OK, essentially what just happened — and I know it will be difficult for you to fully comprehend this right away because your brain will take some time to fully extricate itself from such a lavishly rendered vision — is that you were transported to another place and time by the gentle, rhythmic, linguistic proddings of my carefully-chosen words. These words made their way from the screen through your eye sockets onto your retina and into your optic nerve, where they traveled to your brain and caused electrical signals to do something with like, neurons or something, and then some stuff happened.
Point being, scientists have a technical term for this. They call it “imagination”
. You imagined
you were back in the cretaceous period with baby Casey and the terminal, and through the awesome power of language, you felt as if you were actually there
. And that is precisely what the interactive fiction genre was all about.
What’s “interactive fiction”? Well I’m so glad you asked. Nobody asks anymore. You have excellent manners and frankly it’s refreshing in this day and age when nobody asks. You’re an active listener, and that’s really rare. Thank you. Thank you for being you
The answer is that “interactive fiction” was the romantic term applied to games perhaps more accurately described as “text adventures”. These were games where the computer printed out some text describing a situation, and the user typed in some text to say what they wanted to do. Originally, this was probably no one’s grand vision of the future of interactive entertainment, but rather just the most natural thing you could make on the computers of the time which often couldn’t do anything except
print out text. In fact, on computers that could
display graphics, the first games were often graphical, like the seminal Space War
and later Pong
. But many computers — especially terminals — had no graphics capabilities whatsoever, so text was the only medium for creating an interactive entertainment experience.
In the flashback that opened this blog post, little toddler me was playing the very first computer game I ever played, which coincidentally was the very first interactive fiction title ever created. It was a game known nowadays as “The Colossal Cave Adventure”, even though I think it was called simply “Adventure” at the time. It was one of the earliest computer games (although by far not the
earliest), and it invited players to use simple imperative text commands (“get lamp”, “enter”, “climb”, etc.) to navigate a series of rooms in an underground cave.
In these rooms were all manner of fantastic items and creatures. The player would take the items and use them to overcome “puzzles” placed in their path while collecting as many “treasure” items as they could, their score measured by how many treasures they had thus far collected. In one room, as the computer described it, there was a “fierce green dragon” — an obstacle — that sat atop “the Persian rug” — a treasure. What text you had to type to get past the dragon, and get the treasured rug, was something the player had to figure out by logic, trial and error, or most likely both.
Much like Wolfenstein 3D ushered in the era of the first person shooter, Colossal Cave Adventure marked the beginning of a multi-year heyday for the interactive fiction genre, one that many saw titles sell in the hundreds of thousands of copies, a dramatic figure for computer software in that day and age.
But alas, unlike the FPS, the golden age of interactive fiction would prove to be rather short-lived.