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Evolution of text-based RPG games

What is a text based RPG game?

Text-based RPG game is a time-honoured genre where most of the interactions happen through on-screen words.

Usually, you don't have to install anything to play the game. Most of them can be played in your browser and that's as convenient as it gets because you can play them anywhere.

History of text-based RPG games

The first examples of this genre can be traced back to the 1960s when video terminals were quite expensive. The most successful ones from the time were Star Trek, Lunar Lander and The Oregon Trail.

Star Trek game (Image Credit: The Register.co.uk)

In the middle of the 1970s, video terminals became much more affordable. Most people were intrigued by the idea of artificial intelligence and lots of people were experimenting with video terminals.

Many text-based games were created in colleges at this time. The majority of these games were based on the J. R. R. Tolkien's novels and the famous table-top game, Dungeons & Dragons.

One of the biggest problems with these games was the lack of saving functionality. This situation was due to technical limitations and costs of course. However, many developers claimed that saving ability was not necessary anyway because the games were simple enough to be finished in one session.

The first text-based adventure game ever created was Colossal Cave Adventure. It was developed by Will Crowther between 1975-1977. The game takes place in a cave that is allegedly filled with wealth.

Gameplay screenshot of the text based game Colossal Cave Adventure (Image Credit: Wikipedia)

The game was inspired by mainly Dungeons & Dragons. The interesting thing is the fact that Will Crowther created Colossal Cave Adventure only two years after the launch of Dungeons & Dragons. It usually takes more than two years to inspire someone to create something based on your product. Kudos to the legendary Dungeons & Dragons!

Another gameplay screenshot of the text based game Colossal Cave Adventure (Image Credit: Wikipedia)

One of the most fascinating things about Colossal Cave Adventure was the conversational tone of the program's answers. This was something that was not common at the time and it really grabbed attention.

In movies and books, computers or artificial intelligence were always depicted as serious and perfect machines lacking emotions of any sort. That's why interacting with a sarcastic program was a really intriguing idea to many people.

Another early example was Zork. It was launched in the late 1970s and it was of course inspired by Colossal Cave Adventure.

Gameplay screenshot of the text based game Zork(Image Credit: Spencer Frum)

Zork was a more advanced game compared to its predecessor because the quality of the storytelling was better and the commands were more sophisticated.

On top of basic commands such as "Attack gate," there were more advanced and specific commands such as "Attack gate with sword."

After Zork, MUD (originally Multi-User Dungeon) was introduced to the world.

In the beginning, it was only available on the University of Essex network on weekends and between 2 AM and 8 AM on weekdays. Later on, the university merged its internal network to ARPANet and MUD turned into the first Internet multiplayer online role-playing game in 1980.

Players were able to communicate with each other by typing commands that are similar to daily talk.

MUD was a revolutionary concept because many MMORPGs of today are based on it. In 1997, with Ultima Online, MMORPGs became really popular.

Birth and longevity of online text-based MMORPG

After the success of MUD and Ultima Online, there were lots of browser-based online games created especially in the 2000s.

People were looking for something that is parallel to their own world and many of them like the idea of being able to live parallel lives with their character.

The idea of your character living in an interactive world just like you was something much more interesting than going home after work and playing PlayStation for 2 hours.

Why do people still religiously play these games?

The simple explanation is, people still play these games because they love them. They love that retro feeling - especially people who were born in the 1980s and grew up with these games.

Jobs section of the text based game Mob Wars (Image Credit: KanoPlay.com)

In the beginning, text based games were created due to limitations. It was the only option. However, the fact that technology is advancing rapidly doesn't change the joy we are getting from these old-school games.

No matter how advanced technology gets, many people will keep playing text-based games. Thankfully, some successful games were able to maintain the same old school vibe and still continuously get updated with new features.

Another reason we like this type of games so much is the fact that they activate our imagination.

Think about books vs. movies. As humans, we are creative creatures and we like to visualize. Some might say, the pleasure you get from a book is more satisfying than a movie. One of the best examples of this situation might be the Lord of the Rings. Even though the series was one of the best trilogies ever made, most fans enjoyed the books written by J.R.R Tolkien more.

Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland, once said, "Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality."

Even though visual games might be creative within themselves, there are still limitations.

Everything is well defined by the creators. However, in a text-based game, you get to decide.

One could argue that playing text-based games is a much more personal experience than playing other genres of games because your interpretation of the game is likely to be different than one of your friends. Additionally, it feels like the game is not created by a corporation, but by a normal person like ourselves. It feels more genuine.

I remember reading Stephen King's "IT" when I was young. I thought it was an amazing book and very well written, however later on, when I watched the film, all of the characters in the film, including Pennywise, were utterly different than what I had imagined while reading the book.

If they were to make a movie or a visual game of early examples of RPGs such as Colossal Cave Adventure or Zork today and show it to people who played the original version, it is very likely that the film or visual game would not accurately depict how a player interpreted the game in the original format.


We think that text based RPG and MMORPG will be around for a long time. According to the Guardian, social media shortens our attention span and takes our ability to focus on one thing. This situation makes us crave for long-term games even more. That is why the demand is getting bigger for online RPG games such as Mob Wars: La Cosa Nostra every year.