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Colossal Cave Adventure Lives Again at UMD

Mike Musgrove

A text-based computer adventure game from the '70s, regarded by some to be the first work of interactive fiction -- or even the first virtual world, came to life again yesterday for an hour or so at the University of Maryland.

"You are standing at the end of a road before a small brick building," begins the game, called Adventure (and also known as Colossal Cave Adventure), which was originally created by programmer William Crowther to entertain his young daughters. "Around you is a forest. A small stream flows of the building and down a gully."

A roomful of folks invited by the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities read the game's underground wanderings out loud yesterday. The event was part of MITH's work on a project funded by the Library of Congress dedicated to preserving virtual worlds.

Neil Fraistat, an English professor and MITH director, called Adventure "the granddaddy of all virtual worlds." "This is a game of enormous impact and importance to a certain community that grew up to be the first generation of programmers and hackers," he said.

One computer historian joked that the game's release "set the entire computer industry back two weeks" when it appeared on Arpanet, the U.S. government-designed Internet precursor, about 30 years ago.

That link, by the way, connects to the page of associate English professor Dennis G. Jerz, of Seton Hill University, who published an article last year about Adventure that made a splash on techy sites such as Slashdot. Jerz, who attended the MITH event, wrote about how the classic game's virtual world is actually based on a real cave in Kentucky.

Fraistat said he thinks that virtual worlds will come to be seen as a type of literature. "Definitely," he said. "These games are literary in their founding. The more evocative the text, the more it seems like a novel you can travel through."

By Mike Musgrove  |  May 16, 2008; 1:35 PM ET  | Category:  Mike Musgrove
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

I was working on a large DEC-10 site when Adventure came to us, around 1975 or 76, and all work stopped for two weeks! Yup, that's not an isolated anecdote. I made a giant 3 ft square map of the caves and spent all my time on the game, as did most of the rest of us! Those were the days!

Posted by: Burnin'Bush | May 17, 2008 2:11 AM

More information about the Preserving Virtual Worlds project is available here:

We'd be happy to hear from anyone with recollections or artifacts (physical or digital) to contribute.

Posted by: Matthew Kirschenbaum | May 17, 2008 8:25 PM

I played on a UNIX system. I still play games, in fact my name in World of Warcraft comes from Adventure: Xyzzy.

Posted by: Paul Bennett | May 18, 2008 9:32 PM

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