The genre of text-based game can have a few different meanings believe it or not. To some, text-based means that there are icons, identified by text that you use to play a game and the avatars of people playing the game are just text. An example of this is seen in an online MMO called Eternal Kingdoms. In this, players compete in monthly challenges of acquiring land, food, and soldiers to battle and become dominant for a chance to win cash prizes each month. Soldiers, food, and land are all represented by small icons with text beside them to describe what it is.
The genre I wish to speak of though, is the (considered hardcore) MUD text-based games where there are no graphics whatsoever, nothing but text. Many people would consider this a chatroom, but they are so much more. Imagine sitting down in a cozy part of your bed with a nice book in your hand that you cant wait to dive into. Eventually the book and the story within ends, your excitement fades and you attempt to find another. MUDs, or Multi-User Dungeons are like never-ending books that you add to yourself, along with dozens or hundreds or even thousands of others. You create your own story and share it with others, the other players read it, add to it, and take something from you away with it in some cases. Now that, is a book worth buying (most are free though!) and reading!
Many parents consider games to be a waste of time and counter-intuitive to a child. Yet, they fail to realize the power a game can have to teach and help children achieve more from their future life. Worth, responsibility, learned traits such as typing and a stronger vocabulary are just a few things that games have to offer, while also being able to keep the person interested and even wanting to learn.
There are many advantages that come with playing MUDs. If you are afraid of your child seeing images that you consider negative (blood, nudity, gore, etc), then these games are great for them and you because there are no images other than imaginative ones. Which is another advantage, the use of imagination and imaginative thinking. Your child's imagination is important for the future, imagine your child being able to see clearly what they are building before they begin (architect anyone?) or even what they see themself as before they go into college.
MUDs also will, of course, help the WPM or the Words Per Minute that you or your child can type. Since you have to type to play the game you will get faster and faster to get better at the game, a fair trade I believe. This will help in many aspects of life, from basic email to jobs requiring fast typing skills (there are alot). If starting young, this will boost your child's performance through school as they will start ahead of the rest and stay ahead of them as they play more and get faster and more accurate. Vocabulary is also a key aspect of these games, because they are full of description and narration. From describing a room to talking to another person or swinging a curved silver rapier, your child will boost their vocabulary immensely.
Many MUDs also allow some of the more experienced players to become builders and actually add to the game world or make events. This will challenge players to use the vocabulary they have built upon and provide them with a sense of worth and responsibility. These things are very important to young children so they can build the foundation for the rest of their lives, and I am not meaning playing games is the foundation, I mean learning the importance of responsibility and feeling they have worth even if it is in game form, it is still important.
It's Just Text, How Can it be Fun?
Many people see text games as just chat rooms where a few people hang out and talk, that is far from the truth however. Text gaming does differ from conventional graphical gaming in that it has a steeper learning curve (having to learn specific keywords rather than just clicking on what you want to do), and is, I admit, harder to get into than graphical games simply because it takes more getting used to envisioning what you are doing. However, the rewards are substantial. MUDs can be, and usually are, much MUCH more in-depth than graphical games. This is because text takes up a lot less space than graphics do. So worlds can be bigger (some MUDs have rooms numbering in the hundreds of thousands!), skill systems substantially larger with some games sporting hundreds of different skills, and action (fighting and questing) to be more intense.
Skill systems in MUDs are usually much more complex than in graphical games, simply because more is possible when you are thinking in terms of imagination. A game I have played for years for instance, allows a character to eat a curing herb, drink a potion, swing two swords, read a scroll, and use a skill all within a second of each other. This level of complexity would not be possible in a graphical game (unless the character has six arms). Skills are also much easier to describe in text than create graphically. Think of a meteor hitting someone, sounds cool right? This is graphically challenging because you have the sky to worry about, trajectory, impact range, different damage types, environmental effects, etc. This is a lot to consider and a lot of memory taken up by one skill in a graphical game, not so when you think of text, one paragraph to describe the meteor hitting, and simple mathematical equations to figure damage calculations.
Fighting and questing are also much more in-depth and complex than in graphical games. Graphical games dealing with large groups tend to lag so much it kills the fun of fighting. Lag of course will be in any game, graphical and text alike, though it takes a lot less to send fifty lines of text than it does to display ten people casting spells against multiple enemies. Lag reduction is a key component in making a game fun and playable. Questing is also a big part of MUDs, many of the quests are even created by players! Because it is text, players dont have to know coding so much to add to the game world. They can simply type a paragraph to describe an item and what it does or pages to create a quest for others to enjoy.
So, Where do I Find These Games?
There are hundreds of text-based MUDs out there still, and most are actually free to play! There are many sites that offer lists of top MUDs, just search and find them. If you want to know my personal opinion, I would start with Iron Realms Entertainment. Iron Realms pioneered the way for much of what is considered to be a MUD in my opinion. Their flagship game Achaea has been in G4 news and multiple magazines. Their games are roleplay intensive, in that roleplay is strictly enforced, and talking about George Bush or Obama or any other real life thing is not allowed. Some people like this, some dont. I for one love it because you can really get into the game, and it takes a lot of the stupid people out of play, you know, the ones who log on long enough to talk about how horrible recent politics are and then log off. That is a chat room to me, and thats not what I like. Combat is also very complex and imaginative in Iron Realms games. There are all kinds of mobs to fight, arenas, pvp combat, group combat, etc. My personal favorite though, would be Lusternia, a must play game in my opinion, and a good starter for text-based gaming.