Last week, I spent a few hours going down the rabbit-hole that is experimenting with interactive fiction. This is a rabbit-hole that I do go down every once in a while, because I catch myself longing for a game to play that has a specific set of features (turn-based/not action, “quality” stemming not from difficulty but from story or general fun vibe, builds up complexity over time rather than dumping it all on you from point dot, etc.), and it seems to me this is a better match for interactive fiction than traditional video games.

But then, the other great thing about interactive fiction is that it’s relatively accessible to someone without great art skills and barely-any-better programming skills (ahem, me) to learn how to make a game. For a relative newbie, perhaps a suitable goal would be a Choose Your Own Ad­ven­ture-style game – you know, that kind of branching story where readers are required to make choices at regular intervals (“You hear footsteps coming. Do you immediately hide in the wardrobe, or first open the heavy trunk to try to find a weapon?”). From there, you could start adding checks (if $haskey { … } else { … };), and then character skills (maybe choosing certain options increases stats like strength or charisma, and then maybe you need a certain skill level in certain stats to unlock additional options?). And then after that you could learn how to build even more RPG-like systems, like inventory management or combat/battle systems, and then you could create a text-based RPG, like the browser game ones I have so much nostalgia for from my tweenage/early teen years, and that could be really cool. One well-established program that lets users create this kind of gamut of games is Twine(external link).

The choice-based style of interactive fiction is sometimes called “game­books”, or just “choice-based games” by others (some people are purists who insist that a “game­book” has to be a literal book, printed on paper). There is another style though, called parser-based games. These are ones where the player has to actually type in the actions they want to do, like “examine painting”, “pick up key” or “go north”. Software is available that aims to make developing this kind of game relatively accessible to a novice, such as Quest(external link).

So, I’ve been finding it really tempting to play around with these programs and see what I can teach myself about making text-based games. But then the other thing that’s occurred to me as I’ve looked into them, considering I also have an interest in little-spoken auxiliary languages like Ido and Occidental, is that these programs could actually be used to make helpful, and enjoyable, little games that help to teach these languages to learners.

The reason this occurs to me in regards to these languages, in particular, is that neither of them really has a ton of resources to learn it with. Contrast that to, say, Esperanto, which has a Duolingo course and the older, language-specific site Lernu!(external link), plus a bunch of blogs, stories, YouTube videos, and even some indie game translations already in Esperanto. Occidental has the great resource Salute, Jonathan!(external link), which is a story that starts with super-simple vocabulary and grammar and builds it up gradually over time to teach Occidental by “the natural method” (monolingually, through itself and not through translating things into the reader’s own language). Ido has… uh… some PDF workbooks. Of course both languages also have dictionaries and published grammars and smaller numbers of stories published in them and communities exist on places like Discord where you can practise chatting in them if you want. But I feel like both languages could benefit from a more interactive resource – call it “gamified”, if you want, you wouldn’t exactly be wrong 😉 – so internalising that core, basic vocab – which you need for chatting and reading not to feel like a great strain – would be more fun, and less of a slog.

While I was mulling this over in my own mind, the Occidental Discord actually had a little discussion on this exact topic, with the creator of Salute, Jonathan! remarking how cool it would be to see Choose Your Own Ad­ven­ture books in Occidental. I had to chime in and be like, yes! This would be really cool! I was literally just thinking about this myself!! I even want to try my hand at writing some basic, simple games myself, but even that would be a lot of work because I still regularly make silly mistakes, and my current vocabulary is kind of limited, in both Ido and Occidental. But a project like this sounds like a fun way to improve…

I also think that the parser-based style of game has some additional potential as a way to make a language-learning game. It’d mean that not only would a reader practise seeing and recognising vocabulary, but they’d get the extra reinforcement of having to type vocabulary themselves (and recall it, if/when they get enough screens away that they can’t see the word they need on the screen any more). Personally, I think this would be way more fun than my usual method of flashcards for practising vocab. People could write all kinds of stories drawing on different themes for vocab, too (like, urban stories? fantasy stories? high school stories? stories that take place over the internet? cooking simulators? business tycoon simulators? dating simulators? farming games? idk, the options are limitless!).

I do feel like I regularly start big projects that I then struggle to finish, so if I am going to dabble with this I think I need to make sure to devise games that are small and containable to the point I can get them done 😅 And I also feel like I’d like to play more interactive fiction, partly for the reasons I outlined in this post’s first paragraph, but also to get a better feel for the genre, how people usually kind of structure their games, what possibilities are out there, etc.. Also, it’d likely be fun 😄