Guess-the-verb, or guess-the-noun, is a problem sometimes encountered in text adventure or interactive fiction computer games which have a strict or lacking command set. Usually a game has two or more verbs for an action involving a special object to allow the player to easily go or get ahead. One may, for example, enter LIFT CUSHION, OPEN CUSHION, or GET CUSHION to get the same effect. If the game does not have enough command aliases or object aliases (as for a "guess-the-noun" problem), especially for a critical step, the game may appear unwinnable and the player would be stuck until the right target is guessed or one is supplied by a walkthrough.

People whose native language is not English are particularly affected by the "guess-the-verb" problem. TADS games supply a fair list of verbs commonly used in their documentation; if the game designer uses new actions not covered in this list, and which cannot easily be inferred by the purpose and context of the object, the player will probably encounter this problem.

A similar problem can occur when attempting to accomplish a game goal using a certain combination of actions, locations and objects, which may appear rational and legitimate to the player, and are accepted by the game, only to be incorrectly handled and resulting in a gameplay error or game crash.

An equivalent problem in graphical adventure games is a "hunt-the-pixel" situation.


The "guess the verb" problem can occur with syntax as well as with words. An infamous example of such a case was the ending of Leisure Suit Larry 2, where Larry had to put a bag into a bottle to make an improvised bomb. The parser had no problem with minimal phrases and understood LOOK WOMAN equally well as the proper LOOK AT THE WOMAN (and players would usually type simple phrases, since Sierra's parser isn't anywhere near as versatile as Zork's). In the ending, however, simple phrases like PUT BAG IN BOTTLE, the first ideas of many players, failed because the parser interpreted BAG as a verb. The only way the parser understood the phrase was by putting THE before BAG, or by referencing an alias such as AIRSICK BAG. Frustrated players tried other verbs, synonyms and conjunctions like INTO, INSIDE, etc. without knowing that only THE was needed.

Another example is in Infocom's Enchanter, where in order to reach into a hole, a player has to type REACH INTO HOLE, while more common and expected phrases such as LOOK IN HOLE or FEEL INSIDE HOLE do not even recognize that there's a hole in the room.

The Atari 8-bit text adventure game Cloak Of Death boasts something like "understands 32 verbs" in the cassette sleeve. However, the verbs "KICK", "MAKE" and "EXORCISE" are each required to complete the game. Each is valid only in a single place and there is no clue in the cassette or game text that these actions are possible. Cloak of death requires a simulataneous game of guess the verb and guess the noun, as seen in the following sequence: GET WIRE. GET SAW. GET BAR. CUT BAR. MAKE CRUCIFIX.

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