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As you might expect, text-based computer games are games that use a text-based user interface rather than a graphical one.

Most text-based computer games are text adventure games, also known as interactive fiction. Early adventure games, from the 1970s and 1980s, were text-based, and used text parsers to translate the player's input into commands. Similar text-based adventure games are still made, and continue to be popular among a fairly small segment of the gaming community.

Many of these early text adventure games were in the form of a textual maze, where the objective was to find your way out of a building, a cave, or some other place that is described for you, room by room, as the player manages to escape from one room using clues that were found by examining objects in the room.

The first adventure game was Colossal Cave Adventure, often known simply as Adventure, which was developed in the mid-1970s for the PDP-10 mainframe computer. In the game, players controlled a character through simple text commands, exploring a cave that was said to be filled with wealth. Players earned points by acquiring treasure and for escaping the cave alive, the goal being to score the maximum number of points.

Upgraded versions of the adventure maze game used static images as well as text, and some of them listed choices that a player could make.

Interactive fiction stemmed from these text-based adventure games, and might fall within the genre of an adventure game when the focus is on solving a puzzle. The terms are frequently viewed as synonymous but, when the user/reader is focused on solving a puzzle, it's a text adventure, and when the focus is on the story, it's interactive fiction.

Text adventure games were among the first games developed for play on a computer.

Solving puzzles is an important part of most adventure games. These may take the form of decoding messages, finding and using items, opening locked doors, and discovering and exploring new locations. Generally, solving a puzzle will permit access to a new area of the game, while revealing more of the storyline.

Inventory management is often a significant part of an adventure game. Since players are able to pick up some objects in the game, the player knows that objects that can be picked up are likely to serve a purpose within the game. In a text-based adventure, spaces, objects, and characters are described, and the player interacts with this environment by inputting simple action words and included objects, such as "take the ball," "open the box," or "put the ball in the box."

Graphical text adventures often utilize a point-and-click device, often prompting players to engage in a systematic search for areas on the screen that can be interacted with rather than using the clues provided. Other graphical adventure games might highlight the items that can be interacted with.

The idea behind gathering and using items in a player's inventory is to encourage players to apply thinking techniques, often applying real-world experiences and knowledge about objects, such as placing a deflated inner tube onto a forked piece of wood to create a slingshot which could be used to break a window. In many of these games, items found in one room may not prove useful until the player is in another room later in the game, so players may have to remember which items they are carrying.

Adventure games may be placed in any setting, such as a medieval dungeon, a fantasy world, another planet, or a contemporary jail. Comedy is a common theme, often used to return comedic responses when players attempt actions that are ridiculous, impossible, or not scripted into the gameplay.

Adventure games involve storylines that include significant dialogue, either text-based or using recorded dialogue. Players can engage non-player characters by choosing a line of pre-written dialogue from a menu, triggering a response from the game character. Speaking to game characters can reveal clues or elicit other responses from the character that can be useful in completing the quest.

While early adventure games often recorded high scores or assigned player ranks, achieving a high score was generally a secondary goal. Contemporary adventure games often have no ranking system.

Some adventure games included the possibility of player death, but most do not, and some early adventure games trapped players in unwinnable situations without ending the game.

Although text adventures were in their prime in the 1980s, largely replaced by video graphic games, they never went away. New text adventures have come out every year, and they seem to be making a resurgence in recent years, sometimes incorporating graphics and sound.

Most MUDs are text-based but, because the emphasis in a MUD is on roleplaying, we have opted to list MUDs separately.

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