The last day that I worked from my office was March 10 last year. I had some planned work from home days for personal reasons that happened to bump against the day we were all told we should work from home for the next few weeks. You know the rest. I hope my desk plant is doing okay.

In the time since then, especially in the early days when it was all a bit of a novelty and everyone was doing Zoom workout sessions every morning (I was never doing Zoom workout sessions every morning) we experimented with lots of different ways to have fun social events with a distributed team. My favourite by far have been the Parsely interactive text adventures from Memento Mori.

The Parsely games are modelled on the old single-player text adventure computer games from the 80s where the player issues simple commands like GO NORTH or GET KEY and the computer interprets them and responds with a textual description of the environment and the results of the player’s actions. The only one of these I actually remember playing is the Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy game where I failed to get out of Arthur Dent’s house before its demolition. That game was hard.

The difference with the Parsely games is that there’s no computer involved (besides the ones you may be using to communicate with your friends and colleagues). Instead one of the players takes on the role of the computer. It’s up to that player to decide how lenient they want to be in interpreting the other players’ commands. It can be a lot of fun as the computer player to come up with creative ways to say “you can’t do that” in response to unexpected commands. (“Stab butler” “You remember an old adage your father told you as a child: never stab a butler”)

It’s still a conceptually single player game, but all of the other players take turns issuing commands as that player. In a strict interpretation of the rules, they’re not allowed to confer, adding an extra layer of difficulty — and often either hilarity or frustration, depending on the group. The more players you have the harder this makes it. We usually start with this rule, but sometimes relax it if the group is stuck for too long.

My team ran the gamut from those with a lot of experience of text adventure games to those who had never even heard of them let alone played one. All of them enjoyed playing and signed up for another game right away.

I’d be remiss in not giving this credit: I first encountered the Parsely games thanks to the Incomparable Gameshow podcast, a spinoff from the main Incomparable podcast about geeky media of al kinds which probably deserves a blog post of its own at some point.

If you’re interested in trying it out, you can download the first game (Action Castle) for free, and the PDF containing 10 games is only $20.