50 Years of Text Games parses the rich history of a foundational genre

A montage of

Enlarge / Some of the maps and decision trees mapped out in the book 50 Years of Text Games. (credit: Aaaron Reed)

There’s a quote in 50 Years of Text Games from Dave Lebling, co-creator of Zork, that has been rattling around in my head ever since I read the book, coming to the surface every so often like an M&M in trail mix.

“Obviously, no small computer program can encompass the entire universe. What it can do, however, is simulate enough of the universe to appear more intelligent than it really is.”

Lebling’s quote comes up first in a chapter about The Oregon Trail. Even by today’s standards, the degree to which that 1971 classic simulates the randomness of reality and invites you into its simulation is impressive. When you inevitably perish, it asks you about “a few formalities we must go through,” accepting Y/N for each.

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