It is Pitch Dark 4

It is pitch dark.  You are like­ly to be eaten by a grue.”

There’s a cer­tain sparse beau­ty in old, parser-based text adven­tures.  For all their infu­ri­at­ing restric­tions, the idea is sim­ple: A com­put­er spits out a descrip­tion of where you are, what you’re hold­ing and what’s in the room, and you tell the com­put­er what you want to do.  The prob­lems arise from the fact that the com­put­er does­n’t actu­al­ly speak the same lan­guage you do — it can only under­stand you if you use the exact vocab­u­lary it is pro­grammed to look for.

> go through the win­dow

What should I do with the win­dow?”

Parser games require a tremen­dous amount of patience, though they are also filled with Easter Eggs, fun secrets hid­den in their path­ways, smart-alec remarks the design­ers taught the com­put­er in order to make play­ers laugh.


Nice weath­er we’ve been hav­ing late­ly.”

Trying to tell a story in a pars­er is as much about hunt­ing through a the­saurus as it is about any­thing else — about mak­ing sure you’ve thought of enough syn­onyms for the word you want to ensure no one will get stuck try­ing to solve this puz­zle.

But since a pars­er is all about try­ing to get a com­put­er to under­stand some fac­sim­i­le of English (or the lan­guage of your choice), why not just get the com­put­er out of the way entire­ly?

It is Pitch Dark is equal parts ZorkDungeons & Dragons, impro­vi­sa­tion­al the­ater and goof­ing around on Twitter.  It is a Twitter account, (@ItIsPitchDark), run by a gamemas­ter (GM), who will act as the sto­ry­teller in a text adven­ture played by any­one and every­one who hap­pens to be pay­ing atten­tion.  A “game” of It is Pitch Dark is played over sev­er­al days.  We hope to have sev­er­al dif­fer­ent GMs run games of It is Pitch Dark.  For now, you’re prob­a­bly stuck with OntoGeek staff and friends.

Games of It is Pitch Dark may vary in tone from seri­ous to satir­i­cal, depend­ing on the GM and, per­haps more impor­tant­ly, the play­ers.  The GMs may have more or less of an idea of what the game will be about.  They may have pages and pages of notes lay­ing out a detailed set­ting.  They may have only a vague idea.  They may just start typ­ing and see where they wind up.

A game of It is Pitch Dark is fleet­ing and per­for­ma­tive — sub­ject to strange tan­gents or hijack­ing by bizarre whims.

Sound inter­est­ing?  Then these are The Rules:

1. The play­ers are all of them, col­lec­tive­ly, play­ing one per­son, one “playthrough” of the game.  If you don’t like what your fel­low play­ers are doing, tough!

2. The play­ers and the GM alter­nate tak­ing turns — the GM starts, then the play­ers respond, then the GM responds to that, etc., until the game is over.  

3. The GM, on the first turn, may use as many tweets as he or she wants to set the scene, so long as it’s clear­ly demar­cat­ed (say, with (cont.) or (1÷2) or some other mark­ing) that it’s not the play­ers’ turn yet.  After that, the GM may never tweet more than three times in a row.  This encour­ages brevi­ty, which is a good writ­ing exer­cise, if noth­ing else.

4. The play­ers, on their turn, may only take actions that can be com­mu­ni­cat­ed in less than 140 char­ac­ters, that is, the length of one tweet.

5. A play­er must include “@ItIsPitchDark” at the begin­ning of the action he or she wants to take, oth­er­wise we won’t be aware of it.  So real­ly you have 125 char­ac­ters to play with after you leave a space.

6. The GM must not require any out­side knowl­edge of lore or set­ting in order to play — only what is in the tweets is canon.

7. Each game of It is Pitch Dark must only last a few days, in case things go in a weird direc­tion, and in order to ensure the GM can remain focused and ded­i­cat­ed to keep­ing things going.

8. That said, there is no sched­ule or required fre­quen­cy — GMs will update when they feel like it, in between class­es, on breaks at work, etc.  Part of the fun is that you have to be pay­ing atten­tion, and that It is Pitch Dark hap­pens all the time, when it hap­pens.

9. The GM will usu­al­ly respond to the first per­son to tweet at the next update, though he or she is allowed to use his or her judg­ment.

10. The GM will retweet on the @ItIsPitchDark account any play­ers’ actions which are deemed “canon­i­cal,” that is, the result of the play­ers’ turn.

11. The GM is encour­aged to say “no” as rarely as pos­si­ble — choos­ing instead to accept what the play­ers have given him or her and then sub­vert it in an inter­est­ing way.

Other than this, free­dom, com­mon sense, and good sto­ry­telling rule the day.  The play­ers do not have to struc­ture their respons­es in the usual gram­mar of parser-based games (take sword, inven­to­ry, look room), but it’s kinda fun if you do.

A few expect­ed ques­tions:

How do I play?

Just fol­low @ItIsPitchDark on Twitter and start respond­ing once a game starts!

When does the first game start?

The first game starts on Monday, 8/19/13, prob­a­bly around 9:00 AM EST.  The GM will be Ontological Geek Editor-in-Chief Bill Coberly, that is, myself.

What if I want to run a game of It is Pitch Dark?

E‑mail us at with a pitch for a game or at least some rea­son (port­fo­lio of other work, fanart of the Ontological Geek staff, a bribe) for us to give you the keys and we’ll see if we can’t work some­thing out.

I’m still con­fused.  What does this look like?

Well, though this one was silly and spon­ta­neous, about like this.

It is Pitch Dark will start its first offi­cial game on Monday, 8/19/13, and it will be run by Bill Coberly.  More infor­ma­tion and respons­es to any asked ques­tions will be forth­com­ing.  Tell your friends!  The game will be more fun the more play­ers we have.

List of Games So Far:

Through the Gate-To-Many-Places, by Bill Coberly
The Lizards on Phobos, by Matt Schanuel
Unto Tarsus, by Aaron Gotzon
Shadowfood, by Matt Schanuel
Escape From the Island of Dr. Kill, by Michael Elliott (Starting 12/30/2013)

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