West of House This is an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox here.
Computer game players of a certain age (or who are fans of shows like Stranger Things and the 1980s in general) will recognize the sentences above as coming from one of the first interactive text adventures: Zork.
The way Zork worked was that you would type a command to move the story along. So, for example, faced with the situation above the player might type Go west (to go into the field), Go east (to go to the house) or Open mailbox.
When the player enters the house, it yields a number of intriguing objects, including a brass, battery-powered lantern, an empty trophy case, and an Elvish sword of great antiquity. Beneath the rug a trap door leads down into a dark cellar, which is revealed to be one of several entrances to a vast subterranean land known as the Great Underground Empire. The player soon encounters dangerous creatures, including deadly grues who only prey on their victims in the dark, an axe-wielding troll, a giant cyclops who cowers at the mention of Odysseus, and a nimble-fingered thief who makes mapping the maze difficult by removing or scattering any items that the player might drop to leave a trail.
That last paragraph (and the image) are both from Wikipedia, of course. Ahh, Wikipedia. What student or teacher hasn’t dipped into its vast trove of articles to research a project, prepare a quiz or reading text or simply settle an argument about the name of a capital city or author of a famous book?
Why am I talking about Wikipedia and Zork in a blogpost for Extreme Language Teaching? Well, this week I discovered Wikipedia, the Text Adventure. This free web-based game converts Wikipedia into a text adventure almost exactly like Zork.
To play, you simply type the location you want to start in. You’ll get a description and then options of where to go next. So, for example, I started by typing ‘White House’ and I got a short description of the White House. I then typed ‘go northeast’ and went to the Executive Residence, then I went to the East Room.
In each place you visit, you can EXAMINE something for more information or TAKE something which will go in your virtual backpack. During my quick tour of the White House I ‘took’ the Jackie Kennedy garden and a staircase from the Green room.
Looking at this, I did think it could be fun to do with students but it’s summer for me now so I haven’t had the chance yet. It’s basically only text, so it wouldn’t need a particularly strong wifi signal to use in class. Maybe each student could start in the same place, and then after 5 minutes they share where they ended up and what things they took with them. If you got really creative, you could set the same starting point for everyone and challenge them to get to another, geographically close, point in a given time.
Or you could simply play around with it to scratch your 1980s videogame nostalgia itch, like I did.
Wikipedia, the Text Adventure is a free webbased game by Kevan Davis. It was launched in June 2017.