The Strange Allure of Browser Text-Based Games

If you went back in time and told my teenage self that I’d be enthralled by a text-based online game in 2021, he’d be miffed. “Whoa, you have two new DOOM games in 2021! What’s that Half-Life VR game like? Has he played that? Wait, what did you say? He’s mainly been playing a browser game? Full of text? Why?!”

But here we are.

The game in question is Alien Adoption Agency, a browser-based RPG of sorts. From what I can tell, it started development in 1997, making it nearly as old as I am. And although it’s evolved over the years, it’s still a text-based game at its core: A genre that, by today’s standards, is hopelessly antiquated. For context, in 2008, you could play Quake 3 Arena in your browser. And the era of graphically-assisted Facebook games (Farmville, Words with Friends) began around the same time. Given how gaming has evolved, Alien Adoption Agency couldn’t possibly hold up, right?

That’s certainly how I pictured it. And when I recently logged back into Alien Adoption Agency for the first time in years, I fully expected to be underwhelmed. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised, and in the days that followed, shocked. Alien Adoption Agency would slowly and strangely become a fixture of my daily life. But why?

A Nice Change of Pace

Today’s games are great, but they’re also frequently intense and involving. The DOOM reboots have you dodging demonfire and unloading armament volleys at the marauding armies of hell as they attempt to cave in your skull. Fun but intense, and a style of game that demands a certain energy level.

Comparatively, Alien Adoption Agency plays like a spreadsheet. That might sound meritless, but its text-based gameplay succeeds at being relaxing and even soothing. Navigating and playing the game takes little effort, requiring mere clicks rather than skillful sways and tugs of the mouse. And there are just enough gameplay consequences to keep the game involving: Your player alien can die, get lost in space, or lose money, but events like these are little more than temporary setbacks. Simply click “revive,” and you’re back, scarcely losing gameplay or time.

Visiting the bar in Alien Adoption Agency

If only visiting a shady bar in real life was this easy

In summation, Alien Adoption Agency’s lower-stakes gameplay and input demands make for a nice change of pace. And sure, other “casual” games have successfully filled that niche for decades. But apparently, it’s taken me this long to understand and appreciate their place in the gaming pantheon.

Click-Based Convenience

Alien Adoption Agency’s aforementioned click-based gameplay is also alluring on another level: Convenience. Performing most actions in the game takes seconds. For the most part, there’s no traversal, and combat outcomes seem binary: Click “Battle,” and the next screen will tell you whether you won or lost.

A list of locations that can be visited in Alien Adoption Agency

What Alien Adoption Agency’s “world map” looks like

Again, this style of gameplay might sound terribly boring, but you can’t argue with the convenience. You can spend anywhere from three minutes or three hours and still meaningfully progress your character. In contrast, it can take hours to just get from place-to-pace in modern 3D-rendered open-world games. They also frequently demand that play sessions surpass a certain time threshold to be meaningful. Imagine trying to progress in Skyrim or Fallout 4 with just three minutes. Your accomplishment in that time might be managing to put a bucket on some poor NPC’s head before robbing them blind.

Scratches the Progression Itch

It’s great hopping around from game-to-game to play the latest and greatest. But after a set number of hours, most games end — even if I’d like to continue playing. As a result, I often find myself desiring an online home of sorts: a digital realm wherein I can develop my character on a persistent and infinite timeline.

This is especially true as of late since my legs are broken and I can’t leave the house without assistance. Newfound ritualistic behaviours are keeping me sane and occupied, and Alien Adoption Agency’s progression-oriented gameplay delivers.

For a browser-based RPG, Alien Adoption Agency has a surprising amount of depth. There are over a dozen skills to advance, including farming, spacefaring, and thievery. New sections of the game open up after obtaining certain items and skill levels, which incentivizes continued play. And it even supports different gameplay styles, allowing you to become a pacifistic merchant à la Star Wars: Galaxies and focus solely on creating and selling items to fellow players.

Conclusion

While the very thought of playing a browser-based game like Alien Adoption Agency might be nauseating to most in the Year of Our Lord 2021, I can’t help but love it. Part of that love stems from revisiting the game at a fitting time in my life. And as a result, I can’t say how long it’ll keep my attention. But for now, Alien Adoption Agency is a perfect — and unexpected — addition to my digital life.


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1 comment / Add your comment below

  1. Cooool! Maybe I’ll check dis out at some point. Worried it might be too high specs and my pc wont be able to run it but I’ll give it a college try 😉

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