Oct 112006
Authors: Jason Moses

This week I figured I’d write a few words about the 12th annual Interactive Fiction Competition. What the hell is interactive fiction? That’s a damn good question, and one that I’m sure all three of my readers are dying to have answered!

Effectively the oldest genre of computer game in existence, interactive fiction was pioneered in the mid-1970s on mainframe computers, before what one typically thinks of as graphics even existed. At their most basic, they play a little like computerized versions of “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. The game describes an environment or situation, and lets the player enter simple text commands in order to make interactions therein.

Let’s look at an example.

If your life were a work of interactive fiction, you might want to close the paper right now. Just type “close paper,” and the job is done. You’re not even reading this article anymore! Now you may want to leave wherever it is you are right now. Just type “walk” followed by the cardinal direction of wherever it is you want to go, and you’re on your way.

You may want to get back into your place of residence, which is probably locked. Simply “use the key on the door” to unlock it, and “open the door.” Now you can choose to “study for an exam.” Or you can just skip that, “open the fridge” and “drink alcohol until you can’t stand up.”

While interactive fiction as a commercially successful genre of computer games died in the early ’90s, it has since flourished with the development of free-use “interpreters,” which allow anyone with a little know-how and some elbow grease to make their own text-based games.

The 12th annual Interactive Fiction Competition, or IFComp, is one such gathering of these kinds of games, and focuses primarily on shorter works that can be played in less than two hours.

The organizer of the event, Stephen Granade, sums up the appeal of the event for both contributors and to players.

“The annual Interactive Fiction Competition offers game programmers a chance to write fun and unusual games, and offers anyone the chance to play some excellent short games.”

If any of this sounds interesting to you, the IFComp Web site has links to all 43 games in the contest, along with directions for how to play them depending on what operating system you’re running. You can also find out how to vote for your favorite games in the competition, if interested.

Staff writer Jason Moses can be reached at verve@collegian.com.

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