Knight Orc was a “text based” adventure game from the 1980s. My brother and I got it for our Commodore 64. It was sort of Zork-like, and I remember playing a fair amount of it, but for some reason I fell out of the loop and my brother and his friend Tony became obsessed with completing it. (Tony was also the first black guy I ever played a tabletop RPG with — MERP — and I still remember the brief awkwardness when he created his first character and Tom asked him what race he wanted to be, and Tony said something like “I don’t care, I’ll be white” and we had to explain that ‘race’ meant ‘species.’ In hindsight I should have been more proud of the fact that most RPGs recognized the siblinghood of humanity, especially as we were living in the Midwest where Tom & Tony were repeatedly stopped by the police when driving around, I guess for “driving while integrated” or something.)
Anyway Knight Orc appealed to me because I really liked orcs and half-orcs and the back of the box suggested that this would be a game where a lowly orc rises up and turns the tables on the merciless adventurers who usually have the upper hand. In fact, the game quickly changed (I think in Act II) to a surreal, fourth-wall breaking adventure where you discover that the whole thing is taking place inside a sort of virtual-reality/LARP theme park place, and you are not an orc but a robot, and the adventure becomes more like Westworld from the robot’s perspective.
I briefly thought about adding something like this to my campaign — a pocket dimension where the PCs realize they are being used as pawns by a bunch of nerds in someone’s basement, etc., but realized that it would be the end of the campaign, either because I would have finally pushed my players’ sense of what D&D is too far, or because they’d find it insulting, or because it would destroy any semblance of “realism” and immersion, or all of the above. There is irony and there is cynicism, and maybe that level of irony is just too cynical for a fun game. It seems a little too clever and snarky and hip, and may even be disrespectful to the players in a way.
A while back when I was sorting through some papers I found the “hint sheet” we had sent away for when Tom & Tony got stuck at some point in the game and it struck me that you really don’t see text-based games any more, as far as I know. As a kid we marveled at Zork and I briefly flirted with the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy adaptation, but text-based games really couldn’t compete with graphics in the long run. Even so, we took up Knight Orc AFTER we’d played through the entire Ultima III game, so there must have been something about the text adventure games that could appeal even to jaded gamers.
As an afterthought I checked a little around the web and apparently there are
a lot of text-based game sites (the modern term is “interactive fiction”). Cool.