Gaming: Using Text-Based Adventures

Text-based adventures describe software that simulates environments in which players use text commands to control characters and influence the environment. These types of adventure games with text-based input and output were popular before the advent of personal computers with strong graphics capabilities. Perhaps the most influential text-based adventure of this era (early 1980’s) was a game titled Zork. The game is set in the ruins of an ancient empire lying far underground. You are a dauntless treasure-hunter venturing into a dangerous land in search of wealth and adventure. In this game, the player uses commands, such as “take lamp”, “open mailbox”, “go north” etc.

The culture of interaction, if harnessed by schools can be a tremendous force in promoting learning. What we should realize as educators is that students don’t want to be given “information”, they want to learn by doing where they synthesize their own understanding and this is usually based on experimentation. I believe that these types of games can improve literacy and spatial awareness, increase motivation and student engagement and promote problem solving and higher-order thinking.

An extension to this is to use freely available and easy to use software to get students to create their own text games and get them to think in detail about characters and settings. One example is Inform 7 which is a design system for interactive fiction or text-adventures based on a natural language environment. Using this type of environment allows students to think about narrative in a novel way, because each story can have multiple narratives depending on what the player decides to do. Also, because the output will be actively interacted with (perhaps by fellow students), it encourages students to carefully consider the audience for their writing.

Play Zork and a host of other text-based adventures online at http://www.xs4all.nl/~pot/infocom/

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