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Feature: 'The History Of Zork'

Feature: 'The History Of Zork'

June 28, 2007 | By Jason Dobson

June 28, 2007 | By Jason Dobson
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Gamasutra is partnering with the IGDA's Preservation SIG to present in-depth histories of the first ten games voted into the Digital Game Canon, this time providing a meticulous study of Infocom's seminal 1980 text adventure Zork and its unruly offspring.

In this excerpt, Dr. Matt Barton, an assistant professor of English at St. Cloud State in Minnesota, begins to examine Zork as possibly not just an example of gaming's past, but also perhaps a sign of where games are heading as well:

“Perhaps it’s wrong to assume that the availability of good graphics technology caused the decline of games like Zork. If “interactive fiction” has migrated to the margins of the computer gaming industry, it could be due simply to a lack of good marketing, not evidence of some inherent limitation of the genre.

It’s quite possible that one day, when enough gamers are at last disillusioned with the latest 128-bit smoke and mirror show, interactive fiction titles will again enjoy the lucrative rewards won by Infocom during the heyday of the Zork trilogy. After all, the treasures of Zork are still there beneath the old white house, awaiting their discovery by new generations of gamers. Zork is not obsolete; merely under appreciated. Perhaps Zork is not the past of gaming, but its future.”

He later adds:

“It’s quite likely that no computer game in history has ever inspired as much prose as Zork, even if we omit the billions of commands inputted by legions of over-caffeinated hunt-and-peckers. Zork and other text-based adventure games have long been the darling of academics writing about games, such as Brenda Laurel and Janet Murray.”

You can now read the complete feature, with includes a painstaking look a Zork's history, from text parser to graphics, mailbox to cavern. Just be careful when it gets dark, as you're likely to be eaten by a Grue (no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from external websites).

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