If you can write, you can create your very own computer game.
Remember playing The Oregon Trail? The name probably invokes nostalgia for those who have fond memories of forging a river and choosing what provisions to bring. But for grown-up gamers, text-based games similar to The Oregon Trail are still popular, and it’s easier than ever to create your own. Text-based games use words instead of graphics, and allow the creator and the player to work in tandem to shape varied plot lines into a personalized story, not unlike another childhood nerd classic, the Choose Your Own Adventure books.
There are a number of (free) online tools you can use to create and share games, and none requires you to know any real programming. Twine (twinery.org) is a simple browser-based program with a minimal interface that lets you create blocks of text, then drag and connect them together on-screen. Twine offers a number of basic customizable templates, and also allows you to import images to your story. You have the option to turn your completed game into an HTML file, which can be saved in a Dropbox account, or on Philome.le or itch.io, two websites that allow you to upload and share games.
Inklewriter (inklestudios.com/inklewriter) is another popular browser-based option. It has a snazzier interface than Twine, and lets you play as you write your story. It also reminds you if you’ve left any story paths unfinished. However, unlike Twine, which allows you to jump in and out of a story at any point, Inklewriter requires you to write in a more linear fashion. You can share your story on the site, or convert and upload it to Amazon Kindle.
Playfic (playfic.com) is a story-building tool that also includes a strong community. It lets you create interactive, old-school-type games that allow for more open-ended, fill-in-the-blank options beyond “Choose A or B.” It’s more complicated than the others, but online tutorials make learning a snap, and the greater flexibility for game play is worth the effort. Completed projects are published right on Playfic.
Interested, but not sure where to start? There are hundreds of games you can check out for inspiration on the above websites. Another great place to see a mix of games is gamesforchange.org, which aims to serve humanitarian and educational goals through gaming. The interactive storytelling community is totally female-friendly, too. In the wake of the Gamergate controversy and countless dialogues about sexism in video game culture, the increasing popularity and democratization of text-based games allows women to tell their stories and have control over their narratives. So go ahead, ladies: get out there and play!
This article originally appeared in the print version of our June/July 2015 issue.Subscribe here.