Teaching with text adventures

The “retro” aspect of text adventure games is kind of fun, but I think it can also be limiting. I think there is a lot of potential for text adventure games to have a broader appeal, with wider uses, way beyond harking back to old-skool computer games. There is a place for text adventures on the modern web, but not simply “hey, remember those old games from the 1980’s? Some people are still making them!”

I am guilty of this kind of pigeon-holing myself of course. The current introduction on the Quest website says “Quest brings 1980’s-style text adventure games up to date” – well, fine, yes, maybe it does, but when I rewrite that introduction for Quest 5.0, I don’t want to frame it in those terms.

This is because I want to introduce this type of game to a new generation of authors and players, and these people may not even “remember” text adventure games in the first place. In fact, the most important people who I want to introduce to text adventures certainly won’t remember them – anybody at school today will have been born after 1993, a long time after text adventures ceased to have a mainstream appeal.

Using Quest in Education

There are educational uses for Quest, both in getting students to play text adventure games, and in getting them to write their own. There are probably ways of using Quest in any subject that touches on problem solving, reading, or creative writing:

  • Quest could be used as an introduction to programming – all the standard programming concepts are in there: variables, functions, expressions, objects, loops.
  • For teaching creative writing, Quest makes the author think of multiple points of view – the “reader” will be interacting with the game world.
  • Teaching foreign languages – getting students to play a game in a language that is not their mother tongue challenges them in both reading and writing, and it ensures comprehension, as they can’t progress in the game unless they can read and write sentences correctly.

To children, text adventures are not old-fashioned – they’ll likely have never played anything like them before, so it will be new to them. This could be a challenge, in that they’ll be unaware of the conventions around the kinds of things they can type – but I think that Quest’s hyperlink support can help them to get the idea quickly.

Current users

I am very keen to hear from any teachers who are either currently using Quest in the classroom, or who may be thinking about doing so.

In the last month or so I have heard from:

As well as secondary schools, I have also heard from a university professor considering creating a final year project using Quest. There should be applications at the younger end of the spectrum as well – simpler text adventure games for primary school pupils.

In fact I don’t see any reason why primary school pupils wouldn’t be able to create games as well. I may need to work on a “simple mode” for the Quest editor, but if I can introduce young children to programming, that will be a great thing. I myself started programming on an Acorn Electron using BBC BASIC at the age of 8, and it would be fantastic if Quest could be used to get today’s 8 year-olds into programming too.

Deployment and Assessment

Quest features the ability to distribute games over web, so players don’t need to install any software. You can either upload games to textadventures.co.uk, or if you have a Windows server, you can install the Quest WebPlayer component. This means that it’s simple to deploy a game – whether you want students to play over a school network, or on their home computers, iPads etc., there’s no software to install on the end-user machine – all you need to do is give them a web link.

In the near future I want to look at enabling ways of integrating Quest with systems such as Moodle. The idea being that you could get students to play a game, and assess any aspect of the game session in the external e-Learning system – that could be simply whether or not they completed the game, or it could be any attribute such as the score, the number of rooms visited, or a full transcript of the game session. Unlike other “play online” systems (such as Parchment for Inform), Quest runs the game on the server, not the client – so it should be easier to implement such monitoring features by creating an API that can transmit details of the game session somewhere else.

Feedback

I’m very keen for any feedback on this, as this is a new area for me. If you’re thinking about using Quest in the classroom, I’d love to hear from you – what are your ideas, and what can I do to help?

You can get in touch by leaving a comment here, emailing me at alex@axeuk.com, or you can find me on Twitter at @alexwarren.

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