"Building Your World: Inform 7, Text-Based Games and the Craft of Storytelling" for the MLA 2013 Teaching with Games Roundtable.
Abstract for the presentation: While text-based games have faded from mainstream attention since their dominance in the 1980s, the genre offers a number of parallels to more traditional literature beyond the surface of the print. The parallels are most obvious through examination of adaptations, such as Infocom's "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", Sinclair's "The Hobbit", and Beam Software's "Sherlock." More modern text-based games often move away from, critique, and parody their source stories, as in Emily Short's fairy tale series and Robin Johnson's "The Excellent and Most Lamentable Text Adventure of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark," offering new twists on familiar stories. The study of such adaptations alongside the original narrative can be enlightening in considering transmedia storytelling and our expectations from literary forms, but beginner-friendly text-based game development tool Inform 7 offers the opportunity to step beyond observation and into production. If writing is understood as the construction of worlds from words, Inform 7 is a compiler for such written words. Using a natural language-based code, Inform 7 is a platform for the translation of the creative process into an interactive environment, allowing students to experiment with both traditional narrative and environmental storytelling as they build worlds for others to explore. Procedural, code-like language combines with descriptive text and dialogue to form a world, and the reader-player's traversal of that world creates an iteration of the story. The structure of Inform 7's language helps in overcoming barriers of students' procedural literacy and programming inexperience through a parallel of “coding” and writing instruction. I'll share example assignments for using Inform 7 to explore storytelling and particularly perspective through understanding of a character as lens to the fictional world. These lessons have been applied to a concept and design course in a game design program, but have applications across disciplines.