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Interactive Fiction Game Design

// Crossposted on my blog with video at http://crookedletter.org/?p=490

The Pew Research Center reports that approximately 97% of teens play video games in their free time. Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subject-areas have used programming and game design to teach 21st Century skills, but what can an English class do to leverage the potential of game-based learning? 25

Return to Zork

I remember when my family brought home our first computer, a used Commodore 64. It came with three games: Zork 1, 2, and 3, which were text-based adventure games. Players had to read each screen in order to visualize the setting and they navigated the game by typing commands such as "go north" and "unlock door with key." With the popularity of ‘retro’ games like MineCraft, I thought it would be interesting to go really 'old-skool' and create text-based adventure games with my 10th grade English class.


After analyzing several essays containing descriptive imagery and composing a short piece of writing about a favorite location in San Francisco, students honed their descriptive writing skills by creating text-based interactive fiction games using PlayFic.com and the Inform 7 programming language. Without the benefit of modern graphics, students had to rely on vivid sensory imagery in order to create engaging game-play environments.

Zork Quest

Day 1

Interactive Fiction

What is interactive fiction? (5 min. flash-research) Do you consider this a literary genre?

Play through Playfic tutorial

Play through Mythical Forest


Play through a few games in the 2012 International Fiction competition and vote on them (you must register with the site to vote).


Create the following in Notability and email as a PDF to jasons@frenchamericansf.org before class on Monday:

  • A map with at least four rooms and an indication of how they are connected, cardinally (N, S, E, W) or ordinally (NW, NE, SW, SE). Draw this map in Notability or on paper.
  • A drawing and description of at least one object
  • A drawing and description of at least one container that will hold your object.

 Day 2

Intro to Programming in >playfic_

Go Getters Pizza demo





Non-Player Characters

Ending and Winning

Extension for Advanced Designers

The Inform Recipe Book


Create a basic structure of rooms in your game. Tomorrow, we will add objects and other features, but first you will need a functional world to populate. Test to be sure that you are able to navigate to each room. Add sensory imagery so that your player can fully experience your world. Remember, we don't have the benefit of graphics, so you will have to rely on 5 senses descriptions.


Day 3

Game Design Workshop

  1. Add at lease one object and one container to your IF game.
  2. Revise the descriptions of your rooms
  3. Add additional characters and objects if time allows.
  4. Remember: Check with a classmate and/or check the IF guides before asking me for help. You learn by making mistakes and troubleshooting. Your brains stop working when I give you the answer! So THINK, THINK, THINK.

Post and play IF Games

  1. Reply to the Post IF Games Here thread and post a link with the URL of your IF game.
  2. Play through a few of your classmates’ games.
  3. Leave feedback for at least one classmate as a reply to their post (What did you like about their game? What could they improve?) If you don't have time during class, post your response before we meet on Friday.
Beyond Zork

On Saturday, February 9, four of my 10th grade students accompanied me to lead a workshop on "Interactive Fiction Game Design" at the California Association of Teachers of English (CATE) convention in Santa Clara, where they provided some background about the project, answered questions, and showcased videos of interviews they had filmed of their classmates.


During a student-led panel, a teacher asked how writing an interactive fiction story compares to writing a standard essay. One student acknowledged that because programming the game was difficult, some of his classmates might have preferred writing a standard essay, but he added, “I actually thought it was more interesting doing it this way. It was like a ‘3-D essay.’”


Another student agreed that programming an interactive fiction game can be challenging. “I had a piñata in my game, and I needed a baseball bat to whack it. I spent all night figuring out how to have the player pick up the baseball bat and use it as a key to unlock the piñata, before I realized that the game wasn’t recognizing the accent mark."


At the end of the session, the students coached the teachers as they designed their own interactive fiction games.

Creative Commons Licence

Discussions About This Resource

dogtrax's picture


Thank you for sharing this project. I've been wondering about how to think of text-based gaming within the framework of learning. Now I have a place to dive in (it's right there, behind the golden door!). When I was experimenting with your pizza game, it occurred to me just how complex the thinking is (as a player) and how much thought needs to go into the planning (as the creator).

What part of the project was the most challenging for you? Your students?


dogtrax's picture


I just wanted to follow up on how your post moved me into the direction of Interactive Fiction. I have had two classes already finished with Twine and two more now working with it, and we have created a website of the stories. It's been a blast and such a great learning experience.


Here is our developing website:

Norris Interactive Fiction

And here is one exemplary story:

The Theft by Rebecca

Take care