Experiments in Interactive Fiction from MIT and elsewhere


MIT and other universities sometimes put up cool courseware online for free.

Among the neat-o stuff you can find from MIT is a set of projects and examples from their non-linear narrative course.

One of the student groups had an interesting idea for structuring interactive fiction that I’ve never seen before: The story/game is a group affair in which new narratives are created on the fly based on a pre-set skeleton.

Our idea is loosely based on Madlibs. One of the downsides of Madlibs (as we see it) is that when words are randomly substituted in, it's often just gibberish and not interesting. We set about designing a similar system that would better tap into the reader/writer's creativity, and come up with something closer to a creative group writing experience. We wondered, how would it be possible to replace the random insertion of words? By allowing them to see the sentence that they are filling in. What fun is that though? So what we decided to do instead was to make interchangable sentences that are missing words and phrases. So there are multiple possible first sentences, multiple possible second sentences, etc. To play the game, the sentences are distributed to different people, who fill them in, hopefully to make them as creative and interesting as possible. So the first person would pick the first sentence with blanks of out of multiple possible first sentences by drawing it out of a hat. He'd fill it in, and this would be the first line of the story. The second person would draw one of the second sentences, and fill it in, until the story is completed. In this way, a general plot structure could be maintained, beginning, middle, end. Also, each individual sentence would make much more sense than often happens in a madlib. In this way, we were hoping to create a less random, but more creative and interesting version of the madlib. Another way we considered doing this was using a simple computer program.

Does anyone else think this is a promising idea?

I think it would be very interesting to try this in either a physical or digital format. But would it be “stealing” the students’ idea if I wrote my own skeleton?

(There’s also plenty of other interesting ideas explored in the first link).


I think the idea has potential, and it’s broad enough that you’re not stealing their idea, no more than they’re stealing the MadLibs idea (but neither of you can use the MadLibs trademarked name, of course).

It might be a nice gesture to credit them for the inspiration, but not necessary.


Sounds a bit like what Doug Sharp did with King of Chicago, though this is much more expansive then the one or two choices you were given in those randomly chosen scenes.

It wouldn’t be ‘stealing’ to use the idea, but you might want to give credit where credit is due anyway. No sense in downplaying their work.