William Crowther


Nicole Nelson

ISTA 251: Introduction to Game Design

February 4, 2016

Before Skryim, Final Fantasy, Dark Souls, and all of the top names of RPG video games, there was a simple text-based RPG game commonly known as the father of RPG video games – Colossal Cave Adventure. While not known as a traditional or true RPG, the game, referred to as Adventure, was a prototype for games that acted as interactive stories. The game was designed in 1975 by a man named William Crowther, a programmer who pulled inspiration from his life to create a game he could share with his family.

According to colleagues, Crowther completely identified with “hacker mentality.” He was regarded as being within the top 1 percent of programmers in the world by those he worked with – “a genius for writing incredibly compact and efficient code” according to author Jimmy Maher. Maher goes on to describe Crowther as non-verbal and rarely displaying affect – a true “computer nerd” in every sense except one – his love of adventure. Crowther loved the outdoors, especially rock climbing and caving. It was his love of caving that inspired the theme behind Adventure. However, the inspiration to create the game was drawn from personal struggle.

In an interview about the origins of Adventure, Crowther stated, “Suddenly, I got involved in a divorce, and that left me a bit pulled apart in various ways. In particular I was missing my kids.” Feeling a disconnection from his two daughters that were living with their mother, Crowther wanted to create a game that would create a bridge between him and the family he missed so dearly – a simple game that his daughters could enjoy. Crowther drew inspiration from his three favorite pass times: programming, playing the tabletop RPG Dungeons and Dragons, and caving. After the divorce Crowther explained that caving had become awkward, so he decided to create a game that would re-create his caving adventures. He aimed to make a game that “would not be intimidating to non-computer people”, he states. Because of this, he focused on making a game that had a natural language input, and thus birthing the RPG and interactive story genre that is used today.

Adventure certainly was not the first game to stir up conversation, but it was the first game of its kind. The game Adventure quickly swept across the nation and had an unwavering effect on an early generation of programmers. Lines from the game quickly entered hacking culture and developers adapted the game to create their own versions – such as Zork, developed by MIT students in 1977. Successors to the game were among the best selling in the 1980s. The mechanics of Adventure, such as resource management and exploration of topography, became staples in adventure and RPG games. While graphic games became outdated due to the quick development in hardware, the text-based games remained popular and still appealed to consumers.

RPG games are among the most popular and immersive games in the video game industry and have made great distances since the first instance of Colossal Cave Adventure. Many RPGs rank among the top video games developed of all time. The element of RPG games is so popular that it exists lightly in many other genres of video games. These games all, in part, stem from William Crowther’s Adventure.

While Crowther may not be seen as a traditional video game designer, just as his game is not seen as a traditional RPG, Crowther laid the path for textual based games and exploration games. Adventure was the prototype of a new genre of game – adapted into many popular games such as MIT’s Zork and Scott Adam’s Adventureland. The game also inspired the first graphic adventure game – Mysterious House, by Ken and Roberta Williams. Adventure, while a computer game, has since then been defined as an electrical game rather than a video game, but William Crowther and his work will forever be the foundation of the classic RPG’s we know and love today.


Jerz, Dennis G. “Somewhere Nearby is Colossal Cave: Examining Will Crowther’s Original

“Adventure” in Code and in Kentucky.” Digital Humanities. 2007. Accessed February

04, 2016. http://www.digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/001/2/000009/000009.html

Lowood, Henry E. “Electronic Game.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. April 3, 2015. Accessed

February 04, 2016. http://www.britannica.com/topic/electronic-game#ref796268

Maher, Jimmy. “Will Crowther’s Adventure, Part 1.” The Digital Antiquarian: A History of

Computer Entertainment. May 18, 2011. Accessed February 04, 2016.

Will Crowther’s Adventure, Part 1

“The Crowther and Woods ‘Colossal Cave Adventure’ Game.” The Colossal Cave Adventure

Page. Accessed February 04, 2016. http://rickadams.org/adventure/a_history.html

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