Reflections on using Interactive Fiction 9.05

Following my  introduction to using interactive fiction as a learning tool I wanted to jot down some thoughts from my experience of using it recently with a couple of groups.

Explaining what Interactive Fiction(IF) is to students is an essential first step. Instead of using Interactive Fiction I decided to go with the term Adventure Game, then added the modifier Text-Based. Most of the group (whose average age is 18/19) knew the concept of an adventure game but few about text-based ones. Only then did I add that nowadays these are called Interactive Fiction.

I then explained that you needed to know some one word commands to direct your character in the story, and handed them a list of common verbs.

Showing an example is the next step, I used 9.05 which is ideal as a starter since it is based on everyday world context (i.e. not ones with dragons and such) and relatively short time to complete. Using the start screen I dictated the text and stopped at any unusual words or phrases to check understanding (in this case – spare, haphazardly).

Asking the groups to vote for what to do as the first step in the game always seems to pique their interest and generate a bit of heated discussion as to what is the best move.

I then told the students to work in pairs, with one person typing the commands and the other person taking note of what commands were typed and what happened as a result. They were also instructed to note down any new/difficult words they find.

As they started to play the game I needed to give them some help e.g. a very useful command is Inventory to see what items you are carrying. Further help needed was to get them to notice that certain actions must happen before others e.g. students spent some time examining the dresser before realising they needed to open it.

The atmosphere generated by using this game was clear enough, students were much more engaged than if you had just given them a static story to read.

To try to gauge a recorded outcome as homework I told them to briefly write-up what they had done in the game and to note down difficult words. Unfortunately I had not known at the time that there is a command Transcription which exports all game moves to a file. This can provide a good opportunity for some analysis.

So if you are still hesitating about using IF in class don’t, just dive in, you won’t regret it!

More info on the whys and wherefores of IF in language teaching can be found at Joe Pereira’s site.