59 | Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom
To prepare students to create IF games, I first had them play through the tutorials on the Playfic
website and explore the games entered in the 2012 Interactive Fiction Competition, which is
an annual competition hosted by members of the IF community. We discussed various aspects
of the games we played—such as the gameplay, controls, and storylines—and discussed their
effectiveness. As a demo, I created a game on Playfic, which I had never done before, and I had
students play through it.
Playfic lets students look under the hood of any game by clicking on “View game source,” which
is a helpful feature because it enabled our class to study and incorporate snippets of code from
existing games into our own. I provided students with tutorials for inserting objects, doors, and
other game features, as well as a link to a website where they could access the programming
manual for Inform 7, the programming language used to create games in Playfic. The Inform 7
programming language reads like English, which I noticed makes it accessible to students who
have no prior experience coding.
Because IF lacks graphics, producing an entertaining game was highly dependent on a student’s
descriptive storytelling ability. One student acknowledged that programming an IF game is dif-
ficult; however, he added, “I actually thought it was more interesting doing it this way. It was like
a ‘3-D essay.’” Writing IF requires students to anticipate the needs of prospective users and make
decisions about what descriptive information is important to include and what isn’t. If the de-
scriptions aren’t effective, players might have difficulty navigating the game or, worse, lose inter-
est. Students wanted to produce a game that their classmates would want to play, so they engaged
in many strategies to make their games more appealing, such as using familiar settings (local or
popular culture), familiar characters (fellow students or popular culture), and tricky puzzles.
Producing a modern game requires complex programming knowledge and access to advanced
software in order to participate. IF games, on the other hand, offer language arts students easier ac-
cess to game creation in a couple of important ways. First, there is a lower barrier to entry. Because
Playfic is web-based, the platform is accessible from any web-enabled device, and because IF games
are text-based, there are few limitations in terms of hardware compatibility. And Playfic is free.
Participation and support provided by the community are motivated primarily by a passion for
playing and creating IF games. Second, there’s equity in the way that IF games are distributed, as
well as the means of achieving success within the IF community. The most-played and most-com-
mented-on games in player communities typically feature strong storylines and clever puzzles and
are within the scope of genres that appeal to the demographics of the community, which tend to
skew toward fantasy and science fiction.
To achieve this social connection, I want-
ed my students to engage with communi-
ties both inside and outside our classroom,
which we accomplished by participating
in the 2012 Interactive Fiction Competi-
tion, sharing our games on Playfic, com-
menting, and playing each other’s games.
I noticed that connecting with an authen-
tic community added legitimacy to our
work. Students took great pride in creat-
ing games that hit the sweet spot of being
Student designing Interactive Fiction game