How to Play Interactive Fiction

Technically you can consider Interactive Fiction ("IF") to be a "computer game," but it is a genre quite unlike anything that most people have seen before. If you know ahead of time how IF works and what to expect in an IF game, your experience with it will be much more satisfying. First off, let's dispel any misconceptions by looking at a couple things that IF is not:

Now that we know what IF isn't, let's look at what it is:

The thing that really defines Interactive Fiction is that you and the computer take turns using words. First the computer displays a bunch of text, then you respond by typing in a reply (in English), and the game continues in that way until you win or lose or get bored and go do something else.

A typical IF game is structured as a series of locations, objects, and sometimes even other characters with which you can interact. Each location will be described in some detail (and please pay attention, because there can be important clues hidden in those details), and there are generally objects available that you can manipulate to reach whatever goal the particular game defines as "winning."

For example, the game might start with you standing outside a house, with a letter and a key lying on the ground. You could choose to pick up the letter and read it, or you might try the key in the door to see if you can get in, or you might wander down the street and see what else you can find. If you encounter a tree you can try to climb it, if you stumble upon a bicycle try riding it. It's all completely up to you.

Of course, IF games are just computer programs, which means they don't do a really great job of understanding English. To get the best experience from an IF game, keep your instructions very simple; a couple of words is good. For example, instead of saying "walk northward down the middle of the street," you'll probably have much better luck just saying "go north." Rather than "try to fit the key into the lock and turn it," just say "unlock door." Most games accept the compass directions as commands, plus you can "get" and "put" objects to pick them up and set them down. As you find specific objects and think of special commands that might apply, go ahead and try them, e.g. if you find a dog you could pet it, food can be eaten, and of course any box just begs to be opened. Two really useful words that work in many IF games are "help" (which displays a list of the most common commands) and "examine" (which describes things in detail). Make sure you "examine" everything you find or see, because that's where the clues are often hidden.

Although IF makes a fine solitary pastime, it can also be as social as you'd like it to be. Sitting down with a friend and discussing your options and decisions as you play through the game is a perfectly reasonable way to enjoy IF, and it's generally easier and more fun to figure out puzzles and problems when you have two heads working on them.

That should be enough to get you started, and if you want more information just follow the links on the home page, or if you'd like to start playing right now just go to the Sunny Day game. One last hint: keep a paper and pencil handy as you play, because even a medium-sized IF game can have dozens of locations and you'll find it vital to make a map to keep from getting lost.