Writing Virtual Worlds in the Inform Programming Language (Full-day Workshop, C & W 2012)

For educators who are interested in both computers and writing, interactive fiction games (aka text adventures) offer exciting possibilities. This workshop introduces the interactive fiction programming language Inform, which uses a syntax that resembles ordinary English.

Here is a sample of Inform 7 code:

The Hotel Lobby is a room. A buffet table is in the lobby. A bagel and a napkin are on the table. The bagel is edible.

Those few sentences are enough for Inform 7 to construct a complete virtual world, one that responds meaningfully to commands such as “examine table,” “take bagel,” “eat bagel,” and even “eat napkin.” A few more statements suggest other narrative possibilities:

The player carries the microchip and knockout drops.

In the lobby is a hungry-looking security guard.

Sometimes engrossing, sometimes frustrating, and often both, adventure games are stories taking place in virtual textual worlds. A well-written text adventure requires readers to demonstrate their comprehension of textual cues, by proposing meaningful actions (such as “put knockout drops on bagel” and “give bagel to security guard”) in order to advance the story.

Early text adventures often featured stark fantasy settings with infuriatingly difficult puzzles, but a present-day community of authors, players, critics, and developers continues to explore the aesthetic appeal and the rhetorical possibilities of the medium.

[I’ll be presenting with Shaun Martin. The initial proposal was for a half-day workshop, but with the acceptance notice came a request to expand the workshop to a full day. I may include a section on Guncho.]