Interactive Fiction Annotated Bibliography (All Sections)


This bibliography was published in the November 2002 issue of TEXT Technology.

25 Aug 2001; Dennis G. Jerz
This part of the Annotated IF Bibliography presents all four sections in one long file (about 100 items altogether). Jump down to...

§1) Academic/Professional Sources 
     1.1: Books, Articles and Theses 
     1.2: Conference Papers, Project Reports and Student Papers 
§2) General (Non-academic) Publications 
     2.1: Reportage (Journalism and Non-academic Books)
     2.2: Essays (Nostalgia and Reflection)
     2.3: Literature (References to IF in Other Genres) 
§3) Manifestos and Taxonomies 
§4) Archives and Meta-resources

§1) Academic/Professional Sources

§1.1: Articles, Books & Theses

Aarseth, Espen J. Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins UP, 1997. [link]
***** Aarseth articulates a comprehensive theory of interactive literature that applies across technological and generic boundaries. "A cybertext is a machine for the production of a variety of expression" (3). According to Aarseth, "ergodic" literature is that in which "nontrivial effort is required to allow the reader to traverse the text" (1). The book includes chapters on hypertext literature, interactive fiction, and MUDs. Aarseth's interactive fiction chapter includes a call for better IF scholarship and criticism: "The adventure game is an artistic genre of its own, a unique aesthetic field of possibilities, which must be judged on its own terms" (107).

Highlights from the introductory chapter:

In the chapter "Intrigue and Discourse in the Adventure Game," Aarseth opens with a brief history of the Internet, and offers Don Woods's description of his collaboration with Willie Crowther in the creation of "Colossal Cave Adventure." Aarseth agrees with Buckles's assessment of the "Adventure" phenomenon as a manifestation of Internet folk art. Anderson, Peter Bøgh and Berit Holmqvist. "Interactive Fiction: Artificial Intelligence as a Mode of Sign Production." AI and Society 4 (1990): 291-313. [link]
*1/2The authors advocate artificial intelligence (AI) as a means of manipulating character behavior within the interactive space wherein the reader and program together create a story, much as a stage actor employs the script and fellow actors in order to generate a performance. Anderson and Holmqvist invoke hypertext theorists and the virtual reality analytics of Brenda Laurel, for the purpose of presenting a barroom scenario in which the reader/player interacts with several simulated characters with distinct agendas. A "good" couple (dressed in white) and a "bad" couple (dressed in black) interact via signified actions (hackneyed "film noir" motifs such as buying a drink or lighting a cigarette). Their work, from a project at the Institute of Information and Media Science, University of Aarhus (Denmark), bears much resemblance the "virtual theater" work of the Oz Project at Carnegie Mellon (see also §1.2: Bates; Mateas; Mateas and Stern).

[Note: The AI method of computer storytelling focuses on simulating everyday human behavior; but good stories generally require unusual events of some kind - or at least an artistic presentation of everyday events. Many IF practitioners (e.g. §3: Granade, "Artificial Intelligence in IF") argue that full-blown AI is a red herring. Nevertheless, the programming of believable supporting characters remains a technical and aesthetic challenge in command-line IF (see §3: Short).]

Buckles, Mary Ann. "Interactive Fiction: The Computer Storygame 'Adventure'." Ph.D. Thesis. U. Cal at San Diego, 1985. [link]
***** In a New Critical approach rarely seen in academic discussions of IF, Buckles de-emphasizes the role of the programmer/author, taking "Colossal Cave Adventure" (Crowther, c.1975; Crowther and Woods, 1976) as a "given," and examining instead the reader/player's efforts to make meaning out of the experience. As an immature medium, IF has not yet produced great literature: "I do not believe that the literary limitations of Adventure means that computer story games are of necessity a sub-literary genre, or that there is something about the computer medium itself which pre-destines interactive fiction always to be frivolous in nature. The development of film can be taken as an analogy." Campbell, P. Michael. "Interactive Fiction and Narrative Theory: Towards an Anti-Theory." New England Journal and Bread Loaf Quarterly 10 (1987): 76-84. [link]
** A reading of Robert Pinsky's "Mindwheel" (Synapse/Broderbund, 1984). Pinsky was the U.S. Poet Laureate from 1997-2000. Campbell spends so much time describing the form of the "computerized novel") that he has little time to analyze the content. (See also §1.1: Packard.) Since "Mindwheel" is extremely difficult to find (except via morally ambiguous "abandon­ware" websites), this article (along with §1.1: Randall) is useful as a fossilized record of early cyberliterature.

Coleman, Douglas W. "Language Learning Through Computer Adventure Games" Simulation & Gaming 21 (1990): 433, 8p. Academic Search Elite full text database. 26 par. 30 May 2000. [link]
** Although the title suggests an emphasis on adventure games, of classic text-only titles the article briefly mentions only Zork. Nevertheless, "some of the games available for home computers are designed around problem-solving activities and require methodical planning, thinking, and note taking" (¶4). Of possible interest to IF scholars is Coleman's list of attributes that affect whether a player perceives a computer gaming session as "fun" - and thus, presumably, contributes to the player's determination to continue playing.

Constanzo, William V. "Reading Interactive Fiction: Implications of a New Literary Genre." Educational Technology 26 (1986): 31-5. [link]
**1/2 Most of the article is concerned with introducing the concept of IF to an unfamiliar audience, using transcripts from Douglas Adams's "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" (Infocom, 1984, with Steve Meretzky), and James Paul's "Brimstone" (Synapse/Broderbund, 1985). Also features a brief description of Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451" (Spinnaker, 1984). (See also §1.1: Packard.)

Desilets, Brendan. "Interactive Fiction vs. the Pause that Distresses: How Computer-Based Literature Interrupts the Reading Process Without Stopping the Fun." Currents in Electronic Literacy 1 (1999). 19 Sep, 2000. [link]
**** Writing mostly for an audience unfamiliar with IF, Desilets presents his experience using interactive fiction to teach literary concepts (plot, setting, point of view) to children ages 11 through 14. He reports that about 70% of the students preferred to study IF texts, in part because "it challenges them to recognize and solve problems in ways that no textbook seems to be able to match" (¶8). (See also §1.1: Packard.) Desilets, Brendan. "Reading, Thinking, and Interactive Fiction." English Journal 78 (1989): 75-77. [link]
** An embryonic version of his 1999 article, also describing scenes from "Planetfall" and "Wishbringer," and evaluates the problem-solving strategies of middle-school students playing IF in class. Perhaps most notable in this article is a brief passage addressing resistance from adults who dislike IF: "What's wrong with this picture? If you're one of the many adults who has tried interactive fiction and hated it, you think you may know. Actually, IF aversion is easily understandable, in that many of us get the worst possible advice [from students who present it as a kind of novel] as we get started with the genre. . . . And twenty cryptic error messages later, we've had enough of interactive fiction, because, in truth, even the most sophisticated IF program can deal with only a tiny portion of the kinds of English sentences that any speaker of the language uses" (77). Desilets' advice is simple: "all we need to do is read the clear and witty documentation that comes with each of the programs."

Dewey, Patrick R. "Interactive Fiction: A Checklist." American Libraries 17 (1986): 132-7. [link]
*** General introduction to the IF genre, written by a supportive librarian and amateur IF author. Includes capsule reviews of such titles as Ray Bradbury's "Farenheit 451" (Spinnaker, 1984), Michael Crichton's "Amazon" (Trillium, 1984), Arthur C. Clarke's "Rendezvous with Rama" (Spinnaker, 1984), and Douglas Adams's "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" (Infocom, 1984; with Steve Meretzky). Also, includes summaries of four IF authorship utilities.

Dunman, Susan K. "Judging the Book By a New Cover: Interactive Fiction." Media and Methods 23 (1987): 12-13+. [link]
**1/2A reference librarian laments that computers placed in the middle of libraries tend to draw attention away from books. "The increasingly popular form of software known as 'interactive fiction' provides an opportunity to combine the power of the computer with the power of the written word" (12). . (See also §1.1: Packard.) Harris, Barbara and Bruce C. Appleby. "Interactive Fiction." English Journal 76 (1987): 91-2. [link]
** Brief introduction to IF, with belated reviews of "Mask of the Sun" (Ultrasoft, 1982) and "Deadline" (Infocom, 1982). IF "comes close to being a genre of fiction. . . . Is this literature? . . . That they need to be read with care and demand careful and logical responses makes them worth considering for your students" (91). (See also §1.1: Packard.)

Howell, Gordon and Jane Yellowlees Douglas. "The Evolution of Interactive Fiction." Computer Assisted Language Learning: An International Journal 2: (1990). 93-109. [link]
* Howell and Douglas make no reference to command-line IF, but rather discuss the canonical works of early hyperfiction (Joyce's "Afternoon"; Moulthrop's "Garden of Forking Paths") which Landow would later examine in his influential Hypertext: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology. Nevertheless, this article begins with a useful analysis of Tristram Shandy, the experimental eighteenth-century novel which seems to have discovered postmodern narrative long before the twentieth century did.

Hutcheon, Linda. A Poetics of Postmodernism. New York and London: Routledge, 1988. [link]
** A very brief reference. Hutcheon, discussing the postmodern tradition of emphasizing the receiver's role in constructing a text, and who then offers interactive fiction as "the most extreme example I can think of" (77). Hutcheon quotes Niesz and Holland to claim that, in interactive fiction, "there is no fixed product or text, just the reader's activity as producer as well as receiver." (See §1.1: Aarseth, who calls this observation "clearly false; otherwise [IF texts] could hardly be discussed at all" [106], and observes that "Hutcheon's misrepresentation is understandable in light of the often self-contradictory Anthony Niesz and Norman N. Holland article she refers to." See also §1.1: Niesz and Norman.)

Kelley, Robert T. "A Maze of Twisty Little Passages, All Alike: Aesthetics and Teleology in Interactive Computer Fictional Environments." Science Fiction Studies 20 (1993): 52-68. [link]
**** The author treats IF in part as a launching point in order to examine the potential of virtual reality, but along the way he examines other issues as well. IF is not central to this paper, yet Kelley writes with a welcome awareness of earlier IF scholarship.

Lancy, David F. and Bernard L. Hayes. "Interactive Fiction and the Reluctant Reader." English Journal (November 1988): 42-45. [link]
*** "[I]nteractive fiction could offer students who are reluctant readers a new motivation and interest to use their reading ability for personal satisfaction" (42). While the authors feel that calling IF (by which they mean both text-only and text-with-graphics titles) a new literary form is "debatable... there is no doubt that these sophisticated, interactive games involve the reader in activities that many current reading theorists would emphasize as important and essential in developing reading comprehension strategies" (42). Among the IF works presented to fifth-grade students were Infocom titles "Zork," "Seastalker," and "Wishbringer"; Sierra versions of "Winnie-the-Pooh in the Hundred Acre Wood" and "Ulysses and the Golden Fleece"; and Windham Classic versions of "Alice in Wonderland," "The Wizard of Oz," "Treasure Island," and "Swiss Family Robinson." The article focuses on the reading strategies of the children, rather than on any of the IF titles, although "Seastalker" is identified as an "electronic novel" that presupposes advanced reading skills. Laurel, Brenda. Computers as Theatre. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1993. [link]
**1/2Computers as Theatre is a theoretical book, which offers stagecraft as a metaphor for the design of computer interfaces. Laurel does not address IF proper, except in passing, although her quantification of the three levels of interactivity (frequency of interactive opportunities, range of choices, and the degree to which any particular choice will truly affect the outcome) is extremely useful. Laurel used her research in theatre, education, and gender issues to found the software company devoted to creating non-violent computer games for girls. In 1999, that company, Purple Moon, rejected a $45 million takeover offer from Mattel. Laurel herself is now a respected computer interface authority, who in August 2000 joined the consulting firm of high-profile Internet usability guru Jakob Nielsen.In the chapter "Dramatic Foundations II: Orchestrating Actions," Laurel "deals with how plots - representational actions - are constructed so that they provide emotional and intellectual satisfaction, and how these dramatic principles can inform the design of human-computer activity" (68). Laurel, Brenda. "Towards the Design of a Computer-based Interactive Fantasy System." Ph.D. Dissertation. Ohio State University 1986. [link]
? (My repeated attempts to request this via inter-library loan have been fruitless.)

Layton, Kent. "Interactive Text Adventures." Media & Methods (1987): [page numbers illegible in my copy]. [link]
** Interactive fiction titles "may be one of the most underrated types of reading programs on the market." Describes branching prose fiction as "the less complete type of text adventure," and quotes a short transcript from "Zork" (Infocom, c. 1979). IF is "conversational in nature and definitively causes users to feel as though they are actively involved with the story." Offers a list of 15 "reading skills likely to be used" when students encounter IF. Advocates IF because students are excited about computers; they must read and express their own wishes textually; and because IF works well in small groups. "To the classroom teacher, the reading teacher, and the school library media specialist, interactive text adventures are much more than computer games. . . . More importantly, interactive text adventures help to foster a love for reading that may in turn foster a lifelong reading habit."

Lebling, David P., Marc S. Blank, Timothy A. Anderson. "Zork: A Computerized Fantasy Simulation Game." IEEE Computer 12:4 (1979): 51-59. 7 Jan, 2000. [link]
****1/2With this article, the creators of "Zork" announced their contribution to the IF genre. These programmers, who would go on to create Infocom (which marketed most of the classic 80s IF) thought of the new genre as a platform for a "fantasy simulation game," very closely tied to the world of Dungeons and Dragons. Soon thereafter, thanks in large part to the efficiently-programmed works of Scott Adams, IF would expand into other genres (mystery, science fiction, etc.).

Montfort, Nicholas A. "Cybertext Killed the Hypertext Star" Electronic Book Review 11 (2000). 8 Jan 2001. [link]
***1/2[Review of §1.1: Aarseth]. Observes that "hypertext. . . includes only a subset of electronic literary efforts" ("the hypertext murder case" ¶4) and approves of Aarseth's accomplishment: "to erase the stifling hypertext boundary, and to redraw that boundary so that it demarcates a more interesting territory of reader-influenced texts. The cybertext terrain includes computational literary artifacts that are in some cases novel, although yet to be thoroughly explored" ("the hypertext murder case" ¶2). (See also §1.2: Montfort, especially his close reading of "Deadline.")

Moulthrop, Stuart and Nancy Kaplan. "Something to Imagine: Literature, Composition, and Interactive Fiction." Computers and Composition 9.1 (1991): 7-23. 15 Dec 2000. [link]
* Moulthrop and Kaplan describe the experience of teaching "a first-year writing course on the literature of fantasy" that "enabled students to explore this mode of expression both as readers and writers of interactive fiction" (¶2). In a section titled "The Concept of Interactive Fiction," the authors write, "When writers make use of hypertext to produce fictional narrative, the result is interactive fiction, a form of writing which regularly calls upon the reader to respond in some way (e.g. by keying commands, highlighting a phrase with a pointing device, or touching a button on the screen)" (¶14). Hence, Moulthrop and Kaplan seem to define the term "interactive fiction" broadly enough to include command-line IF, and they do in fact quote from a transcript of Pinsky's "Mindwheel" (Synapse/Broderbund, 1984); yet their application is focused on hypertext. Because they cite (§1.1) Niesz and Holland's article as the "first critical appraisal of electronic fiction" (¶45), Moulthrop and Kaplan appear to be comparing apples and oranges when they argue "this new form of writing [hypertext] is neither as unimaginable as Niesz and Holland anticipated nor quite so likely to alienate anyone's literary affections" (¶46). Nevertheless, this article, written a few years before the advent of graphical browsers for the masses, ends with intriguing and salient questions about the possibility of interactive electronic narrative to provide professionals and amateurs with a sense of a reading and writing community.

Murray, Janet Horowitz. Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace. New York: Free Press, 1997. [link]
**** Murray takes "interactive fiction" to include hypertext and other forms of interaction, and thus has little to say about parser-based IF; yet her observations about the nature of electronic narrative are indispensable. Regarding command-line IF, the bibliography cites only "Adventure," "Deadline," "Planetfall" and "Zork."

Newman, Judith M. "Online: Write Your Own Adventure." Language Arts 65 (1988): 329-234. [link]
* Describes the experiences of a fifth-graders using Story Tree (Scholastic) to write branching prose fiction, in the style of the "Choose Your Own Adventure Novel." No explicit references to command-line IF. While Newman is generally positive about the students' experiences, as well as her own, she ends with the following caution: "While software such as Story Tree can be wonderfully useful in the classroom we mustn't lose sight of what we're using it for - to enrich and support children's learning experiences" (234). (See §1.1: Packard.)

Niesz, Anthony J. and Norman N. Holland. "Interactive Fiction." Critical Inquiry 11 (1984): 110-129. [link]
***** In their near-evangelistic praise of the emerging genre, Niesz and Holland sound not unlike George Landow or Stuart Moulthrop in the early 90s, writing about hypertext narrative. So far as I can tell, this article is the first to consider seriously how literary criticism (particularly reader-response theory) might handle IF. As the authors themselves admit, "Writing about interactive fiction in 1984 is like writing about the movies in 1900 or television in 1945." When they speculate on what shape interactive fiction will take in 2004, they immediately latch upon "[n]ationwide computer networks now connected by telephone" (126), and refer to technological methods to enact T. S. Eliot's dictum that the best response to a poem is another poem. The authors conclude: "Microcomputers will change our ideas and our practice of literature as much as Gutenberg did, deeply refining the humanities in the process."

The authors make several other notable observations about IF:

. (But see §1.1: Aarseth's statement that any action that makes part of the text more accessible is likely to make another part less accessible.) Packard, Edward B. "Interactive Fiction for Children: Boon or Bane?" School Library Journal 34 (1987): 40-1. [link]
**1/2Of the librarians, teachers, and researchers who introduce their readers to the educational potential of interactive fiction in the late 80s (§1.1: Costanzo; Desilets 1989; Dewey; Dunman; Harris and Appleby; Lancy and Hayes; Layton; Newman; Sampson), Packard is notable for his caution. Referring not to command-line IF but rather to branching-plot novels (essentially bound paper hypertexts), Packard observes that it has been known to motivate poor readers, but notes that some professionals consider it "junk food for the brain" (40). He concludes that "[I]nteractive fiction is a useful literary device, which like so many other things, may serve - to a greater or lesser degree - either to close young minds or to enlighten them" (41). Peterson, Dale. Genesis II: Creation and Recreation with Computers. Reston, Va: Prentice Hall, 1983. [link]
** Pages 187-195 describe "Adventure" (Crowther, c.1975; Crowther and Woods, 1976) and mainframe "Zork" (Anderson, Blank, Daniels and Lebling, 1978-1981). Offers a rare quotation from Crowther about the creation of "Adventure." Randall, Neill. "Determining Literariness in Interactive Fiction." Computers and the Humanities 22:3 (1988): 183-191. [link]
****1/2Cites Wolfgang Iser's examination of Fielding's Joseph Andrews, Thackeray's Vanity Fair, and Joyce's Ulysses as examples of interactivity in literature. Randall refers to Steve Meretzky's "A Mind Forever Voyaging" (Infocom, 1985), Robert Pinsky's "Mindwheel" (Synapse/Broderbund, 1984); Bill Darrah's "Essex" (1985); James Paul's "Brimstone" (Synapse/Broderbund 1985); and Rod Smith's "Breakers" (Synapse/Broderbund 1986), which "all begin as traditional fiction, with roughly thirty printed pages serving as the first chapters of the story" (186), after which exposition the interactive portion is played out on computer. Sampson, Fay. "Interactive Fiction: An Experience of the 'Writers in Education' Scheme." Children's Literature in Education 18 (1987): 184-91. [link]
* An author of children's books reflects upon the energy she receives from reading her books to young schoolchildren, and notes that as children get older, and more indoctrinated by the idea that a writer is a special kind of person, their questions become less probing. Only the following passing reference to interactive fiction: Sloane, Sarah. "Interactive Fiction, Virtual Realities, and the Reading-Writing Relationship." Ph.D. dissertation. Ohio State University. 1991. [link]

Sloane studies interactive fiction because it provides her a convenient example with which to "contribute to our academy's working hypotheses about how language, legality, and subject in general relate," and sees it as "a tool with which to probe the composing models of social constructionists and cognitivists" and "a window into how texts constrain readers and even into how the world constraints interpretations."  Hence, the main thrust of her argument has little to say about interactive fiction per se, but rather supporting argument that "computer-based fictions. . . require researchers in Departments of English to reconfigure their critical theories and models of textual interpretation that are based on readings of paper texts" (2).

"It is the intent of this dissertation to examine reading and writing interactive fiction and to demonstrate how these electronic texts and a dimension to our critical understandings of the ethics of reading, the collaborations of composing, and rhetorical triangle, has traditionally conceived. In short, this dissertation intends to answer the following four questions: What is the experience of reading and writing interactive fiction? How is this experience different from traditional, paper based acts of reading and writing? What do interactive fiction and antecedent, virtual reality, tell us about the reading-writing relationship in general? And how must we adjust our rhetorical theories and models to account for this kind of electronic text?" (3-4).

This dissertation won The Hugh Burns Award for the best dissertation in Computers and Composition Studies.

Sloane's chapter on IF composition is weakened by the lack of availability (at that time) of published secondary material concerning the complex relationship between the programming and linguistic creative tasks undertaken by the author-programmer.  She turns instead to studies of the Oz Project and Interactive Fantasies -- electronic text projects that differ in important ways from the form and style of the classic text-adventure game.

Tosca, Susana Pajares. "Playing for the Plot. Blade Runner as Paradigm of the Electronic Adventure Game." dichtung digital Beiträge zur Ästhetik digitaler Literatur und Kunst (31 May 2000). 4 Jan 2000. or [link]
*** Tosca examines the graphic computer game "Blade Runner" (Westwood, 1997) as an example of digital narrative, and offers insight as to reasons for its effectiveness. The game is set in the same world as the movie directed by Ridley Scott (Warner Bros., 1982; director's cut 1992), which is in turn based on the novel by Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (Del Ray, 1968). Textual variations among several overlapping versions of the story already suggest a kind of multiform narrative, which Tosca touches on briefly. Although she makes only passing references to command-line IF, Tosca demonstrates a welcome understanding of the specific narrative strengths of text-based participatory fiction. The close reading of the "Blade Runner" game is a excellent blending of gaming and narrative theory, yielding much useful and valid insight.

Tosca is the editor of what is billed as the first Spanish digital literary magazine; she published this article in English, for a German periodical; perhaps this is why the final text seems to suffer from numerous translation errors, editorial lapses, or some combination. If the article breaks little new critical ground, it does present a competent application of existing theory to this relatively unexamined literary form. To contextualize the close reading of the game, Tosca regularly refers to the literary and narrative qualities of interactive games - yet her bibliography is heavy on cybertext theorists, and light on those literary postmodernists and structuralists to whom the cybertheorists themselves turn in order to orient their theoretical inquiries.

van der Linde, Gerhard. "Text without boundaries." Trans: Internet-Zeitscrhift für Kulturvissenchaften 9 (2000): n.p. 20 Dec 2000. [link]
*1/2Refers to IF proper only in passing, within the context of a systematic classification of electronic texts. Unlike many humanities studies of electronic text, which seem to begin and end with the canonical literary hypertexts of Joyce and Moulthrop, van der Linde identifies a wide range of ways in which a particular text can be electronic. He identifies online versions of traditional texts, such as those published by Project Gutenberg, which "are read in basically the same way one reads traditional books" (§3), and which rely upon computers almost solely for distribution.

A second class of e-texts "are fully accessible only in electronic format" (§4), comprising multimedia CD-ROMs; the canonical literary hypertext; multimedia hyperfiction that uses the interactive capabilities of the Internet (chat, message boards, etc.) to extend the boundaries of the text; the "interactive novel" (what this bibliography terms "command-line IF"); a kind of role-playing hyperfiction in which "the reader-protagonist enters a virtual scenario in which he has to solve problems, overcome obstacles and so on" (§4.5) [this is presumably something like the literary equivalent of the "How to Host a Murder" party games, in which party guests are assigned roles and expected to improvise conversations with other party guests who have taken on other roles, although van der Linde does not offer that analogy]; and collaborative hyperfiction, in which authors collaborate in series or in parallel, in which readers influence the story either indirectly (by communicating their preferences, offering suggestions, etc.), or by writing additional branches of the story themselves (which completely eliminates the boundary between author and reader). The article concludes with a discussion of the "e-book" as structure, content, object, and mechanism.

Vander Ploeg, Scott D. and Kenneth Phillips. "Playing with Power: The Science of Magic in Interactive Fantasy." Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts 9:2 (1998): 142-56. [link]
* Focuses exclusively on role-playing board games of the "Dungeons and Dragons" variety. The authors observe that, while some authors ignore or actively scorn role-playing games, such games have undeniably influenced the fantasy genre. This article is of some interest to IF because D&D heavily influenced the content and style of Crowther's original "Colossal Cave Adventure" (c.1975) as well as the Zork series (1978-81).

Ziegfeld, Richard. "Interactive Fiction: A New Literary Genre?" New Literary History 20:2 (1989): 341-372. [link]
**1/2This theoretical, rather free-ranging article describe the tools of electronic publishing to an unfamiliar audience, discusses the "literary applications" of this technology (e.g. Faulkner could have included maps the Yoknapatawpha area; for The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco could have helped readers visualize the detail of the abbey, etc.). A third section assesses the contemporary state of interactive literature.

§1.2: Conference Papers, Project Reports and Student Papers

Bates, J. "The Nature of Character in Interactive Worlds and the Oz Project." Technical Report CMU-CS-92-200, School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University. October 1992. Postscript file. 24 May 2001. [link]
*** A useful discrete example of the goals of Carnegie Mellon University's "Oz Project," an effort at using artificial intelligence to generate interactive stories. This article describes the programming of a simulated housecat, "Lyotard," whose behavior (purring, hissing, running away, etc.) is governed by a series of emotional variables (fear, happiness, gratitude, etc.). (See also §1.2: Garrand.)

Briceno, Hector, Wesley Chao, Andrew Glenn, Stanley Hu, Ashwin Krishnamurthy, and Bruce Tsuchida. "Down from the Top of Its Game: The Story of Infocom, Inc." [unpublished manuscript; MIT course project, "6.933J/STS.420J: The Structure of Engineering Revolutions"] 15 Dec 2000. 1 Feb 2001. [link]
**** This student project, for a course in engineering entrepreneurship, examines the origins and economic history of Infocom (the company that popularized interactive fiction in the early 80s). The authors challenge the widely-held assumption that Infocom failed as a direct result of an unwise internal towards the development of business products. The authors describe the origins of "Zork," the culture of the Infocom workplace, and the role of the "implementors" or "IMPs", the programmer-authors whose creativity fueled the company's efforts. They also briefly analyze the game packaging and distribution methods that led to Infocom's early success. (See also the archived material on Infocom, available at

Mateas, M[ichael]. "An Oz-Centric Review of Interactive Drama and Believable Agents." Technical report CMU-CS-97-156. Computer Science Department, Carnegie Mellon University. 1997. 25 Jan, 2000. [link]
*** "The Oz Project at CMU is developing technology and art to help artists create high quality interactive drama, based in part on AI technologies. This especially means building believable agents in dramatically interesting micro-worlds" (from the Oz Project Home Page). In order to emphasize its devotion to the simulation of characters and actions, rather than places and puzzles, the Oz project refers to "interactive drama." A "believable agent" is a computer-automated character capable of maintaining the interest of a human interactor. (See also §1.2: Bates.)

Mateas, Michael and Andrew Stern. "Towards Building a Fully-Realized Interactive Drama." Paper presented at Fourth International Digital Arts and Culture Conference (2001). 27 May 2001. [link]
**1/2The authors describe the criteria for "Façade," a work-in-progress, designed to be "an interactive story integrating an interdisciplinary set of artistic processes and artificial intelligence technologies" (§1). The ambitious plan attempts to move from character-based interactive stories, in which the user simply pokes at pre-defined characters to see how they react, to a computer-generated storyline that aims to produce a meaningful Aristotelian plot arc. "We are interested in interactive experiences that appeal to the adult, non-computer geek, movie-and-theater-going public" (§2). [Note: "Façade" is not designed to appeal either to the mass-market gaming public, or the elitist book-reading public; the authors argue that would-be IF authors should not abandon the cultural middle ground.] While "Façade" is conceptualized as a 3D graphical environment, the user will interact through typed text; one component of the plan is to "build an AI [artificial intelligence] that can understand a natural language and gestural input within the context of the story" (§1).

Meehan, James Richard "The Metanovel: Writing Stories by Computer." Ph.D. Dissertation, Yale University, 1976. [link]
*1/2An analytical presentation of an artificial intelligence programming theory for generating short stories. The textual product is a far cry from fiction - the settings and characters are shallow, and the dialogue is stilted (Meehan regularly "translates" the output into good English in order to discuss the capabilities of the program). Further, the process of generating the text is only minimally interactive - the user may be prompted to decide what characters or props shall appear in the story (a bear, a bee, a boy, and a river, for example). While TALE-SPIN does pause to invite the user to answer multiple-choice questions that describe the relationship between the characters ("DOES WILMA CANARY FEEL DECEPTIVE TOWARDS SAM ADAMS? 1:A LOT 2: A LITTLE 3: NOT MUCH 4: NOT AT ALL" [21]), the program can be set to supply those details randomly. The program does not require input from a player in order to generate its narrative, and thus can hardly be said to be interactive.

Montfort, Nicholas A. "Computer Co-Authors for Fiction" Paper presented at Computers & Writing 2000. 08 Jan 2001. [link]
** Brief comments presenting Montfort's IF work "Winchester's Nightmare" as an exercise in co-authorship with the reader.

Montfort, Nicholas A. "Interfacing with Computer Narratives: Literary Possibilities for Interactive Fiction." Unpublished B.A. Thesis, University of Texas at Austin. 1995. 06 Jan 2000 [link]
****1/2Montfort's thesis includes a preface that examines the history of the genre in terms of the literary value of computer-aided narrative. His analysis of plot and co-authorship are interesting and valid for both text- and graphic-based games. Writing when "virtual reality" was the buzzword de rigueur, and before the impact of the Internet on the rejuvenation of the classic IF genre was fully apparent, Montfort nevertheless offers a thoughtful and persuasive assessment of the future of interactive narrative. (See also §1.1: Montfort.)

Sharp, Doug. "Story vs. Game: The Battle of Interactive Fiction" Paper presented at the Computer Game Developer's Convention 1989. 31 May 2001. [link]
** Author/programmer's discussion of the game "King of Chicago" (Cineware, 1986-88). A complex implementation of a multiple-choice narrative path, rather than a textual parser (and hence, only tangentially related to the subject of this bibliography). The article offers a detailed analysis of one programmer/author's focus on dialogue and action to tell a multiform story. (See also §2.1: Garrand.)

§2) Non-academic Publications

§2.1: Reportage (Journalism and Non-academic Books)

Au, Wagner James. "Will you tell me a story - please?" Salon 16 May 2000. 16 May 2000. [link]
** This article is not about command-line IF, but rather a review of Electronic Entertainment Expo 2000, lamenting the commercialization of electronic narrative. "But if the massive E3 exhibit floors sum up the current state of gaming, I think it's safe to say today's developers aren't pushing the narrative envelope. Lured by the siren song of ever-improving graphics power, terrified by the risks involved with truly unique ideas in gaming, the industry is collectively stumbling along a path well-worn by Hollywood; the unfortunate truth to be taken away from a weekend in gamers' paradise is that the mindless summer-blockbuster season promises to last all year" (¶7).

Buckles, Mary Ann. "Interactive Fiction as Literature: Adventure games have a literary lineage." Byte 12.5 (1987): 135-138, 140, 142. [link]
**1/2A condensed, popular version of Buckles's thesis on "Colossal Cave Adventure." (See §1.1: Buckles.) The article describes IF's connections to detective fiction, adventure literature (such as Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth and Stevenson's Treasure Island) and the prose novels of chivalry (the target for Cervantes' satire Don Quixote). Buckles, whose byline credits her as "co-owner and writing consultant of Transgalactic Software," offers five suggestions for would-be IF authors, based on her observations of people playing and responding to "Adventure."

  1. Game authors should make up a "supra-story" that contextualizes all the puzzles and isolated events that make up the gameplay, but since the player is on his or her own to solve the puzzles, the player should also be permitted to make up his or her own explanation for events, "just as each person arrives at a personal meaning for a poem."
  2. "If you build up story tension, make sure something happens!" The buildup to the "Breathtaking View" room was "the aesthetic high point of Adventure" for many players; yet, once the player finds the source of the distant rumbling (an underground volcano) and has read a paragraph of purple prose (adapted by Don Woods from Tolkien's description of Mount Doom), there is nothing further to do, and players generally felt disappointed.
  3. "Give the puzzles a moral quality. . . . For example, several people told me they thought the hungry bear bound with the golden chains was the most enticing problem because they were emotionally involved with it. They didn't want to hurt the bear, yet they were mildly afraid of it. When the puzzles have a moral dimension, it gives them emotional depth."
  4. "Create a narrator with a unified personality and vision." Since the "Colossal Cave Adventure" narration is sometimes self-referential, and sometimes seems to know more about the cave than the player does, Buckles feels that the player's response to the narrative voice enhances the aesthetic effect.
  5. "Test your story on other people." Buckles suggests that groups of two or three people tend to have discussions or arguments about the significance of events they have witnessed; observing their extra-textual reactions will help the programmer improve the game.
A brief conclusion observes that the artistic quality of early movies was pathetically limited, until D.W. Griffith and Charlie Chaplin brought their artistic talents to the new medium. "Perhaps it will take someone who is both a programmer and an author to explore the artistic promise of IF and create works of literature that rank with the classics of traditional literature." [Note: §1.1: Murray's Hamlet on the Holodeck will later echo this sentiment, announcing a vigil for the "cyberbard."] Costikyan, Greg. "I Have No Words & I Must Design." Interactive Fantasy 2 (1994). 31 May 2001. Archived at [link]
** No specific reference to interactive fiction. The article applies equally to dice-rolling board games. Argues that a game is not a puzzle, toy, or a story. "A game is a form of art in which participants, termed players, make decisions in order to manage resources through game tokens in the pursuit of a goal. . . A light switch is interactive. You flick it up, the light turns on. You flick it down, the light turns off. That's interaction. But it's not a lot of fun. All games are interactive: The game state changes with the players' actions. If it didn't, it wouldn't be a game: It would be a puzzle. But interaction has no value in itself. Interaction must have purpose."

Economist [Editorial] "But Is It Story-telling?" Economist. 11 Nov 1995: 16. Academic Search Elite database, UWEC McIntyre Library, 15 May 2001. [link]
*** This curmudgeonly article dismisses the efforts of the computer industry to create - and the efforts of "interactive evangelists" to theorize - "interactive fiction." It refers only briefly to command-line IF, but sees CD-ROM games as a direct descendent, suffering from the same storytelling flaws. Argues that the computer's technical capabilities have not yet been successfully been put to use by someone with the creative talents to create something of literary value. (See also §1.1: Buckles; Murray; §2.1: Au.)

Ferrell, K. and G. Keizer. "Quiet on the Set: Interaction" Omni 14 (Nov 1991). Academic Search Elite database. 31 May 2001. [link]
* Subtitle: "Omni looks at emerging technologies, the potential offered by increasingly ambitious game designs, and the future of interactive electronic entertainment." Abstract: "Presents a special 'Omni' report on the world of electronic games, dateline 1999. Interactive fiction and interactive works of art; Tales on television you can change to suit yourself; Using remote control to bash heads, bop through mazes, and barrel down racetracks; Turning politics into a real entertainment form; Simulations, recreations, historical replicas and America's most wanted." In the spirit of one of those old black-and-white films that predicts what life will be like in the future, and shows a button-pushing housewife who wears an apron under her spacesuit, this collection of short, fluffy articles reveals more about the time it was written than it does about the time it supposedly predicts.

Gaiman, Neil. Don't Panic - Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Companion. Titan Books: London, 1992. [link]
** Pages 150-156 describe the relationship between Adams's comic science fiction novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and the Infocom version of the game, programmed with collaborator Steve Meretzky.

Garrand, Timothy. "Dust: A Tale of the Wired West: Creating a Narrative with Maximum Interactivity." Creative Screenwriting 4:1 (1997): 60-69. [link]
** Although "Dust" is a commercial graphic adventure game, Garrand describes in detail the process of scripting dialogue trees and crafting conversation menus. While the game was not a huge success, reviews praised the richness of detail and depth of interactivity (some 30 characters that can move in and out of 20 locations) and the loving attention to the Western genre. The article describes, from a writer's point of view, the requirements of writing a script for an interactive, multipath story.

Goetz, Phil. "Interactive Fiction and Computers." Interactive Fantasy 1, Crashing Boar Books, 1994. 98-115. Reproduced on [link]
*** While this article offers little in the way of literary analysis of interactive fiction, it does usefully summarize the pre-history of the genre. It includes sections on graphic adventures, multi-player environments, and artificial intelligence.

Additional features of this article:On the coming of virtual reality: "Textual IF will survive, just as text novels haven't been entirely replaced by movies. It is a matter of time involvement. A graphical representation takes longer to 'play', just as a two-hour movie can't communicate as much as two hours of reading. It also takes much longer to create. Individual authors simply don't have the time to stop every time they write a scene, and create every object in the scene as a 3D object, as well as the background" (¶74). 

Hafner, Katie and Matthew Lyon. When Wizards Stay Up Late: the Origins of the Internet. Simon & Schuster: New York, 1996. [link]
**1/2A good source for information on Will Crowther, an ARPA programmer and ardent caver who created the "Colossal Cave Adventure" (c. 1975) and Don Woods, who found an abandoned, unfinished copy of the game, and released an expanded version (with the approval of Crowther). (See also §2.1: Kidder; Levy. Also §2.1: Adams; Heller.)

Hayes Roth, Barbara. "Character-based Interactive Story Systems." IEEE Intelligent Systems and Their Applications 13.6 (1998): 12-15. [link]
**1/2 No specific references to command-line interactive fiction, but still an excellent overview of what AI promises for the fiction of tomorrow, with an emphasis on character and improvisation. (See also §2.1: Stern; Murray.) Herz, J. C. Joystick Nation: How Computer Games Ate Our Quarters, Won Our Hearts and Rewired Our Minds. Boston: Little, Brown, 1997. [link]
*** A nostalgic, non-academic review of the history of computer arcade, console and computer games in the late 70s and throughout the 80s. Has little to do with command-line IF, as the presence of the word "videogame" in the title suggests. Herz mistakenly gives a 1967 date for "Colossal Cave Adventure," and while she presents interviews with early game programmers such as Steve Russel's "Spacewar" (1962) and Eugene Jarvis's "Defender" (1980), she neglects to mention either author of "Adventure." Nevertheless, she makes some good general observations about computer-mediated entertainment, emphasizing on several fronts the concept that a computer narrative is a tool for creating an experience. Despite frequent patches of purple prose, Herz has a talent for a cutting phrase, as when she complains about IF: "You interacted with puzzles. You didn't interact with the story" (150). Kidder, Tracy. The Soul of a New Machine. Boston: Little, Brown, 1981. [link]
***1/2Pulitzer-winning nonfiction account of the creation and marketing of a line of personal computers, in the days before IBM and Microsoft came to dominate the industry.

Chapter 5 begins with an indispensable four-page account of the culture in which interactive fiction -- in this case, "Adventure" (Crowther, c.1975; Crowther and Woods, 1976) was being played c. 1979 - after business hours in basement computer rooms. Easily the best account of how the environment contributed to the effects of these early games: simply getting into the basement computing facilities where the off-duty mainframes could be commandeered for entertainment purposes was something of an adventure in itself. (See also §2.1: Levy; Hafner and Lyon.)

Levy, Steven. Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution. New York: Anchor Press, 1984. [link]
*** This readable book describes the ethos of the emerging hacker culture. Levy argues that a computer program, just like any work of art, is a reflection of the values and the environment of the author. "Adventure" (Crowther, c.1975; Crowther and Woods, 1976) is presented as "a metaphor for computer programming itself" (132). Levy depicts Roberta Williams (co-founder with her husband Ken of Sierra Online, a wildly popular publisher of computer adventures in the 80s) mesmerized by her first encounter with "Adventure" (Crowther, c.1975; Crowther and Woods, 1976) (294-5). (See also §2.1: Kidder; Hafner and Lyon.) Murray, Janet. "Building Coherent Plots in Interactive Fiction." IEEE Intelligent Systems and Their Applications 13.6 (1998): 18-21. [link]
**1/2Murray notes that critics of her book Hamlet on the Holodeck (see §1.2: Murray) may feel threatened by the very nature of computer-based narrative, or they may have misinterpreted the term "nonlinear" to mean "nonsequential" or completely random. In response, Murray now uses the term "multisequential," emphasizing multiple connected paths (18-19). Murray describes "Hot Norman," a computer-assisted re-presentation of Alan Ackbourn's comic theatrical trilogy, The Norman Conquests. Ackbourn's trilogy comprises three complete plays, each of which follows the same six characters over the same three days. Each play is entirely set in the same room; as the characters move in and out of the room, they move in and out of the one play being staged that night, but offstage events continue to affect the onstage characters. Pinsky, Robert. "The Muse in The Machine: Or, The Poetics of Zork." New York Times Book Review (19 Mar 1995): 3, 26-27. [link]
*** Pinsky, U.S. Poet Laureate 1997-2000, wrote the IF work "Mindwheel" (Synapse/Broderbund, 1984), which was based upon his own poetry. Poetry is like the computer in that both a short poem and a computer chip excel at packing voluminous information into a small space. "I believe that the poetics of Zork [Infocom, 1979] and its modern descendants tells us more about the literary potential of the computer than we could learn from any amount of ambitious literary theorizing" (3). The discovery of the trap door in "Zork," which leads to an underground realm waiting to be discovered, is like finding hidden meaning in a poem. "The computer, like everything else we make, is in part a self-portrait, it smells of our human souls" (26). Rothstein, Edward. "Reading and Writing: Participatory Novels." New York Times Book Review (9 May 1983). [Archived at] [link]
** An enthusiastic review of Marc Blank's "Deadline" (Infocom, 1982), emphasizing the pleasure of playing the role of the detective in a murder mystery: "I am not some forensic Pac-Man, proceeding through a pre-existent maze. From my arrival at the Robner mansion, I am a character whose actions affect the world I enter" (¶6). The average complete session with "Deadline" lasts 20 hours. Refers to the commercial success of Infocom products, and to a computerized application of Vladimir Propp's "Morphology of the Folktale."

Stern, Andrew. "Interactive Fiction: The Story is Just Beginning." IEEE Intelligent Systems and Their Applications 13.6 (1998): 16-18. [link]
**1/2An independent virtual reality (VR) artist describes the commercial product "Virtual Petz," cartoonish animals that "play" on the user's computer screen. (See §1.2: Bates; §2.1: Hayes Roth; Murray; also "Babyz" Article contains only the briefest allusion to command-based IF.

Zimmer, Carl. "Floppy Fiction: Half Hackers, Half Hemingways, Some Writers Are Now Programming the Great American Novel." Discover 10.11 (1989): 34, 36. [link]
? Not reviewed. 

§2.2: Essays (Nostalgia and Reflection)

Adams, Rick. "The Colossal Cave Adventure Page." Tribute website. 1998. 27 Aug 2001. [link]
**1/2A tribute to the original text-based interactive narrative, including brief biographies of authors Will Crowther and Don Woods.

Adams, Scott. "Scott Adams Grand Adventure (S.A.G.A.)." Personal website. c.2000-01. 31 May 2001. [link]
*** The personal home page of Scott Adams, author of the first commercial computer game ("Adventureland," sold via a tiny ad in a computer magazine in 1978). While Adams's games are textually minimalistic (due to memory restrictions on the earliest home PCs) and have therefore attracted little attention from literary critics, his non-violent brain puzzlers are fondly remembered by many who played computer games in the late 70s. Adams's website offers links to fan pages and interviews.

Carr, Charles. "IF: The End of an Error?" ComptuerEdge Magazine (June 1997): 4 Apr 2000. [link]
*** One of several "the day I first saw IF" narratives presented here. "I often wonder where IF might be now had the same amount of money and energy been thrown at it as graphic adventures. . . . Room for graphics notwithstanding, imagine the plot depth, character development, and worlds-within-worlds a text-only game could have with that much code."

Heller, Martin. "Adventure." Boston Review (1990); Windows Magazine (1998). 10 Jan 2000. [link]
*** Postmodern biographical essay about Will Crowther, creator of "Colossal Cave Adventure." Interspersed with transcripts from "Colossal Cave," Heller offers his own personal reflections about Crowther, a man of many talents (caver, mountain climber, programmer, and lover of puzzles). [Crowther's design choices (placing most of the game underground; interspersing geographic puzzles and brain teasers; using a Tolkeinesque fantasy motif) had a tremendous effect on the computer gaming industry. --DGJ] (See also §2.1: Hafner and Lyon; Kidder; Levy.)

Lileks, James. "The other day..." Bleats. [Weblog.] 06 Feb 2001. 06 Feb 2001. [link]
*** Another IF nostalgia article, significant because it focuses on a Scott Adams game, rather than "Colossal Cave" or "Zork".

O'Brian, Paul. "Editorial." SPAG 18 (1999). 07 Feb 2001. [link]
*** The new editor of the Society for Promotion of Adventure Games newsletter writes: "Interactive fiction has been a part of my life for over 15 years. It's hard for me to believe it's been that long since my Dad brought home a copy of Zork I for the brand-new disk drive of our sleek Atari 400, but it's true. For me, just playing a game that didn't take a half-hour to load from a cassette tape was pretty cool, but this new program that understood what I typed, that challenged the agility of my mind rather than of my fingers, and that transported me into a breathtaking new imaginative vista. . . well that was downright *magical*."

Park, Mel. "Colossal Cave Revisited." TidBITS 8 (1994). 10 April, 2000. [link]
**1/2A brief article describing the real geographical origins of the landscape Crothwer incorporated into his "Colossal Cave Adventure" (c.1975). "'According to legend' - Hah! ADVENTURE is based on a real cave, one that is, indeed, now part of the Mammoth Cave System in Kentucky. The cave is not Colossal, however, but Bedquilt Cave. In our small circle, Willie Crowther is a famous, as was his wife then, cave explorer..." "Computer types who grew up exploring ADVENTURE don't realize how accurately the game represents passages in Bedquilt Cave. Yes, there is a Hall of the Mountain King and a Two-Pit Room. The entrance is indeed a strong steel grate at the bottom of a twenty-foot depression."

Watson, Blake. "Welcome to the Well House." The Well House [column]. 21 Apr 2000. 25 Aug 2001. (Unavailable as of 25 Aug 2001). [link]
** This article, which announces a new column on the website, is here treated as IF nostalgia.

§2.3: Literature (References to IF in Other Genres)

Clarvoe, Anthony. PICK UP AX. New York Broadway Play Pub, 1991. [link]
*** PICK UP AX is a three-character stage play, set in Silicon Valley around 1980, in which the characters play an "Adventure" clone. For reviews, see: Munroe, Jim. "Interactive." Independent film; multiple viewing formats. 7 min. 2001. 6 Mar 2001. [link]
**1/2A short, no-budget digital film about "unrequited love and unrepentant geekiness." Two friends relate to each other through an improvised oral interactive fiction quest - one plays the role of the computer, orally describing the situation, while the other suggests actions.

Powers, Richard. "Escapes." Esquire 131.7 (1999): 86. [Excerpt from Powers's novel Plowing the Dark.] [link]
** The short story "Escape," told in a second-person format, presents the thoughts of a political prisoner in a one-room cell, whose isolation is so severe that his flashbacks border on hallucinations. The short story published in Esquire contains no obvious references to command-line IF, but the novel from which it is excerpted deals with virtual reality, and many reviews (e.g. NY Times Book Review, Salon, The Village Voice) made the connection explicit. A short segment of the story: "You pace about, astonished. From the once-mythical far side of this cube, you look back across the ocean of air. Seeing your corner like this, from a distance - your mattress, radiator, chain; the grubby country that swallowed you entire - it looks bounded, known, livable."

Ross, Gary and Anne Spielberg [screenwriters]. Big. 20th Century Fox. 1988. [link]
* The opening sequence of this Tom Hanks comedy shows a boy playing a graphics-and-text video game. The young Josh is frustrated by a puzzle involving a character frozen in ice. He types "melt ice" but is stumped when the computer replies, "What do you want to melt the ice with?" Later, Josh makes a wish in front of a coin-operated mechanical fortune teller, and is transformed into an adult (played by Hanks). After leaving home and finding work at a toy company, he makes a successful boardroom pitch for his concept of "electronic comics" - book-sized video screens with buttons that can control the action. Now that the computer game has become a business proposition embroiled in office politics, Josh is nostalgic for his lost childhood. He returns to the same computer game he had been playing at the start of the movie, and solves the puzzle by melting the ice "with thermal pod." The ice puzzle seems to be a metaphor for Josh's childhood, and the mechanical fortune-telling game is a bridge between childhood and adulthood.

§3) Manifestos and Taxonomies

Barger, Jorn. "IF, AI, and the confabulating-arranger model of interactive fiction." 1994. 8 Jan 2001. [link]
** Barger approaches the topic of interactive storytelling as a monumental computational and data-retrieval task. Barger approvingly cites Chris Crawford's discussion of the "topology" of interactive fiction, in which Crawford observed that, since humans cannot account for an infinite number of player actions, "storytrees must either be folded back on themselves in a very limiting way, or have most of their branches trimmed to (violent) dead-ends" (¶1).[Note: The highly successful 1999 creation "The Sims" is very nearly what Barger describes, although the software is not a component of an interactive story engine that permits you, the person sitting at the computer, to participate in a narrative. Instead, playing "The Sims" is more like tormenting ants.]

Firth, Roger. "Inform FAQ." 2001. [link]
*** A well-designed resource introducing the IF programming language Inform. (See §3: Nelson, Inform Designers' Manual.)

Galley, Stu. "The Implementor's Creed" [Internal Infocom document]. Undated. [1984?] 18 Dec 2000. [link]
*** A short, eight-point summary of the mission of the "implementor" (or author-programmer), as articulated by one of Infocom's founders. Selected points include:

Giner-Sorolla, Roger. "Crimes Against Mimesis." Usenet posting. 1996. HTML edition by Stephen van Egmond, 1998. 4 Apr 2000. [link]
**** A fine taxonomy of IF conventions. While his foundational claim that IF should aim for realistic simulation is debatable, and he is almost certainly wrong when he says puzzle-free IF is automatically boring, Giner-Sorolla makes an excellent plea for puzzles that fit naturally into the storyline: "Well-written fiction leads the reader to temporarily enter and believe in the reality of that world. A crime against mimesis is any aspect of an IF game that breaks the coherence of its fictional world as a representation of reality. . . . Mystery and adventure fiction, from Poe's 'The Gold Bug' on, can capably integrate set-piece puzzles into the overall mimetic goals of the story."

Granade, Stephen. "Artificial Intelligence in IF." 2 Jun 1997. 31 May 2001. [link]
****1/2"To be honest, we don't need AI in IF. What we need are better ways of distracting the player from the fact that, in the end, a game can only react in so many ways." (See also §4: Interactive Fiction. Stephen Granade, ed.]).

Granade, Stephen. "Plenty Annoyed." 16 Feb 1998. 31 May 2001. library/weekly/aa021698.htm. [link]
**1/2"It's not a great leap of logic to move from "players like challenging puzzles" to "players love difficult puzzles." It is, however, a small leap to an unwarranted conclusion. The result of such a jump? Designers add puzzles which are difficult simply to be difficult."

Granade, Stephen. "Being a Literate Gamer." 30 Mar 1998. 31 May 2001. [link]
**** "I think that IF can be more than entertainment. It is an art form, and at its best it does what all good art does: it sheds light on the human condition. But for IF to be art, IF must have its cadre of literate critics and creators."

Nelson, Graham. Inform Designer's Manual, 4th ed. (release 4/2). The Interactive Fiction Library, St. Charles, Ill. 2001. Minor revisions to the Adobe PDF e-text, released 1 May 2001 and available at [link]
***** A tutorial and reference guide to the Inform programming language, featuring a chapter on "The Craft of Adventure" (339-407). Existing solely in electronic form since 1994, the manual was first published as a print book in the summer of 2001. Nelson, who created the Inform programming language (which has featured strongly in the IF revival), has also produced two epic-length works of IF (the genealogical romp "Curses," 1993; and the time-travel romance "Jigsaw," 1995). His "A Meteor, a Stone, and a Long Glass of Sherbet" (written under a pseudonym) won the 1996 Interactive Fiction Contest. His various contributions have inarguably defined contemporary IF. Even when describing dry technical material, Nelson's writing is unrelentingly witty and literate, as in the following example: "Animate objects representing people with proper names, like 'Mark Antony', need to be given the proper attribute, and those with feminine names, such as 'Cleopatra', need to be both female and proper, though of course history would have been very different if . . . " (136).

Nelson, Graham. "Interview: Graham Nelson." XYZZYnews 1 (1995): 3-8. 31 May 2001. [link]
*** Nelson, who describes himself as "a rather junior pure mathematician at Oxford University," explains why he created the Inform programming language, and why he distributes it freely: "I wanted to revive the 'dead format' of the Infocom [i.e. Zork-style] game, and persuading people is easier when they don't have to pay to listen to you. In the early Renaissance, Italian artists would wander round Roman ruins and say, well, we can build arches too...and I'm as vain as those artists. There are other kinds of profit."

Nelson, Graham. Inform Home Page. [Personal website.] 1996-1999. 31 May 2001. [link]
** Inform is a computer language for programming interactive fiction. Nelson created it and released it as freeware in 1993. Since then, the language has been expanded by other contributors, and continues to develop. This site offers a clear overview of the effort involved in creating a work of interactive fiction.

Parker, Marnie "Doe." "[An Iffy Theory] Version 2.25: The Meta-Puzzle of Interactive Fiction: Why We Like What We Like: Interactivity Is The Message." [Personal website.] 2000. 31 May 2001. [link]
**** Parker's document, written for a non-academic audience, is a diamond in the rough of interactive fiction analysis. Identifying herself as a dyslexic who sees text differently than others, Parker offers compelling observations about the diverse reader responses to several recent IF works. In the process, she gestures towards a sensory-feedback critical theory of IF, and offers an underdeveloped but nonetheless interesting analysis of IF aesthetics.

Parker uses the terminology of psychology, but she is actually exploring the cultural issues of literary taste - a well-traveled field of criticism theory, but especially visible in 18th-century aesthetics. An extended section on emotive responses to textual experiences fails to apply the term "willing suspension of disbelief," and thus belabors points well-established by Coleridge (1772-1834). Despite the gaps in her knowledge of literary analysis, Parker - unlike many cybertheorists who have never actually invested the time to read command-line IF for pleasure and appreciate the special merits of the genre - bases her observations on careful study of a wide range of recent texts. Further, because she writes for a non-academic audience of amateur critics, Parker rightly introduces a deep awareness of the metadiscourse on the USENET newsgroups which both reflects and shapes contemporary opinions about IF. (See also §4: Parker, IF Art Show).

Rees, Gareth. "Distinguishing Between Game Design and Analysis: One View." XYZZYnews 6 (1995): 22-26. 31 May 2001. [link]
**** The author uses his own excellent game "Christminster" to exemplify the process of designing IF, which he describes in terms of four levels, which overlap during the considerably.
  1. Rees sees the plot as the outermost level, which describes how events unfold and how characters change as the story progresses.
  2. On a more local level is the scene, which can be extremely tightly scripted (for instance, as a character overhears a conversation in the next room).
  3. Next, puzzles mostly exist in order to prevent the character from ignoring important scenes, or from experiencing them in the wrong order.
  4. Code and text involves determining what commands the user will be able to type in order to interact with a given set of objects, and then writing the code to create the desired effect.
Rees also considers what he calls tools for analysis: the maps, scoring tables, and flowcharts that hard-core gamers typically create for themselves during play. Rees seems to suggest that if an IF author spends too much time developing these details in advance, the story suffers. 

Roberts, Michael J. "Better Adventures." TADS Authors' Manual. 1987, 1998. 8 Jan 2001. [link]
*** An appendix to the "Text Adventure Development System" manual. Roberts advises the would-be game author: "TADS makes it possible to write games that are technically polished with little programming. However, it's up to you, the author, to provide the creativity and storytelling skill needed to make the game fun to play" (¶1).

Roberts, Michael J. "Getting Started with TADS." TADS Authors' Manual. 1987, 1998. 8 Jan 2001. [link]
**** One chapter from the manual for the "Text Adventure Development System," which is intended to help author-programmers create their own IF works. A useful introduction to the complex relationship between developing the story and creating the code.

Short, Emily. "NPC Characterization: Being a Compendious Guide to the Asstd. Tricks of the Trade, as Far as the Author has been able to Identify Them or to Devise Them Anew" [Personal website.] 2001. 31 May 2001. [link]
****1/2The acclaimed author of "Galatea" (featuring an extremely well-implemented NPC) and the simulationist "Metamorphoses" describes the characteristics of a successful NPC. Her main audience is other IF authors, but her criteria are clear and thorough. She concludes: "[T]he better you are at the craft of writing dialogue, the more convincing and effective your NPCs will be, and the more they will stick in people's minds. Adam Cadre is justly known for his non-player characters, not because he relies uniformly on techniques like these, but because he crafts them with distinctive and memorable voices" ("Writing" ¶1). (Short's other articles on simulation, multiform storytelling, settings, and IF in general are also well worth reading; see .)

Silcox, Mark. "The IF Lover's Bookshelf" Interactive Fiction []. 1999. 31 May 2001. [link]
**1/2"If one relaxes one's criteria just a bit, though, it becomes easier to bring to mind at least a few works that should probably belong on the bookshelf of any legitimate fan of interactivity in fiction. Here's a small, open-ended catalogue - hope this at least manages to plant some seeds."

Silcox, Mark. "Slices O'Life." Interactive Fiction []. 2000. 31 May 2001. [link]
**1/2A brief commentary upon the escapist/fantasy quality of most interactive fiction: "After all, how much novelty is there really in stepping into the shoes of yet another armor wearing, sword carryin' whiteboy who's [sic] simulated task it is to swing the chopper, kill the trolls and grab the treasure?"

Tangray, David Adrien. "Adventure Game Properties and Discussion." Undated. 13 Oct 2000. [link]
**** A useful, concise critical taxonomy, which Tangray provides in order to explain the terminology he uses in reviews elsewhere on his site.

Wilson, G. Kevin. "Whizzard's Guide to Text Adventure Authorship v. 2.0." 1994-5. 31 May 2001. [link]
** Wilson rarely refers to examples from existing IF in order to back up his statements, which means his work has limited value as a taxonomy of IF conventions. A longer-than-necessary paraphrasing of Polti's The 36 Basic Dramatic Situations offers some value to would-be authors looking for inspiration.

§4) Archives and Meta-resources

Firth, Roger, ed. "PARSIFAL: Interactive Fiction Links." 2000-01. 30 May 2001. [link]
**1/2An attempt to "pack as many items as possible into a small space." Useful for locating the homepages of IF authors or reviewers, or virtually any other online source having to do with IF (present or past). No commentary or evaluation, because, as Firth wrote in a post to (12 Feb 2000): "I'm assuming that you know who or what you're looking for, and just need reminding of its current URL."

Firth, Roger. "Ifaq (IF Frequently Asked Questions)." Maintained by Stephen Griffiths. 2001. 30 May 2001. [link]
**** An incredibly efficient introduction to IF, presenting brief answers to dozens of questions regarding the history of IF, how to play it, and how to write it. Links point the reader to more detailed answers.

Freebern, Ryan N., ed. "ifFinder: Interactive Fiction Search Engine." 2000. 30 May 2001. [link]
**** A portal-style site, with IF content divided up into categories such as game theory, news, and programming languages.

Granade, Stephen, ed. Interactive Fiction []. 1997-2001. 30 May 2001. [link]
***** A tremendous guide to current events in the IF community, updated almost daily. He also regularly writes short, informal articles on such topics as using IF to teach ESL, women and computer games, IF and traditional genres, and "literate" IF . (See also §3: Granade.)

Granade, Stephen, organizer. Interactive Fiction Competition 2001. 2000. 30 May 2001. [link]
**** The IF competition was created by Kevin Wilson, and has recently been organized by Stephen Granade. The number of entries has been going steadily up, with 37 in 1999, and 53 in 2000. One good historical overview of the competition is available at

Kinder, David and Granade, Stephen, eds. Interactive Fiction Archive. 1992-2001. [link]
** A comprehensive -- but at times overwhelming -- archive of downloadable games,hints, maps, programming tools, and articles that are (or are at least presumed to be) in the public domain. Created by Volker Blasius and formerly maintained by Blasius and David M. Baggett.

Mullen, Eileen, ed. XYZZYnews. 1995-2001. 31 May 2001. [link]
****1/2Fanzine named for a spell in the original "Colossal Cave Adventure." Edited by Eileen Mullen. Features IF articles organized by category. Includes interviews with noted IF authors, as well as essays on character gender, previews and reviews of IF offerings, humor, and other community-building tidbits. Hosts an annual virtual awards ceremony.

Musante, Mark, ed. "IF Review: The Online Interactive Fiction Review Site." 2001. 30 May 2001. [link]
****1/2A growing collection of thoughtful and literate reviews of IF.

O'Brian, Paul, Wilson, G. Kevin and Olson, Magnus, eds. Society for the Promotion of Adventure Games (SPAG). 1994-2001. 31 May 2001. [link]
***1/2In 1997, this publication changed its name from the "Society for the Preservation of Adventure Games." This gamer-friendly site focuses almost exclusively on reader-submitted, spoiler-free capsule reviews. Not as many in-depth, stand-alone essays as XYZZYNews.

Parker, Marnie "Doe," curator. Interactive Fiction Art Show. 1999-2001. 30 May 2001. [link]
**** Created by an IF author and critic who has dyslexia, the "Iffy Art" contest attempts to separate interactive textuality from the "narrative" elements favored by the literati, and the "game" elements favored by the programmers. "What is left? Art. Experience for experience's sake. Interactivity for interactivity's sake. Non-goal (basically) directed interactivity" .

raif group members. (raif) USENET news group. [link]
**** Online discussion group for IF programmers and designers. Before posting there, check the raif FAQ or search an archive such as The archives are a good source for quotes from authors explaining their own work, describing their design choices, or discussing highly technical issues.

rgif group members. (rgif) USENET newsgroup. [link]
** Discussion group for IF players. Before posting there, check the rgif FAQ or search an archive such as Researchers will find plenty of thoughtful comments from critics and gamers who liked or disliked a particular element of the story or implementation, as well as frequent desperate postings of the "I'm stuck, how do I get past the snake" variety.

Silcox, Mark, ed. Interactive Fiction []. 1999-2001. 31 May 2001. [link]
**1/2 This site duplicates the function of Granade's better-maintained version on, but Silcox does offer several worthwhile original articles about IF from the perspective of the gamer/player. (See §3: Silcox.)

van Egmond, Stephen, ed. "Interactive Fiction Research Library." Undated. 04 Jun 2001. [link]
**** "This library brings together some of the current body of thought on IF: history, criticism, design, and so on. Many issues have been debated on our Usenet newsgroup, and those discussions are reproduced and summarized here." Includes pages devoted to the history of IF; design and aesthetics; reviews and criticism; and IF programming issues.

by Dennis G. Jerz
03 Sep 2001 -- last modified