July 15, 2008.
July 15 Interactive Fiction: A Tool for Building Literacy Skills
Interactive fiction is a form of computer entertainment, in which the player reads a story on their computer screen, responds to the story by typing simple natural language commands like "search cupboard" or "turn bolt with wrench", and thereby affects the outcome of the story. Educators can use interactive fiction to teach reading skills, writing skills, foreign languages, programming skills, problem-solving skills, and generally to encourage creative thinking. This workshop will introduce teachers to sources of grade-appropriate interactive fiction on-line, and its use in the classroom.
Participants should begin the workshop by logging on to one of the following links, and playing "Dreamhold" (by Andrew Plotkin, 2004). Dreamhold is a fairly traditional work of interactive fiction (IF), made special by the inclusion of an in-game tutorial for beginners who are new to this type of game.
After all the workshop participants have arrived and played around with this game for a bit, we'll briefly discuss the medium of interactive fiction in general, and its specific value in the classroom.
During the second half of the workshop, we'll break into groups to play and review a set of games which are recommended for school children. These games have also been selected to represent the variety of genres and styles of IF which are available as freeware.
Earth and Sky (a superhero game) 2001 by Paul O'Brien
Mrs Pepper's Nasty Secret (mystery) 2008 by Jim Aiken and Eric Eve
Lost Pig (comedy) 2007by Admiral Jotta
Seastalker (Adventure) 1984 Stu Galley and Jim Lawrence
City of Secrets (political intrigue) 2003 by Emily Short
Photopia (tragedy) 1998 by Adam Cadre
Additional recommended games may be announced during the workshop.
As you play your assigned game, take notes which will allow you to review it for the rest of group. What is the theme, genre, plot and mood? What are the strengths and weaknesses as a game? As a story? What age group would your recommend this for, based on the level of the vocabulary, thematic content, and puzzle difficulty?
At the conclusion of the workshop, participants will review the game they've selected for the rest of the group.
The remaining links on this page point you to other sources of IF related information: How to find IF games or reviews, and suggestions for using them in your classroom. The facilitator will make reference to these links during the discussion part of the workshop.
Playing interactive fiction through the web browser
Several online applications are available for playing interactive fiction within your browser. If you've enjoyed playing some of the games during this workshop, you may wish to explore the titles at the following sites. Not all games linked from these sites are suitable for a school environment. Depending on your browser settings, not all of these applications may work on your computer, and depending on the quality of your internet connection, some games may be quite slow to load.http://www.xs4all.nl/~pot/infocom/
Finding reviews of interactive fiction
Several websites are devoted to organizing and reviewing IF games. Go to these sites if you want to read a review, or sort by genre.
Playing IF outside the browser
There are several advantages to downloading interactive fiction, as opposed to playing it online. First, many great games are simply not available for online play. Second, applications for online play may not allow you to create a "save" file of your progress through a long game. Third, the applications for playing games through an internet browser are much slower than applications for playing on your own machine.
When you download interactive fiction games to your own computer, you will also need to download a specific piece of software called an "interpreter" to play the game files. There are 5 or 6 common formats for games, and a variety of different interpreters for playing each one. One of my favorites is a program called "Gargoyle" which supports nearly all of the major IF formats, and provides several other nice features as well:
Writing your own interactive fiction
Although there was once a commercial market for interactive fiction (which peaked in the 1980s) almost all modern IF is written by talented amateurs. What do you do when you find you enjoy IF so much you want to start writing some yourself? The following are two of the most common IF authoring systems:
Both of these systems are specialized computer languages, requiring some programming skills. Yet even non-programmers can take part in the fun of writing simple interactive fiction, in the form of simple branching "choose your own adventure" type stories connected through hypertext links. One example is shown here:
Networking with other IF enthusiasts
If you want to talk to others about interactive fiction, the following newsgroups are popular:
rec.games.int-fiction (Primarily for players discussing games)
rec.arts.int-fiction (Primarily for authors discussing theory of game development, or more technical questions)
Some additional articles about using IF for enhancing literacy skills
Following are links to articles by teachers using IF in their classes already, and more scholarly citations.