Reed, a writer and game designer himself, picks one game for every year from 1971 through 2020. He adds an involving dive into the pre-1970s history of experiments, games, and brutally unforgiving code. Each decade also gets its own introduction, and there are summaries of 500 other text games included. Each of the game picks started out as a post on his Substack, though they have been revised and more deeply integrated with their historical context in the book.
There are classics you might expect, like Adventure, MUD, Hitchhiker’s Guide, and Trade Wars. There are definition-stretching inclusions, like the original Choose Your Own Adventure book, The Cave of Time, and Dwarf Fortress. And there are probably at least 20 games most of us have never encountered.
All modern games owe their successes to some of earliest text games. Classics have laid the foundations for concepts like world-building, multi-dimensional narratives that bend the mind and even multiplayer. Before that, table-top adventure games informed some of the concepts and ideas text games explored and evolved. Before that, well, let’s just say the ancient battle of light versus dark rages on still to this day.