Jeff Pack, Brown University '99 (English 112, 1996)

In the "digerary canon" of computer games, a place of honor must be reserved for Zork. (Of course, its selection, like any good work, is controversial, in that Zork can be said to be an outgrowth of Adventure and the like. Nevertheless, Zork popularized the genre of "text" adventures, and it was through Zork on my Apple II that I first encountered them.) The concept behind Zork was one of "interactive fiction": the player became the hero of a story, controlling his actions through parsed verbal input. After every action, the player would be "rewarded" with some text explaining the result of his/her action (or, if the player's input didn't make sense to the parser, an error message). Zork, in spirit, was an early hypertext novel, though it didn't utilize the now-conventional link.

Infocom (the producers of Zork) went on to produce many more works of "interactive fiction" in many different genres: mysteries (Deadline, The Witness), science fiction (Planetfall, Starcross), fantasy (Enchanter, Wishbringer), etc. Infocom even adapted books into the form, producing a text-adventure version of Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy as well as adaptations of Shogun and Sherlock Holmes. Each work placed the player into the shoes (or the equivalent; A Mind Forever Voyaging casted the player as "PRISM", an artifically intelligent computer) of the protagonist, placed him at the beginning of the chain of events, and from there let the player fend for him or herself. The stories weren't really that diverse - the storylines consisted of a single optimal ending and several "dead endings" in which the hero dies, is arrested, or otherwise fails in his/her quest. Of course, Infocom's software was marketed as games rather than electronic fiction, so it could be argued that this form was adopted to appeal to its target audience.

Unfortunately, Infocom is for all intents and purposes dead. Though games are still produced under its name (Return to Zork, for example - an attempt to modernize the Zork universe), it no longer produces "traditional" interactive fiction. A few freelance authors carry on the tradition, but text-based adventures have been by and large replaced by more graphically intensive games.

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