Greatly Exaggerated

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Brenda Braithwaite posted a very eloquent eulogy for the text parser as a method by which players can interact with games.

I am regrettably forced to announce the death of the text parser. It is a death that I suffer with great sadness and fond memories of its life. I am not sure exactly when it died.

It's really very nicely written, so you ought to visit her site and read the whole thing. I started to write a reply in the comments under her post, but it turns out I have a lot to say on the subject, so I moved it here. For anyone interested, here is my response:

I can't help but wonder what brought on this sudden funereal outburst. Did something happen that causes you to suddenly toll the death knell for text-based games? I'm especially curious because it seems a bit premature - or, at least, somewhat misleading.

All your points stand, and you have presented them beautifully. Text parsing was once the dominant modes of player interaction - at least within certain genres - and now it is not. I do not expect it will ever reclaim that position. The modes that replaced it are, frankly, more evolved. They are better suited to the things that are typically demanded of a user interface, and more accessible to a wider audience. These facts are unlikely to change.

But I hope you're willing to recognize that there is more to gaming than the mainstream. The fact is, today there is a vibrant community of text-based game designers producing interactive fiction. It's not mainstream, but that hardly makes it irrelevant. Modern IF frequently pushes against boundaries that most designers ignore: emotion and conversation models, narrative voice, dynamic plot, emotional agency. Games like Galatea, Photopia, Floatpoint, The Baron, Violet - these are games that all aspiring designers should play, not because they represent the dominant form, but because they demonstrate mechanics and techniques that are commonly absent from the traditional corpus.

I would argue, although this comes down to little more than guessing at future trends, that IF has the potential to be relevant outside the relatively small circle of designers and design-enthusiasts, as well. The audience for games is expanding, and I believe that when all is said and done, it won't be a simple bifurcation of the market into casual and hardcore camps. Art games - experimental games - are now getting more exposure than has ever before been possible. I would place your Mechanic is the Message series firmly in this category, along with a number of the interactive fiction pieces produced in the last five years. I believe the audience for this sort of game is growing, and will eventually establish itself as a significant segment of the games market.

(And Twitter may not be able to revive the popularity of textual interaction as we remember it, but I am far from convinced that we won't see a new sort of text-based game that enjoys success through modern technological trends. These phenomena are simply too new for the possibilities to have been thoroughly tested.)

But that, really, is neither here nor there. My point is that, although the text parser may have passed its heyday some time ago, it's hardly fair to call out its death while talented and hardworking designers are busy iterating against important design problems in precisely that format. To do so suggests that the work being done in interactive fiction today is irrelevant - merely a throwback to the glory days of text adventure games. Nothing is farther from the truth.

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