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Text games are typically easy to write and require less processing power than games with graphics, and thus were more common from 1970 to 1990. However, terminal emulators are still in use today, and people continue playing MUDs (multi-user dungeon) and exploring interactive fiction. Many beginning programmers still create these types of games to familiarize themselves with a programming language, and contests even now are held on who can finish programming a roguelike within a short time period, such as seven days.
While many of the earliest computer games (Adventure, Zork) relied on language parsing due to the command line-driven, teletype-terminal mainframe environments in which they were developed, the phrase "text-based" is taken to refer not to the user input (though generally keyboard-based) but rather to exclusive use of the fixed-width character display mode, an important distinction to maintain in light of curses based games such as Rogue and their successors, which employed the characters in the text mode as map symbols rather than as parts of words. Despite enormous differences in display and user interface, the text adventure games and roguelikes both make exclusive use of the text mode, and hence are both to be considered text-based.
Though punctuation and the alphanumeric symbols can be considered standard in most text modes, many of them contain additional symbols and variant attributes (colours, blinking, lines / columns per screen, etc.) that differ between operating environments: the text mode of a Commodore 64 would be substantially different from that of an IBM PC, though despite an absence of standardization in the text display (until implementation of later text mode terminal display standards such as VT100 and ANSI), they would both be considered to be text modes. These later standards also contain numerous characters, largely blocks and lines, specifically intended to be used for fast, low-bandwidth display of crude block graphics in the text mode.
A MUD (originally Multi-User Dungeon, with later variants Multi-User Dimension and Multi-User Domain),  is a multi-user real-time online virtual world. Most MUDs are represented entirely in text, but graphical MUDs are not unknown. MUDs combine elements of role-playing games, hack and slash, interactive fiction, and online chat. Players can read or view depictions of rooms, objects, other players, non-player characters, and actions performed in the virtual world. Players typically interact with each other and the world by typing commands that resemble a natural language.
The roguelike is a subgenre of role-playing video games, characterized by randomization for replayability, permanent death, and turn-based movement. Many early roguelikes featured ASCII graphics. Games are typically dungeon crawls, with many monsters, items, and environmental features. Computer roguelikes usually employ the majority of the keyboard to facilitate interaction with items and the environment. The name of the genre comes from the 1980 game Rogue.
Very few text-based or graphical games have attempted to break into society simulation. This is due to the sheer complexity involved - the agents either need to be programmed, requiring some form of AI, or need to be played by willing participants who can adhere to rules around maintaining the atmosphere of a society. Despite this, Cantr is a notable exception that has succeeded in both creating an environment for the simulation of a society and laying groundwork for players to maintain this atmosphere through a set of strict rules. Additionally, the game has lasted for over 15 years. Other than Cantr, there are very few games that have had success.
With the emergence and popularity of AI, big data and thus simulation, it is likely that we will see an increase in single-player society simulator games.
- List of text-based computer games
- BBS door game
- Online text-based role-playing game
- ANSI art
- ASCII art
- Text user interface
- Sweetster, Penny. "Emergence in Games", 01 January 2008. p.55
- "Teach with Inform". Retrieved 1 September 2011.
- "7DRL definition at RogueBasin". Retrieved 1 September 2011.
- Bartle, Richard (2003). Designing Virtual Worlds. New Riders. pp. 9–10, 741. ISBN 0-13-101816-7.
[pp. 9-10] TinyMUD was deliberately intended to be distanced from the prevailing hack-and-slay AberMUD style, and the "D" in its name was said to stand for "Dimension" (or, occasionally, "Domain") rather than "Dungeon;" this is the ultimate cause of the MUD/MU* distinction that was to arise some years later. [pp. 741] The "D" in MUD stands for "Dungeon" [...] because the version of ZORK Roy played was a Fortran port called DUNGEN.
- Hahn, Harley (1996). The Internet Complete Reference (2nd ed.). Osborne McGraw-Hill. p. 553. ISBN 0-07-882138-X.
[...] muds had evolved to the point where the original name was too confining, and people started to say that "MUD" stood for the more generic "Multi-User Dimension" or "Multi-User Domain".
- Bartle, Richard (2003). Designing Virtual Worlds. New Riders. p. 3. ISBN 0-13-101816-7.
Confusingly, although the term MUD applies to virtual worlds in general, the term MU* does not—it is used strictly for text-based worlds. The introduction of computer graphics into the mix therefore caused a second spate of naming, in order to make a distinction between graphical MUDs and text MUDs.
- "Cantr II Website".