One out of five adult Americans with online access (90% of the population) have ever read any gamebooks, such as Choose Your Own Adventure, Fighting Fantasy, Lone Wolf, or solitaire RPG adventures such as the Tunnels & Trolls series. These books definitely reflect the 1980s, when publication peaked: those 35-44 years old (kids in the 1980s) are most likely to have ever read a gamebook (39%), compared to just 18% of those 45-54 years old and 30% of those under 25. While classic gamebook lines are being relaunched (e.g., Endless Quest and Choose Your Own Adventure), the genre is unlikely to return to its heyday.
Contrast that with interactive fiction. Interactive fiction in the 1980s was about text adventures, map making, command-line prompts, and sudden death, but modern interactive fiction focuses on narrative, delayed branching, and meaningful choices that shape a longer story arc.
A fifth of online adults have ever played any text adventures or interactive fiction games on a computer, tablet, or smartphone, such as Choice of Games, Infocom, or Twine games. The growth is in interactive fiction on smartphones. The younger the adult, the more likely they’ve played: 45% of 18-24 year olds, 36% of 25-34 year olds, and 26% of 35-44 year olds have played.
Smartphones reshape our cognition and our attention spans in ways that should lead to the continued rise of interactive fiction vs. traditional books. Interactive fiction presents short segments of text that then require a response, a medium well suited to the smartphone era.
This Researchscape survey of 1,000 U.S. adults was fielded online from April 22 to 23, 2019. For more, please check out the slides and general methodology.
So I looked at a number of different BASIC implementations for his iPod Touch, eventually landing on LowRes Coder, which turns an iOS device into an 8-bit microcomputer circa 1979. I jokingly describe it as “turning your iPhone into an Apple II”, but – having programmed an Apple II – I can tell you that LowRes Coder is a lot more powerful. While it lacks functions and procedures (GOSUB rules the day here), it has a rich variety of sprite commands. And, thanks to the Internet, people can easily share their BASIC programs with one another without having to retype them or, shudder, load them from cassette. The point of it being “low resolution” is that no one has to worry about the quality of their art: the fun is in making the games.
And my son found, as I did before him, that it is easy to write BASIC programs. Loving math, he’s written a number of math programs, and of course some graphical experiments, and an adventure game.
The sample adventure program that he based his game on, though, was menu-based, and his aspirations went beyond that. So a few weekends ago I ported Colossal Cave to LowRes Coder, streamlining it for BASIC and adding random maps. While it has a two-word parser system, it’s driven by INKEY$, so selecting the first letter shows the entire word: no guess-the-verb problems here.
The app is free if you’re just going to play other people’s games. Here’s Colossal Cave Adventure 101. (And here’s my card game inspired by Colossal Cave.)