A Brief Introduction to Interactive Fiction

Michael J. Roberts, creator of the TADS interactive fiction system, offers a thoughtful reflection on contemporary interactive fiction. Yes, nostalgia is part of the reason why some people like interactive fiction

But for many of us, that’s not it at all; there’s a lot more to IF than fond memories of classic games on antique computers. Many of us see text-based interactive fiction as a uniquely expressive story-telling medium. To us, text is not the same as really lame graphics – it’s an altogether different medium with altogether different capabilities, and it didn’t become obsolete when graphical games came along any more than books became obsolete when television was invented. 

What is it about interactive fiction that keeps us enthusiasts interested after all these years?

For starters, IF is probably the only computer game medium in which an individual author can hope to create an entire work on his or her own. Part of the reason today’s cutting-edge computer games are so technically accomplished is that they’re created by huge teams of specialists. Without millions of dollars of financial backing, someone with an idea for a game has little hope of realizing it as a full graphical production. In contrast, a lone writer can readily create an entire text game single-handedly.

Probably the most interesting thing about IF, though, is its inherent emphasis on story.