What would your syllabus for Survey of Interactive Fiction I & II courses look like?

It might be interesting to discuss games that users consider important to the development of IF as an art form. This thread is not about naming your favorite or most-enjoyed games, then (though there will certainly be overlap). Rather, I ask which games might be taught in a hypothetical “survey of” humanities class? I recognize they could be taught as game studies, but I am biased toward reading the “texts” of IF games. Feel free to argue against in your reply!

For the sake of argument, let’s say there are two courses:

  • Survey of Interactive Fiction I (1980-2000)
  • Survey of Interactive Fiction II (2000-2020)

Which games would you consider necessary for each syllabus? I chose not to create a poll/list at IFDB because ultimately ranking games or aggregating them is unimportant to me. This is a qualitative survey that is ultimately about individual opinions and the rationales for them.

I think Interactive Fiction I begins easy but gets more complicated after 1990. Still, even 1980-1990 is tricky. What non-Infocom games belong?

No pressure to add a set number of titles for either course. If you have a guiding philosophy or principle behind your choices, let’s hear that, too! If you think it’s relevant, it probably is.

Edit: I once had a sample list, but I’ve removed it. I never intended to workshop it and including it probably discourages people from posting their own ideas and arguments.

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You seem to be following a particular text-adventury line.

Photopia is certainly missing from the list.

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Now that you mention it, yes, that one has come up a lot.

Edit: I’ve removed my sample list, as it likely encourages “workshopping” responses as opposed to users posting their own lists and ideas.

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Yeah, I think Photopia would be a necessary inclusion, and honestly a tempting one with which to either wrap up the first course or begin the second one; its low-puzzle design, multiple viewpoints and nonlinear timeline, literary-fiction ambitions, and use of color indicating an engagement with aesthetics, feel like they create a good opportunity to identify a rough inflection point around the turn of the millennium (though of course it’s a 1998 game…)

I know the idea isn’t to critique your list as such, but I noticed you have Theatre on there twice, so wondered if that’s a typo and you wanted to propose something else instead.

The Hobbit seems like a worthy inclusion, given its introduction of more simulation-focused design as well as providing a potential place to engage with the relationship between static and interaction fiction.

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Ah, yes. The Hobbit. That is one my British readers mention all the time! I think shipping the novel with the game is interesting, too. I don’t think that the Telarium/Spinnaker games ever did that. It had a lot of NPCs moving around, too, which was quite novel at the time.

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Why does the course start with 1980?

An important part of this story is the proliferation of two-word parser adventures, which could run on the tiny home computers so many people had before MS-DOS took over. I would include at least Pirate Adventure or some other Scott Adams game, the first couple of which are from 1978. But these games were influential for years; I never played an Infocom game until 1986 or so.

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Great point. Adventure is pre-1980, too. You’re absolutely right about Scott Adams’s stuff. Those were initially written for the TRS-80 and tape, weren’t they?

So maybe 1980 is too late. Or maybe there’s a pre-1980 class that could be separate? There’s enough there, I’m sure. Especially if one takes the Aaron Reed approach and and looks at text games that precede ADVENT, etc

I’d advise reading through Jason Dyer’s All the Adventures blog, when it comes to the pre-1982 works… It’s incredibly comprehensive and highlights all the important games and computer systems. It’s a must read…

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Yeah, such a great site. I read new posts as they release but haven’t gone back to the beginning. I really should.

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The backlog is daunting to catch up on, but I occasionally go to the All the Adventures overview and click on whichever games catch my eye that day.

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Off topic, but I’m really impressed by Dyer’s play methods. He got through Time Zone at a very quick pace, even though it’s widely believed to be difficult/unfair/impossible.

E: Time Zone might be a decent pick. It made quite a splash in its day.

Whenever anybody raises this sort of topic, they always suggest the ‘classics’ such as Curses, Anchorhead, Galatea and Photopia. I’ve played hundreds of games, but I’ve never played any of these, so they are meaningless to me.

There are a lot of games that were influential in the 1980s to 1990s and they weren’t necessarily your big commercial games. Many of the more significant games were type-ins from books and computer magazines and homebrew games. Don’t forget that the text adventure/interactive fiction scene is not restricted to USA. There were more games produced overseas than in the USA, yet these always get ignored by Americans.

I estimate that there are somewhere in the vicinity of 10,000 text adventures. Which ones should be included in the survey?

  • ADVENT (obviously) and one or two other mainframe adventures, such as Castlequest and Dungeon. You should also mention the ADVENT family tree and all the derivatives, from the 350 point version to the 1000 point version and everything in between.
  • Zork, I suppose, as it was the first Infocom game.
  • Dog Star Adventure, as it was supposedly the first ever magazine type-in.
  • Adventureland, as it was the first adventure that ran on a home computer (or one of the first).
  • Something from The Captain 80 book of BASIC adventures, the first collection of type-ins in a book.
  • Something from Brian Howarth.
  • Something from Level 9.
  • Some Quilled, PAWed and GACed adventures.
  • Some of the Australian classics, such as games by Dorothy Millard, Darryl Reynolds & Brian Betts.
  • The first illustrated adventure by Sierra On-line.
  • Some of the wonderful Apple II and Atari 8-bit illustrated adventures.
  • Powerstar, one of the only adventures to ever be released on a cartridge.
  • Something written with the TI-99/4a adventure module.
  • The SoftSide Adventure of the Month series.
  • At least one game from each of the major (and minor) 8-bit and 16-bit platforms.
  • At least one game from each of the major authoring systems (AGT, Adrift, Alan, Hugo, Inform 5, Inform 6, Inform 7, Quest, TADS, Adventuron etc.)
  • Games from the first ever competitions, such as those in The Rainbow book of adventures.
  • Something from Magnetic Scrolls.
  • Examples of foreign language games in French, German, Italian, Spanish and so on.

The survey should include text only games and games illustrated by character graphics, bit-mapped graphics and vector graphics.

It should also include some of the dogs, not just the ‘best’ games, as they were just as important to the history, development and improvement of the genre, not to mention the nostalgia.

It all boils down to how many games you want to include.

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Thanks for fully engaging with the question! I am not sure how many games would be included. I’m assuming that walkthroughs would be provided, since the emphasis would be on understanding the texts of the game and the features that make them unique. I think an instructor would try to cover however much would be feasible in a typical university semester.

The reason that Americans emphasize American games (and most of all Infocom) is because the sales of Infocom games set them apart. They were not just a gaming phenomenon but a pop culture phenomenon. For a period, they were likely the most successful game publisher in America, and one of the most successful software publishers generally.

Obviously, the games from outside America are important. It’s just that the influence of Infocom over here is impossible to ignore.

This is a great list! I know very few of them. Some UK listeners of my podcast have written in with suggestions for games written outside of the US. I plan to play a few of them after my Infocom project is over. I’ll consider your recommendations as well.

I completely agree about “dogs.” I think that the class would ultimately be about legacy rather than quality (though many games will demonstrate both, of course!).

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Here’s an IFDB list I made a while ago with the games I think are “historically important” or interesting for authors. Like Garry, I also have a specific niche, which is the Infocom, XYZZY award, and IFComp groups.

If I had to include some more out there stuff, I’d say the Unnkulia games (played a major role between Infocom and Inform in the communities that engaged with both, but aren’t my favorite). Scott Adams really should be on that list.

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Thanks for this list. It’s enjoyable to read, and the comments explain everything. They even make sense to me, and my post-Infocom knowledge is quite spotty!

I’m surprised that I’d forgotten about Slouching Towards Bedlam. I remember liking it very much.

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