games that aren’t just ascii action games (sorry, game formerly known as Doom Roguelike). Beneath that is the subgenre “text adventure” that covers games in which you can explore and/or solve puzzles. What that leaves is the remaining IF games that don’t meet that text adventure criteria, and I don’t think we ever gave a label to that subgenre, which may be why topics like this keep coming up.


Would be if interactions were described via text though!

This is unrelated to the current discussion, but someone actually made a Mario Brothers clone in Inform a while back (as a sub-game inside a bigger game):



I would build on your thoughts to say “interactive fiction” means a story that is interacted with mostly in text and includes paths beyond reading linearly and can include physical media. I certainly interacted with House of Leaves flipping back and forth and turning that book around and ciphering and going down rabbit holes just like a CYOA book. Similarly S contains margin notes with a parallel stories and feelies in the book that are interacted with. There’s even a code wheel.

I’d categorize “text adventure” as a subset of IF like you do, specifically on a computer with Zork and Infocom being the model. You read text, you type text, you adventure interactively in a fictional story.

A “choice narrative” is a type of IF that branches but isn’t necessary “open world,” even if it simulates one. It can be a physical CYOA book, or a Twine or CoG type thing which may or may not track world state. The analogue for this is hypertext non-fiction (interactive non-fiction?) such as a digital textbook or reference work with hyperlinks and/or footnote pop-ups that works like a choice narrative but is not a story. (Such as how AXMA’s manual is built in their engine and uses all the features as a reference work.)

There are also lower-interactivity choice narratives which are mostly linear but may include optional pop-up text or clickable links but often require getting through all of them (See Screw You Bear Dad or the recent Babyface, or the works of PaperBlurt) which offer choices to sustain narrative momentum or comic timing or suspense via the interaction, but don’t significantly branch the plot. This sub-genre of IF is referred to by some as “dynamic fiction” or “dynfic” which focuses on linear narrative and perhaps styling rather than puzzles and player-agency.

Some people try to apply the IF moniker to games like Mass Effect saying the plot can branch and the player makes choices, which would mean it’s “interactive fiction”. I’d say this is somewhat of a misnomer since the primary vehicle of the narrative is not text, although it may employ dialogue-trees and meaningful choices common in IF as some of many game mechanics. Bioshock contains many instances of a Pipe-Dream mini-game but that doesn’t mean you’d shelve it as a “puzzle game”. Most computer games have a plot and are interactive, but that doesn’t mean they are “IF” as we think of it in genre terms.


Don’t forget this beauty. FooM - Details

I agree with this addition. :+1:

Don’t forget that Call of Duty: Black Ops included a fully playable version of Zork. Clearly CoD is a text adventure. :stuck_out_tongue:


To some degree, almost all games are interactive fiction and produce narratives.
Maybe SMB doesn’t seem like a narritve, but I would say Braid is, and its gameplay is not unlike SMB.

Braid and Mario Brothers could potentially venn diagram comfortably into the “adventure game” genre, as does a lot of IF, but those two are action-adventure games if you’re trying to explain to someone what they actually are.

If someone says “I want to play an IF game” with no other specifications, I don’t believe those two would fall high on the list of recommendations.

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I agree with this, but at the same time it leaves you exposed to the same rabbit hole argument that all games are also role playing because you’re playing a role other than yourself.

I want to say for the sake of argument it’s best to leave “fiction” in this instance limited to text, but then it excludes games like Detroit: Become Human or Life is Strange, which I think both qualify as interactive fiction. :thinking: This is tricky…


Sure, but action-advenure is also almost meaningless when trying to describe a type of game, because it covers such a ridiculously huge variety of games.

I read that Braid also was partly inspired by Trinity (I believe it is mentioned in the credits). And the gameplay and symbolism obviously draws on SMB. :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:

All these categories and genres are fuzzy.
I see nothing wrong with that. Games represent an infinite spectrum of possibility.

Is Zork Zero a text adventure even though it has graphics, and a choice based card game? I think so. Others may disagree.

That’s why we clarify our terms in a discussion, but trying to put rigid definitions to these things is rather pointless and ultimately doomed to failure.

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It is tricky, which is why this is a common discussion. “Fiction” is higher on the genre tree. Most movies and books read for entertainment are also fictional but not interactive.

I’d say Detroit and Life is Strange are closer to IF than Mass Effect is. Both of those could probably be converted to text narratives. I’d probably consider those “graphic adventures” or even perhaps Visual Novels with very specific and customized interaction.

Thus the need for genre-specification (and possibly more specifically interaction-style specification). If I say I want to play IF and you give me Mario Galaxy I’m probably not going to ask you for other recommendations since you clearly didn’t understand what I was looking for. Terming everything as IF is just as unhelpful as “action adventure” - although you then understand the interaction style that will be involved.

(This occurs to me - IF has the player interacting with the fiction via words and text instead of interacting via action or fighting/shooting components, often with WASD or a controller, so that might be a key component as well.)


I often wonder if these discussions originate because someone wants to discuss or promote any random type of computer or console game to the IF audience just because “there’s a fictional story you can interact with!”

It would be totally fine to discuss those types of games here - we have Off-Topic discussion categories. But I think the actual IF audience is savvy enough to recognize what IF is (or their preferred flavor of it) even when the genre lines are blurred for marketing purposes or due to genuine cluelessness.

We often delete drive-by promotions of (usually mobile) games specifically for this reason. If you are part of this community and wish to discuss anything reasonbly off-topic that’s fine, but that privilege is reserved for the community and not for blanket-spam “Hey, buy our mobile LORDS OF WAR game because it has interactive fiction elements!” messages.

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Noted, but I don’t think anyone’s doing that here, are they?

This one wasn’t started out of the blue. It split off from this conversation to not clog up the review thread.


Oh I see! I’d assumed this was just the latest in those annual group therapy sessions that the community has been running for the past quarter of a century (as helpfully documented above, by Brian).

Still don’t think there’s an ulterior motive though (at, least not with the OP in this thread).

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An idle suggestion:

Given that these threads on the boundaries of interactive fiction vs. text adventures, games vs. stories, etc., pop up so regularly, sometimes getting closed by the mods but always coming back, what if we had one megathread on the subject where anyone who wants to debate this could be directed? Other forums have isolated threads for religion or politics or the text editor wars, and this topic is probably our closest equivalent of such.

Well, vim is clearly text adventure, while emacs is action-adventure.


This is emac’s learning curve:


This is vim’s: