The player assumes the role of an annoymous adventurer and begins the game standing near the iconic White House. By exploring the house, the player uncovers several entrances into a vast underground world- Zork, the Great Underground Empire. Here, the player must brave many dangers in their quest to recover the Nineteen Treasures of Zork and place them in a trophy case in the White House.
The game is played by entering text commands such as "open the mailbox" and "turn on lantern" to interact with the world of Zork. The game also recognizes commands such as "n" for "go north", "s" for "go south", "sw" for "go southwest", and so on.
The player faces many hazards, such as a randomly-appearing thief that may or may not steal any treasures the player is carrying, and large, sprawling mazes. If the player enters an unlit area, they are warned that they are "likely to be eaten by a grue". If the player continues to move about in the dark area without a light source, there is indeed a chance that they will be killed by the unseen monster. The player can further inquire as to the nature of grues by typing "what is a grue?", and they will be informed that adventurers are its favorite meal.
If the player is killed, they will lose any items they were carrying and their overall score will be lower, but by saving the game often, the player can avoid these penalties.