Text adventure nostalgia

I hope your Wednesday’s going well! (Or Thursday if you’re farther east enough than me that that’s what day it is!)

I’ve been reading and loving Aaron A. Reed’s 50 Years of Text Games. Each week in 2021 he’s featuring a different text game, writing an essay about one from each year from 1971 to 2021. I played a few text games as a kid and this series is really fueling my nostalgia even though I’m only on 1973 in my reading and I didn’t do anything with a computer until probably 1986 or so.

My first computer (well, the family’s computer) was a Sanyo, maybe in the MBC-550 series (the image certainly looks right). Our monitor was monochrome, black with green text, until that monitor died and we switched to one that was black with gold text. I wrote all my school assignments in WordStar and printed them out on a dot matrix printer.

We had some big floppy disks and they had lots of games on them, mostly written in BASIC. I also subscribed to 3-2-1 Contact Magazine which would print BASIC games that you could code into your own computer. A couple of my friends and I really latched onto a couple of specific text adventures when we were in middle school (I’d guess around 1993), probably because they were ones we both happened to have. C and I were very into Wishbringer and L and I were very into Madame Fifi’s… which I’ll let you investigate further yourself but was a very interesting game for two twelve-year-olds, one of whom (me) was perplexed as to why her parents had such a titillating game just lying around. L and I were so inspired by Madame Fifi’s that we began writing our own BASIC text adventure, School Daze, entirely based on our experiences as seventh graders. It stayed on paper - I don’t why I never got it into the computer, but sixth or seventh grade is about when I stopped programming for a couple reasons: 1. afterschool chorus and theater rehearsals ate up my free time 2. computer class was full of programming in Logo which, to me, seemed like it was for babies. I didn’t want to draw circles. I wanted to create elaborate adventures with branching logic. But instead I just stopped programming, and didn’t pick code up again until I learned HTML. Then I went full mark-up/styling and have only done a little bit of true programming since, but this series is definitely tugging at my nostalgia and making me think maybe I’ll try my hand at interactive fiction.

In the introduction to the series, Reed mentions The Freshman, a 2016 interactive fiction (I am not sure about the distinction between an IF with images and a visual novel but I think it has to do with the level of interactivity; I welcome any suggested reading on the subject) that I have played a lot. I’m looking forward to later this year to see what he writes up about that and how things have changed. Certainly the more recent interactive fiction I have played relies more on talking, relationships, and big story actions, and less on things like mapping, manipulating inventory, and moving from room to room. (I recently tried Zork and got totally lost.)

I’ve never actually completed a text adventure; I wonder if as an adult I’ll be better at understanding their tropes. I remember in Madame Fifi’s there’s at one point a “dirty magazine” in the bathroom. As a naive 12yo I thought it was literally a magazine with dirt on it. Only now does it occur to me that “dirty” is describing the magazine’s content rather than its condition.

It’s possible my midlife crisis will involve a lot of computer programming. That would be good, right?

What’s been tweaking your nostalgia recently?

Kimberly Hirsh, PhD @kimberlyhirsh