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Text Based Adventures in the Classroom [Guest Post]

You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door.
There is a small mailbox here.

This simple, succinct introduction opens the door to the rich immersive environment of 1980’s Zork, the most iconic example of the text-based adventure game genre. No graphics, no sound effects, just the richness of language to draw gamers into the experience. Though text-based games largely went by the wayside with the advent advanced graphical environments, it’s hard to ignore such games as examples of the beauty and power of language in an interactive narrative. Would that my Junior High English students possessed such descriptive prowess.

Jeremiah McCall and Greg Martin had the same thought and are putting text-based adventures to work in the classroom. Using the (ridiculously easy) Inform engine, McCall and Martin are empowering their students to write interactive fiction (and non-fiction) while introducing text-based gaming to a whole new generation. Using Inform’s incredibly intuitive syntax, students can demonstrate historical knowledge by building realistic (yet entirely textual) worlds, or work through the epic format with an interactive narrative.

While the idea of asking students to create video games could be daunting to a teacher with core curriculum concerns, it becomes quickly evident with use that Inform is crazy easy to use. By the end of the one hour workshop at GLS7, I had built a text-based framework of an Elizabethan theatre, replete with a mysterious Bard, a stage to explore, and several theatrical props. The potential for using Inform in a classroom is endless, whether you approach it as a vehicle to create games, simulations, or narratives. The nature of the programming language is such that it reinforces for students the importance of grammar, spelling and punctuation (for example, the system will tell you if you’re missing an action verb while giving examples of how to fix it). Just look at a line of my “code.”

The Bard is a man in the Globe stage. The description of the Bard is "A pale balding man dressed in black with a modest ruff. A pained expression plays across his visage as he angrily aims his rolled quarto stage left."

Let’s get excited about text-based gaming again! I have a feeling I’ll spend a good portion of my summer putting together instructional interactive fiction and thinking of ways to get my students to do the same.

[photo from Flickr user ajmexico]

This article cross posted at

Josh Caldwell is a Junior High English teacher and technology specialist from Seattle, WA. Prior to entering the world of education, he was a systems administrator, programmer, and designer. Inspired by the potential for technology to empower students, he is constantly subjecting his poor students to experiments in gaming and technology while providing professional development opportunities for other educators. Josh blogs at


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