Games Based Learning through Text Adventures

photo credit: Sergey Galyonkin via photopin cc
photo credit: Sergey Galyonkin via photopin cc

This week in the Games Based Learning MOOC, we’ve been focusing on two tools for GBL: AR/ARGs and Interactive Fiction/Text Adventures. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I’m planning to integrate IF into my Fall FYC class. Students will both experience the course as a piece of IF and, at the end of the term, create their own IF.

The Class as a Text Adventure

In lieu of a syllabus, I’ll provide students with a piece of IF that they will have to “play” in order to navigate the course: all of the course resources will be located within the “game” and students will need to solve “puzzles” and complete levels in order to locate them. As with any text adventure, the students will be able to make choices in terms of whether or not they solve specific puzzles or utilize specific resources. In this way, the game rewards students’ effort, rather than punishing their failures. Of course, the more effort a student exerts, the smarter they will be able to play as the game proceeds.

There are several tools available for creating text adventures, including Inform 7, Twine, and Inklewriter. I am currently trying out AXMA, a version of Twine, and am finding it fun and easy to work with. I created the following screencast of a very rough draft of the IF I’m creating for my class that demonstrates how the tool works and what kinds of gameplay I’m creating for the class:

In addition to text, you can also integrate images and sound into your AXMA story, allowing you to create a sensory-rich gaming experience.

Students as Text Adventure Designers

For me, the real power of GBL emerges when students are allowed to become game designers. I’m designing the course’s text adventure to serve as a model for those that the students will eventually create themselves as the final boss level of the game. There are several reasons why designing games, specifically IF, is an effective method for students to learn written literacy and critical/analytical thinking and problem solving. Joe Pereira does an excellent job of outlining how both GBL and IF address 21st century thinking and writing in his post “Interactive Fiction and Digital Game Based Learning.” In fact, I recommend reading his entire blog to get a better idea of the benefits of having students create IF and text adventures.

IF will likely be completely foreign to most students, so I am collating resources that will help them to better understand, play, and compose in the genre. I’ve listed what I consider to be the best resources below (in no particular order):

Inform 7’s Introduction to Interactive Fiction

Dennis Jerz’s Playing, Studying, and Writing Interactive Fiction

“The Craft of Adventure”

A Beginner’s Guide to Playing Interactive Fiction

Get Me Writing: Interactive Fiction

Digital Storytelling with Interactive Fiction

The Fiction Engine

Emily Short’s Interactive Storytelling

“Crimes Against Mimesis”

“A Writer’s Guide to Interactive Fiction”

In terms of good resources for those teaching IF, I recommend the following (again, in no particular order):

“Interactive Fiction vs. the Pause That Distresses: How Computer-Based Literature Interrupts the Reading Process Without Stopping the Fun”

The Best Places to Read and Writer ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ Stories

“Something to Imagine: Literature, Composition, and Interactive Fiction”

“Gamifying Stories — Using Interactive Fiction in the Classroom” (part 2 is linked at the bottom of the post)

Interactive Fiction and Digital Game Based Learning (a great Scoop.It site maintained by Joe Pereira)

“The Joy of Text”

I’m not sure if I’ll have students use Twine to create their text adventures or if I’ll have them use the much simpler Inklewriter (I may leave the choice of tool up to them). IF author Porpentine makes a very persuasive argument as to why we should use Twine to create IF in her post “Creation Under Capitalism and the Twine Revolution.”

I’m also not sure if I will have students work in small groups to compose their IF or work individually. In integrating IF into her developmental English class, Emily Forand had students work in guilds and each guild designated one member to go to “Twine school;” while the rest of the guild worked on developing the game, this member spent time learning the ins and outs of  Twine and served as the resident Twine expert once they returned to their guild (see the interview below). While I really like this idea, I think it might be more advantageous for each student to be able to use the IF software so that the creation of the game does not rest in a single guild member’s hands. Again, I may leave it up to the students as to whether they work in guilds or individually.


As I make progress in designing the class text adventure, I’ll post about my process and challenges. Right now, I’m foreseeing the following challenges:

  • how to let students know how far to read/play at any given time (this will be a hybrid class, so there will be less in-class f2f support and motivation)
  • students may challenge my method of using a text adventure as the syllabus for the course: how do I address/avoid this?
  • how to allow sufficient time for students to develop, create, and play their IF (this is an issue Forand experienced)
  • whether or not to have students publish their IF outside of the class (again, an issue Forand experienced)
  • how to make sure students understand the connection between IF and the course learning objectives (do I rely on stealth learning or make these connections explicit?)