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Infocom's "Zork," the First Interactive Text Adventure Game to See Widespread Commercial Release, Eventually Becomes an Icon of Video Game Culture

1977 to 1979
Zork I box art

Cover art for Zork I.

Between 1977 and 1979 Tim Anderson, Marc Blank, Bruce Daniels, and Dave Lebling of the MIT Dynamic Modeling Group wrote the interactive fiction text adventure game Zork in the MDL programming language on a DEC PDP-10.  To market the game the group founded Infocom in 1979. Zork was the first text adventure game to see widespread commercial release. By 1993 2,000,000 copies were sold.

Because of the memory limitations on personal computers in 1979 Infocom marketed the game in three parts: Zork: The Great Underground Empire – Part I in 1980 (later known as Zork I), Zork II: The Wizard of Frobozz in 1981, and Zork III: The Dungeon Master in 1982. 

The word "Zork" was originally MIT hacker jargon for an unfinished program. The implementors originally named the completed game Dungeon, but by that time the name Zork had already stuck.

Zork appears in the 2011 science fiction novel Ready Player One, and in the 2011 science fiction novel The Martian by Andy Weir, a bestseller that was translated into 45 languages! Both of these novels were made into films.

Reflecting the permanent place of Zork in the culture of video games, Call of Duty Black Ops released in 2020, a game played by 100 million players monthly, gave its players the ability to play Zork within the Call of Duty game.

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