Revisiting Text-based Games

Each week Iain Simons finds you a game to while away a few hours at your desk. This week's Something

A little history.

There was a time, not twenty years ago, when some of the most popular video games in the world consisted solely of text. Acts of startling imagination and brutal violence were executed on screen with a simple string of words: "hit the grue with the Elvish sword."

For those who are utterly tired of retinal over-stimulation, the ‘ancient’ world of interactive-fiction can provide some welcome respite. This form of video game has a rich heritage, but one of the most loved and renowned developers of the form was the American company ‘Infocom’ - who created a long line of seminal titles. Their work was rich, literary and paid special attention to packaging, creating not just boxes that held software - but rich bundles of gifts which contained clue-books, badges and other fun ephemera which fed into the experience. (These ‘feelies’ also functioned as elaborate anti-piracy devices, with some of the games being unsolvable without clues contained in the packaging.) They even attracted high-profile literary collaborators, with no less than Douglas Adams himself working on their acclaimed version of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Perhaps their best loved title though, was their first - Zork. Following in the footsteps of the seminal ‘Colossal Cave’, this game trod what was to be familiar ground for this kind of work. Playful, witty, literary and on occasion - utterly frustrating.

Fortunately, much of their work is now available and playable online. Today I’m happy to direct you to a java-version of the z-machine (their game engine) which will allow you to play many of their brilliant works online. Be warned, these will take you a lot longer than an hour to play - but the effort will be worth it.

Infocom home

Play Zork Online

Play All Infocom Adventures online

Iain Simons writes, talks and tweets about videogames and technology. His new book, Play Britannia, is to be published in 2009. He is the director of the GameCity festival at Nottingham Trent University.
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Doing a Radiohead: how to disappear online

The band has performed an online Houdini in advance of its ninth album – but it’s harder than it looks. 

At the beginning of May, the band Radiohead’s web presence – well, its Twitter, Facebook, and website, at least – went offline.

Lead singer Thom Yorke has repeatedly criticised streaming, and the future of online music in general, and it's clear that his opinion fed into this month's decision to reject social media in favour of sending individual cards to the band's fans in the post. 

However, it’s also a clever publicity stunt in the run up to the rumoured release of the band's ninth album, since it plays into a growing paranoia around the lives we live online, and quite how permanent they are. In reality, though, Radiohead has done a pretty terrible job of disappearing from the internet. Its Facebook and Twitter accounts still exist, and widely available caching services actually mean you can still see Radiohead.com if you so wish. 

These are the steps you’d need to take to really disappear from the internet (and never be found).

Delete your acccounts

Radiohead may have deleted its posts on Facebook and Twitter, but its accounts – and, therefore user data – still exist on the sites. If this was a serious move away from an online presence, as opposed to a stunt, you’d want to delete your account entirely.

The site justdelete.me rates sites according to how easy they make it to delete your data. If you only hold accounts with “easy” rated sites, like Airbnb, Goodreads and Google, you’ll be able to delete your account through what justdelete.me calls a “simple process”. JustDelete.me also links you directly to the (sometimes difficult-to-find) account deletion pages.

Failing that, delete what you can

If, however, you’re a member of sites that don’t allow you to delete your account like Blogger, Couchsurfing or Wordpress, you may be stuck with your account for good. However, you should at least be able to delete posts and any biographical information on your profile.

If this bothers you, but you want to create an account with these sites, Justdelete.me also offers a “fake identity generator” which spits out fake names and other details to use in the signup process.

Go to Google

Search results are the hardest thing to erase, especially if they’re on sites which published your details without your permission. However, thanks to the European Commission “Right to be forgotten” ruling in 2014, you can now ask that certain search results be deleted using this online form.  

Ditch your smartphone

Smartphones tend to track your location and communicate with app and web servers constantly. For true privacy, you’d want to either disconnect your phone from all accounts (including iCloud or Google) or else get a basic phone which does not connect to the internet.

Give out your passwords

The artist Mark Farid decided in October 2015 to live without a digital footprint until April 2016, but was aghast when he realised quite how often our data is collected by our devices. As a result, he decided to live without bank accounts, use a phone without internet connectivity, and use an unregistered Oyster.

When I saw him speak at an event just before his off-grid experiment was due to begin, he announced that he would also be handing out the passwords to all his online accounts to the public. The kind of “bad data” which randomly hacked accounts would show would actually make him less traceable than a radio silence – a bit like how words written over other words mask them more than simply erasing them or scribbling on them would.

Accept that it probably won’t work

Even if you managed all this, the likelihood is that some of your daily activities would still leave a trace online. Most jobs require internet activity, if not an internet presence. Bank accounts are, let's face it, fairly necessary. And even Radiohead will, I’m willing to bet, reappear on the internet soon after their album arrives.

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.