Why text-based games are BETTER than Oblivion! ...Or any graphical game!

Published: 11th February 2008
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Why text-based games are BETTER than Oblivion!
...Or any graphical game!

Most people laugh at the idea of playing text-based games. Most people probably don't even consider text-based games to BE games! After all, many games nowadays are doing away with text of any sort! Instead replacing it by poorly-voice-acted audio scripts that are passable because of a shiny lens flare that the camera pans through. People have grown so accustomed to their eyes and ears giving them their input they have forgotten their other senses. No matter how hard Oblivion may try, you will not be able to experience the touch of the grass under your heavy booted feet. No matter how beautiful the flames and smoke is rising from the barracks you're razing in Age of Empires, you can't smell the burnt hay or feel the crackling red flames.

Now most of you are probably wondering how text-based games are any better! Unless you're willing to light your computer desk on fire, you're not going to get that realism out of a computer. Or are you? The problem with the beautiful graphics and ear-rocking sounds coming out of today's best games is that they focus your mind on those senses and so your thought upon seeing a fire on your screen will be to notice the detail and realism. Not what the heat might feel like on your face after a march through the cold to reach the enemy's town and raze it to the ground!

What Text-based games bring to gaming is the most powerful rendering system in existence. Your imagination. In fact, it forces you to exercise your imagination and build your mind's eye into a much more robust instrument. I will grant that not all gaming types are suitable for text-only. Real time strategy games and puzzle games, for example.

But text-based games, whether played solo or online, excel at putting you in the boots of a soldier, or the dress of princess in peril, or countless other first-person roles. Because of this first-person viewpoint, when you read the descriptions of a room, another character, a sword, or an armored horse, you are reading it as if you were seeing it with your own eyes. This makes it easy for your mind to create the images that you're reading. And because your eyes aren't distracted, your mind can also process the description of smells emanating from the horse's rear end. I bet you just wrinkled your nose thinking about that.

One excellent example is the online game Firan (http://firan.legendary.org/)-- where hundreds of people play online characters ranging from pickpockets and sculptors up to princes and heroic guards, all in an original fantasy world-- the game itself is played by typing movement directions into your computer and then reading the description of the world. Each description evokes strong images as well as smells, sounds, and even temperature depending on the weather. Your character might have an old war-wound that acts up during the winter months. You might meet a young lady who clearly smells the part of the poor and destitute! All these little details are difficult to implement with graphical games, and often simply not done! But as we know, the devil is in the details.

Another benefit to text-based games that is hardly talked about is the amount of vocabulary building it can get you! Even playing Scrabble can't give you the same sort of benefit to your vocabulary and grammar that playing a text-based game will give you. Whether it's reading the descriptions or writing out your character's actions in an online-game, text-based games force you to use words in ways that no graphical game can.

If you already are looking to try out some text-games your should know that they are generally referred to as Interactive Fiction and a quick Google search will turn up tons of links. But the best place to start is the Beginner's Guide to Playing Interactive Fiction at http://www.microheaven.com/IFGuide/ which will guide you, step-by-step through finding, downloading, and playing some text-based games. Don't forget, many people make these games and so each game will have a different feel and flavor. The Interactive Fiction Archive is at http://www.ifarchive.org/ and a good place to find countless games to play.

But Interactive Fiction is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to text-based games. Everyone always talks about World of Warcraft's popularity, and those who play it enjoy it. But online text-based games such as MUDs, MUSHes and MOOs (all different acronyms for basically the same thing and summed up as MU*s) have even World of Warcraft beat when it comes to story-telling. When you stumble into an online text-based game, you often have a chance to enter a world from your favorite books or movies. Middle Earth, Hogwarts, Star Wars, Star Trek, all of them have numerous representatives in the online world of MU*s, though original worlds are often not as easy to find, excellent ones do exit such as the above mentioned Firan, a world created by Speculative Fiction Writer and Editor Stephanie Dray.

The brilliance of online MU*s is that your character has a chance to interact with other characters and develop plots and secrets and adventures that usually only can be experienced by reading your favorite author or watching a movie. You, in essence, become the author. Or, at the least, become an actor in a free-form play with other actors. This sort of interaction is absent from most of today's "blockbuster" games. You go through a story, or multiple stories, in these games. But the stories are the same every time you play the game. Taking the gem back to the king results in the same result. You cannot, for example, sell the precious gem to the King's rivals and help start a revolution against the kingdom, unless the story was written that way by the developers. But in an online game, where other players are controlling characters that would normally have to be programmed by developers. The possibilities go from a couple different options to virtually limitless when you add that sort of interactivity.

One of the best moments is when you are able to act out your heroic scenes for your character, watch as they fail brilliantly, and then become elated as your allies stage a daring rescue. Sound familiar? Well it's what happened to Han Solo in Empire Strikes Back. And events like that are the bread and butter of online MU*s. If you play an online Star Wars game, of which I am aware there is one, your lightsaber combat moves are the same old animations that every other player has. When you play a Star Wars MU* you can describe your moves down to the inch. Do you fight like Vader? Like Maul? Like Obi-Wan? Or are you drawing upon your Real-Life Martial Arts Training and developing a new style that only you know the rules to? These types of details, as the devil would say, are the spice of life.

If I've whetted your appetite to try out some online MU*s then you will need some guidance as to where best to find the games to play. Since MU*s have been around for decades, a Google search will be very confusing. Save yourself some time. Check out http://www.mudmagic.com for listings, reviews, and ratings. They even have the games broken down by themes, so if you're looking for Star Wars or Harry Potter, you can find that easily. Although not as pretty to look at, The Mud Connector has a huge vault of MU*s listed along with themes, reviews, and the like at http://www.mudconnect.com/ .

Of course, graphical games have their place, right alongside text-based games. But as I've outlined here, there are benefits to playing text-based games that few people even consider. So, if you have never played a text-based game, online or offline, I suggest you check out some of the links I've given here and jump in!

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