Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction

Critical Writing
Publication Type: 
xv, 286
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Abstract (in English): 

This monograph outlines the history of interactive fiction from its beginnings in the 1970s, through its commercial primetime in the 1980s, its community-based explosion in the 1990s and into the 21st century. Riddles are presented as the primary literary ancestor of interactive fictions, which allows Montfort too see IF as literary but as more than simply narrative.  The book provides a vocabulary and approach for describing the genre and also presents new interpretations of selected games and summarises previous readings and discussions of works.


A critical approach to interactive fiction, as literature and game.

Interactive fiction—the best-known form of which is the text game or text adventure—has not received as much critical attention as have such other forms of electronic literature as hypertext fiction and the conversational programs known as chatterbots. Twisty Little Passages (the title refers to a maze in Adventure, the first interactive fiction) is the first book-length consideration of this form, examining it from gaming and literary perspectives. Nick Montfort, an interactive fiction author himself, offers both aficionados and first-time users a way to approach interactive fiction that will lead to a more pleasurable and meaningful experience of it.

Twisty Little Passages looks at interactive fiction beginning with its most important literary ancestor, the riddle. Montfort then discusses Adventure and its precursors (including the I Ching and Dungeons and Dragons), and follows this with an examination of mainframe text games developed in response, focusing on the most influential work of that era, Zork. He then considers the introduction of commercial interactive fiction for home computers, particularly that produced by Infocom. Commercial works inspired an independent reaction, and Montfort describes the emergence of independent creators and the development of an online interactive fiction community in the 1990s. Finally, he considers the influence of interactive fiction on other literary and gaming forms. With Twisty Little Passages, Nick Montfort places interactive fiction in its computational and literary contexts, opening up this still-developing form to new consideration.

(Source: The MIT Press catalog copy)


Twisty Little Passages cover

Critical writing that references this:

Title Author Publisher Year
"A Machine Made of Words by a Machine Made of Numbers"- Authorial Presence in Niemi’s Stud Poetry David Boyles 2012
A Book Itself Is a Little Machine: Emily Short’s Interactive Fiction. Illya Szilak Huffington Post 2013
Because It's Not There: Ekphrasis and the Threat of Graphics in Interactive Fiction Aaron Kashton DHQ Digital Humanities Quarterly 2011
Born Digital: Writing Poetry in the Age of New Media Maria Engberg 2007
Command Lines: Aesthetics and Technique in Interactive Fiction and New Media Jeremy Douglass 2007
Command Lines: Aesthetics and Technique in Interactive Fiction and New Media Jeremy Douglass 2007
Connecting Narrative Video games and Electronic literature Filip J. Falk 2017
Continuous Paper: Print Interfaces and Early Computer Writing Nick Montfort 2004
Creating Screen-Based Multiple State Environments: Investigating Systems of Confutation Donna Leishman 2004
Digital Media Scott Rettberg, Jill Walker Rettberg Modern Language Association (MLA) 2010
Electronic Literature Scott Rettberg Polity 2018
Expressive Processing: On Process-Intensive Literature and Digital Media Noah Wardrip-Fruin 2006
Face It, Tiger, You Just Hit the Jackpot: Reading and Playing Cadre’s Varicella Nick Montfort, Stuart Moulthrop 2003
Feral Hypertext: When Hypertext Literature Escapes Control Jill Walker Rettberg 2005
Fiction and Interaction: How Clicking a Mouse Can Make You Part of a Fictional World Jill Walker Rettberg 2003
Further, Reading Scott Rettberg Vagant 2011
Games/gaming/simulation in a new media (literature) classroom Scott Rettberg On the Horizon 2004
Generating Narrative in an Interactive Fiction Game John L Jacko 2018
Generating Narrative Variation in Interactiv Fiction Nick Montfort 2007
Programming for Fun, Together Nick Montfort 2012

Teaching Resource using this Critical Writing:

Resource Teaching Resource Type Author Year
Digital Poetry and the Limits of Interpretation (ENGL 5559) Syllabus Lori Emerson 2010
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