Interactive fiction is a very interesting medium for games and for literary works. Indeed it is especially good for blurring the boundaries between the two. Unfortunately, it is less accessible than other media such as film, books or graphical games. When you first start a work of interactive fiction, you are presented with a brief introduction and then a description of a location. You play a character in the unfolding story and this location is where you begin the action. You will thus probably want to work out what direction the story will take and to play a rewarding part in it. You do this by typing in commands. These commands are typically much more open ended than in other interactive media such as graphical games, but they do have their limits.

The most important commands in interactive fiction involve moving around and acquainting yourself with your environment. To move in a direction, you type something like climb the oak tree or up or enter cathedral or go northwest. To find out about your environment, use commands such as look or look at the phoenix or examine coin.

You will also want to manipulate things in the world which can be done by issuing rather simple commands such as take the coin or open door. To find out what you are currently carrying, type inventory. To ease the burden of typing, there are common abbreviations such as n for north, x for examine and i for inventory.

One of the joys of interactive fiction involves performing quite complex actions that are beyond the scope of many graphical games, such as hang upside down from the window, but whereas the previous actions are possible in all interactive fiction, something as unusual as this will only work if the author has especially catered for the possibility that someone might try it. Thus it is generally best to start with simple specific actions to accomplish some task rather than risk disappointment with the game's blank incomprehension when you try to skewer the guard upon excalibur or prise the chest open with the screwdriver.

The first experience can be frustrating, so it is best to find out what type of commands are likely to be accepted and become somewhat familiar with things before you have a serious attempt. Once you are familiar, you will hopefully see some of the things that IF can do well, which are handled very poorly by other types of game or fiction.

To learn a bit more you may wish to visit a nice site called brass lantern which has an in depth introduction. There is also a lovely transcript on the Inform website that involves playing with kittens, so you might want to look at that too.