For as long as people have been gathering together, they have been telling stories. From the folktales told around the fireplace to the multi-million dollar blockbusters seen at the movies today, stories have always been a part of the human experience. Stories are surprisingly supple things, adapting themselves to every form of human communication. What began as an oral tradition morphed to the written word. Books made space for radio dramas, movies, and comics. The video game is another evolution of human storytelling, so it makes sense that some of the earliest games should be rooted in ancient story.
In the early 1980s, Brian Howarth created a series of text-based games called “Mysterious Adventures.” He took his inspiration from the role playing game Dungeons and Dragons, as well as a game show on the BBC called “The Adventure Game” (also inspired by D&D) which featured celebrities and a member of the public completing various challenges on the fictional planet of Arg.
One of the games Howarth created, the 1983 title “Perseus and Andromeda”, was built around ancient Greek myth. Perseus was a hero, the son of Zeus and the mortal woman Danea. In the myths, he killed the gorgon Medusa, turned the mighty titan Atlas to stone, and rescued the beautiful Andromeda from the horrid beast Cetus. Howarth took a variation on these stories and placed them in Scott Adams’s game engine (though it was later re-done in more complex form). In the original version, players used two word commands to guide Perseus through his adventures.
At the start of the game, you are instructed by a king that your mission is to kill Medusa and rescue Andromeda. Many missions are completed by presenting a character with an item in exchange for another. For instance, early in the game Perseus meets a thirty beggar. Provide him with water, and he gives you a discus which is needed in a future puzzle. Other portions of the game require you to visit locations like the Temple of Athena, to pray at altars, or to simply sit and wait.
You eventually confront Medusa. After you have killed her, you must mount the flying horse Pegasus who will carry you to an Island of Rock. There you find Andromeda. Here, Howarth diverges from the original myth somewhat. Instead of rescuing Andromeda from Cetus, you must save her from the Kraken. Accomplish that, and the game is over.
What’s fascinating about the game is how it bridges eras, connecting the classical world with the digital world. While purists may cluck their tongue at art forms like the comic book or video game, titles like “Perseus and Andromeda” demonstrates how these art forms can help breathe new life into ancient tales.