Photo by Marcin Wichary ( [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Marcin Wichary courtesy of cc 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Opening one of the most legendary of computer games, this seemingly dull pair of statements embodies much of what makes Infocom’s Zork so wonderful. Among the many text adventures that were published at the time, the brainchild of Tim Anderson, Marc Blank, Bruce Daniels, and Dave Lebling is significant for its subtle complexity and status as a bridge between tabletop RPGs and their digital offspring.


While students at MIT, Zork‘s authors set out to expand on Adventure, a shareware game (surely to be featured at a later date) which was bouncing around academic mainframes during the late 1970s. Named for the term used to describe uncompleted programs, Zork was later renamed Dungeon until TSR, publisher of Dungeons & Dragons, threatened to sue. Under its original title, Zork I was commercially released in 1980 to great success. Players were not only captivated by the expansive world, they also loved the sophisticated way the game used language. The sarcastic humor of the game (“It seems that the brick has other properties than weight, namely the ability to blow you to smithereens”) and the command structures that flowed much more like conventional English made for a fun and linguistically rich experience.

Box Art for Zork (Infocom, 1980)

Box Art for Zork (Infocom, 1980)

For many of us, text adventures like Zork were among the first interactions with personal computers. The lack of graphics allowed players’ imaginations to conjure up landscapes in a resolution higher than anything a green phosphor monitor could render. What’s more, the strange jargon and logical structures of these games were doorways into exploring the catacombs of computer programming! It wasn’t long after my first experience in the Great Underground Empire that I set out to create my own realm. At the time, BASIC was the only language that I knew so I cobbled my own dungeon crawl from a series of IF-THEN-ELSE statements and variable inputs. That short game, something only its 10-year-old creator might have appreciated, never reached Zork‘s scale of course. The awe and wonder that it inspired, however, can still be felt every time I find myself standing in that open field looking again at that curiously boarded-up white house.

Taken from the Infocom text adventure A Mind Forever Voyaging, the command SUPERBRIEF displayed “the name of a place you have entered, even if you have never been there before.” It is also the title of Kristopher Purzycki’s weekly bit where he reflects upon the earliest PC games, their development, and their significance within the history of the medium.

Kristopher Purzycki Kristopher Purzycki (0 Posts)

Kristopher Purzycki is a doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where he studies computer games and digital media. His current research focuses on the ways we develop a sense of place within computer games. Although primarily a PC player, he has grown up with consoles since received Video Pinball for Christmas. Since then, he has outlived an Atari 2600, two Sega Genesis, two Playstations, and is currently waiting for his kids' Xbox to quit so he can pony up for a Playstation 4. For them of course.