If you like to play with words, good news


If you think text games are mostly just a relic of the pre-graphics age, think again: We're in a renaissance.

Inkle Studios' tablet adventure 80Days, a beautiful, gently Steampunk take on Phileas Fogg's famous global trek, was nominated for the grand prize this year's Independent Game Festival (it won Excellence in Narrative instead), and more than one game about touching and reading was recognized at the awards.

Earlier this year, the annual Interactive Fiction Competition had a strong showing from games built with hypertext, a sign games rooted in words are continuing to expand beyond their niche and reach players who don't necessarily know how to build or interact with traditional old command language.

I love the modern text game, because in a way it subverts some of the audience problems traditional video games face — for all my friends who tell me they don't play games because they feel pressured, or dislike action, or don't understand the ingrained, nerdy visual vocabulary, I beg them to try something like 80Days (App Store or Android Marketplace). If you can read and touch a screen, you can go on a journey.

If you're up for something a little bit weirder, play Horse Master (you can play right in your browser). It was released in 2013, but ensure you haven't missed it. Much of the criticism of games made in Twine, as Horse Master is, revolves around the dismissive idea that it's "just Choose your Own Adventure." But Twine games actually have surprising potential to create a sense of spatial movement, progression and agency, and this creepy anti-classism essay is among the best examples. Porpentine's Howling Dogs, a surreal piece about confinement, also makes you feel as though you're somewhere more than words in a browser.

I grew up on text games, enshrined at a keyboard telling opaque parsers what to do. You know, typing "W" to go west, "TAKE FOOD" and "THROW ROPE" and all of that. These days I run a mostly-weekly series of video diaries about vintage adventure games, if you're curious about these beautiful artifacts.
The democratic and communal creation of modern text games is continues inviting new types of creators and themes to the medium.