Interactive Fiction in Education

I have to say right up front that although for a while I did make my living teaching at the university level, I have no formal training in pedagogy and so have no "official expert" status in that regard. I'm not very familiar with the various theories of learning, but I do have practical experience explaining things so that beginners can understand them.

The real motivation for me developing JIFFEE is to provide my own children and their classmates (as well as the usual assortment of neighbors, nieces, and nephews) with something that will challenge them to use their brains and develop both their thinking skills and language skills. Since my kids are in a bilingual school, the ability to work in multiple languages is a requirement, and of course it has to be something fun so the kids will actually use it.

I decided to try using games to pique students' interest, and Interactive Fiction was a promising choice since it can be completely language-based (no graphics). When you read a word-description of a situation or an event, you need to use your imagination to picture it, and every time you encounter a puzzle you have to analyze it and be creative to solve it. These are all things that children should be encouraged to do, and that I believe will help their minds develop fruitfully. As others have pointed out [1], because the reader/player is focused on trying to win the game and must constantly be on the lookout for clues, activities like looking up an unfamiliar word to build vocabulary become an essential element of the experience rather than a distraction to be avoided (as can easily happen during passive reading).

While playing IF can be a useful tool, I suggest that empowering children to create their own IF has even more potential, and this is what JIFFEE is really all about. For very early readers teachers and parents would probably do all the writing, but by somewhere around 3rd grade I think the kids could start writing their own simple games. This would give free reign to the child's imagination, in much the same way as a blank sheet of paper. Of course, it would demand far more effort than simply playing a game, since each child would need to concoct a plot and all its attendant locations, characters, and actions — but it could also give a sense of ownership and pride that could be very motivating. Furthermore, it could optionally be organized as a group activity, thereby providing valuable practice in cooperation and teamwork.

It's worth pointing out that IF is inherently interdisciplinary:

Finally, even if the idea of having young children write their own games doesn't pan out, if JIFFEE at least makes it easy for teachers to create customized IF for their own classes, I'll feel that this project was worth the effort.


[1] Brendan Desilets, Teaching and Learning With Interactive Fiction, http://if1.home.comcast.net/~if1/.

[2] Ruth Vilmi and Lauri Malmi (1996). Learning English by creating, writing and playing WWW adventure games, Educational Technology Research and Development, 44, 3, 9/18/1996, Pages 109-118. http://www.writeit.fi/ruth/publications/karens_article.html