How Text-Based Games Can Heal Our Attention Spans
Reading? Ha! Who has time for that?!
There is increasing evidence, subjective and otherwise, to conclude that Generations Z and Millennials have a difficult time focusing on any one task at hand. The overwhelming reason is attributed to the ubiquity of "screens"—be it cellphones, laptops, or the comfort of the black mirror that is omnipresent in most everyone's living room (and sometimes bedroom).
Escapism manifests itself in plenty of forms, some more deceiving than others: meditation, for example, can be a fine and healthy way to spend time increasing the stamina one has for dealing with errant thoughts, their emotional body. However, a glaring issue resides in a great number of us: boredom.
Take, for example, the last time you've read a book. How long ago was it, and how long did it take you? When did you manage to carve out time in your day to sit with those words, to embrace them and feel them in the way the author intended? Surely, those of us who were born either on the cusp of the modern era or some time before it hold onto the dear memories of nestling with a book, bereft of a cup of coffee or any substance to further abuse your adrenal gland, and demolishing the story within a day or two.
We have been inundated by instant gratification by way of memetic magic such as likes, comments, reposts. Even now, as I write this, I know that I could be spending this time reading one of the many books I've ordered over the past year and a half.
No. I'd rather write about how I'm not reading them.
Rejoice, faithful readers, as there is a way to compensate your lacking attention span: one could find as much pleasure as playing a Triple A video game from delving into the mind of a random, nameless, faceless individual who has solely dedicated their energy and creative prowess to a text-based adventure game.
What the heck is one of those things you just said?
Without giving you a sprawling tour of the history of Text-Based Adventure Games—or, as I like to affectionately refer to them as T-BAGS, I will provide another example below:
Of course, the images above do not belong to a real game. If you had a visceral reaction to me breaking this news, do not despair, as there are hundreds, thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands, perhaps trillions (if you subscribe to the multi-verse theory) of MUDs available for you two adventure in!
Wait a minute: MUD?
A MUD is a Multi-User Dungeon, the implication of which asserting that you can troll around with other nerds and quest together, trade together, battle each other—
Why should I play a MUD/TBAG rather than something like, oh, I don't know, Skyrim for the 60th time?
The answer is not so simple, but oh-so inviting: if you have a difficult time disciplining yourself, holding yourself accountable for reading a book or even finishing a project, either playing or creating an interactive fiction game is one step to bridging the gap from once was to what is.
What is the difference between Interactive Fiction and—
Yeah, yeah. No need to continue. I got you.
No problem. Okay, here I go:
An Interactive Fiction is something more aligned with a passive yet immersive experience. These games can be made with programs such as Adrift, Twine, and Written Realms. The player can experience an in-depth environment in which you choose the outcome of the story organically with as much detail as they are willing to imbibe; some stories might as well be series-long novels with characters so vivid and with voices so unique that they would easily be adaptable to television.
Or, if you'd like, there is the option of violence—of questing, of looting, of pillaging! Conquering! Player-killing! Ruining other people's days!
Such entities exist and have persisted for over a decade: Materia Magica, for example, was released in 1996 and still has a relatively strong user base. It is unique in it has an intricate mini-map system, where as most IF's rely on flowery passages and brilliant word play to keep the player enthralled.
Newer titles, such as Written Realm's own Edeus, is growing all of the time, with new weapons, stories, and characters. You are able to explore a massive world with a cohesive story with so many unique NPCs, you'll need a spreadsheet. (Note: this is actually a very appealing incentive for fans of spreadsheets.)
The most rewarding aspect about immersing yourself in these games is when you feel the creative part of your brain, that dusty cog left alone and cobwebbed over, finally kick back on.
If you feel like you would rather show off your creativity and world building talents, you can always dedicate years of your life to learn how to code—or, sign up for Written Realms and create a world from scratch. The website gives you everything you need to put your ideas into a physical platform, and even open it up for others to explore, to play around in.
This is a great way for writers and authors to expand on their novel ideas and to become familiar with creating towns and a working economy. For those who want to engage the most genuinely selfless community of nerds imaginable (those softened by patience, by discipline—shamans in a sense), then explore a list of available servers here and get typin'!