Anchorhead by Michael S. Gentry, widely acclaimed as a classic piece of interactive fiction, is a text-based horror narrative heavily inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Initially developed in the Inform 6 programming language and published in 1998, it was subsequently remade in Inform 7 and released as an illustrated version on Steam and Itch twenty years later. In 1998, the original was awarded Best Setting in the XYZZY Awards, and was nominated for Best Game, Best Writing, Best Story, Best Puzzles, and Best Individual NPC. It is this version which presents as the most well-known in the electronic literature community.
The story itself begins with Anchorhead, a small, dreary coastal town in Massachusetts. Here arrives the player character, known only as Michael’s wife, having relocated after her husband acquired an old mansion previously belonging to an unknown group of relatives – the Verlacs. As she begins to explore the town and unearth the secrets of the Verlac family, the player character is drawn into a complex and dangerous scheme involving generational mystery, cults, and malevolent inhuman forces.
Players experience this world and advance the plot through a parser-based system, which responds to typed commands with written descriptions of their effects. Some readers may recognize the similarities between this format and choose-your-own-adventure style works, a closely related genre. The main difference between the two is that, while choose-your-own-adventure stories provide clear limited choices, parser-based texts give no such indication of the options available outside of hints within the narrative itself. While often presenting unique challenges to the player, this also allows for greater interactivity and an increased sense of agency. Anchorhead, by using a parser-based system, thus gives its readers an immersive literary experience unique to this specific type of interactive fiction.
This entry was produced as part of a Digital Literature course taught by Melinda White at the University of New Hampshire, United States, during the Spring term of 2023.