In 2011, Victor Gijsbers held a vote to determine the community-recommended “Interactive Fiction Top 50”. In his words:
The aim is not to decide what the best IF ever is by majority vote — that would be foolish. Rather, the aims of the top 50 are:
- To create a good opportunity for people to think about the best games they have played, and discuss their ideas on this topic with others.
- To allow people to be inspired by what they see on other people’s lists.
- To create a useful list of great games at which you can point newcomers to the IF scene.
- To create a way to track how the taste of the community evolves.
He also notes,
We are asking you to identify the best interactive fiction, not the most influential, most important, most innovative or most accessible interactive fiction. (But of course, if you believe that influence, importance, innovation or accessibility are important parts of being good, that is fine.)
The IF scene (and the IF community) have changed dramatically in the past three and a half years, so Gijsbers is holding a vote again this year.
If you’re reading this, then you’ve likely played a game or two, and I strongly encourage you to vote! Anyone can participate, and the rules are simple – list between 1 and 20 games (order irrelevant) and send them to Gijsbers, either by commenting on his original post or by emailing him at victor at lilith.cc.
It was incredibly difficult for me to build this list of 20 recommended games. (In truth, if Gijsbers allowed voters to submit a full 50 games, I’d still be struggling with my decisions.)
I can’t claim that my list definitely contains the 20 best IF games, because the world of highly recommended IF is so large! I haven’t played the top IFComp game from each year, let alone every XYZZY award winner. At moments like this, I become very aware of how very deep the world of IF runs, and how much of it I will probably get around to. There’s a whole world to explore out there, and I hope Gijsbers’s Top 50 event will help people find games they never would have tried otherwise.
Here are 20 of the best interactive fiction games that I have ever played. I highly recommend them all (with variance for personal taste). They are well worth playing.
20 Recommended IF Games
Aisle (Sam Barlow, Z-code)
The first of its kind: a parser game exactly one turn long, which offered a very different perspective on IF.
Bee (Emily Short, Varytale)
This story was a prototype for an abandoned system, but it’s still out there and still worth playing. The deft writing shows empathy and sensitivity for a protagonist from a very different background than that of most IF players.
Choice of Robots (Kevin Gold, Choice of Games)
A spectacular entry in the Choice of Games library, this game takes the bildungsroman formula to new heights with equal parts humor and poignancy. I’ve played this game three times and watched other people play through twice without getting bored, and I could easily play it a five more times without running out of new things to try.
Cis Gaze (Caelyn Sandel, Twine)
An autobiographical look at the life of a trans woman in the early stages of transition.
Coloratura (Lynnea Glasser, Glulx and Twine)
This instant classic takes the time-honored trope of “alien horror from oceanic depths” and twists it into a very different shape. I really can’t say enough good things about this game.
A Dark Room (doublespeak games, web and iOS)
The core mechanics resemble Candy Box, but the initial interactions slowly metamorphose into a mysterious, surprisingly addictive story.
Depression Quest (Zoe Quinn, Patrick Lindsey, and Isaac Schankler, Twine)
This game doesn’t match everyone’s experience of depression, but it gives a window into the experience of depression for those who aren’t depressed, and offers some well-considered coping tools to those who are. It’s not a fun experience, but it is very, very well done.
Device 6 (Simogo, iOS)
How interactive do you want your fiction to be? The text of this game literally turns corners, splits apart into different paths, and runs off the edges of screens, forcing the player to explore the text in a geographic fashion.
Fallen London (Failbetter Games, web)
One of the most aspirational pieces of IF ever completed (the most aspirational, perhaps?) and still evolving to this day. A setting-driven exploration of an alternative Victorian London, filled with peculiar challenges and delicious friends.
Galatea (Emily Short, Z-code)
An odd and beautiful portrait of a single NPC. Exploration leads to multiple endings and multiple takes on the reality of the game.
Hadean Lands (Andrew Plotkin, Glulx)
After years of waiting, this game finally exists! Contains what is likely the most complex puzzle structure in interactive fiction to date.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams and Steve Meretzky, Z-code)
Hardly a fair game (keep the Invisiclues open!), but absolutely a classic, and good fun for its weird takes on logic and its constantly-engaging writing. C’mon, you always wanted to stick a Babel fish in your ear.
Lock & Key (Adam Cadre, Glulx) – Dungeon architecture, go! You must place a series of traps to stop a hero from escaping a prison. Come for Cadre’s writing, stay for the intricate puzzle. (Requires a graphics-capable Glulx interpreter; not available for online play.)
Lost Pig (Admiral Jota, Z-code)
Full of character (orc have good character!), humor, and marvelous attention to detail, plus pants, mossphorescence, and a few lessons in manners. Also, a pig. The perfect demonstration that comedy and quality can go hand in hand.
Rover’s Day Out (Jack Welch and Ben Collins-Sussman, Glulx)
An enthralling, multi-layered science-fiction story. Heavy on technology and Easter eggs.
Spider and Web (Andrew Plotkin, Glulx)
This game is basically made of fiero (okay, fiero, surprise, and strong writing). Contains my favorite IF puzzle to date.
The Gostak (Carl Muckenhoupt)
Figuring out how to play is the biggest puzzle in the game. The gostak distims the doshes, and while you might need some brolges from the jallon to distim your doshes, the satisfaction of properly distimmed doshes is well worth it.
Trapped in Time (Simon Christiansen, PDF)
If Trapped in Time won IFComp 2013, I would have been okay with that. It’s a Choose Your Own Adventure with a mechanical twist, combining sheer brilliance and sharp writing to evoke a whole world of nostalgia. (If you can spare the paper, print it out; it’s a better experience that way.)
Wishbringer (Brian Moriarty, Z-code)
This is my personal favorite of the Infocom games. You play as a postal clerk, so your initial goal is to deliver the mail, but the story quickly evolves into something more complicated and intriguing. (Sadly, as far as I know, no legal copy of this commercial game is currently available.)
With Those We Love Alive (Porpentine, Twine)
Collaborating with the player is a powerful tool, and the tactile/creative experience of playing this game is something special. (I wrote a post with a bit more detail here.)
Of course, tastes do vary….
That was my list, but what games would you pick? Post your list at intfiction.org!