The academic origins of Nick Montfort's Twisty Little Passages may make it too dense and dry for casual readers, but his passion for his subject is strong and clear enough that anyone even remotely interested in the aesthetics of gaming should find the book fascinating. The title comes from a recurring phrase in the landmark computer game Adventure, and Montfort uses that program's mid-'70s creation as a base point. He looks back, searching for interactive fiction's origins in literary riddles and Dadaist text-play, but he also looks forward, sketching Adventure's impact on the nascent computer-nerd culture, which went into a coding frenzy in a quest to enhance or better the original. Adventure's most prominent follow-up was Zork, which was initially available to a small community of Internet users in the late '70s, and later became the cornerstone of software pioneer Infocom's mini-empire. Ultimately, Montfort cares more about the genre's implications than its history. In text-based games, the computer describes an environment and prompts the reader to type in a proposed action, at which point the program responds with a new description and a new prompt. No physical dexterity is required, and no visual distraction is offered, so Montfort asks: Are these mechanical contraptions more game, or more narrative? And how do they differ from other forms of recreational reading, which make their own demands on their users' imaginations? Montfort writes early in Twisty Little Passages that he'd rather wander off to where these questions lead him than settle on definitive answers, which in practical terms means eschewing substantive literary analysis. But his quiet fervor for interactive fiction is still contagious, especially when he attempts to bust the stereotype of the lonely geek plugged exclusively into his computer. Montfort contends that game creation is a collaborative process, and that game fandom has long encouraged friendly relationships, a phenomenon that he notes fondly and frequently. Twisty Little Passages' "approach to interactive fiction" stems from this personal connection, as well as from Montfort's observations about the psychological challenges of role-playing games. Since the conversational nature of text gaming requires players to adhere to their own natures more than platform games or first-person-shooter games do, they force players into corners when a gaming obstacle can only be bested through deception or even murder. The resultant moral dilemmas, Montfort makes clear, can be as juicy as any conventional drama.

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