Players all have their handful of familiar games they can turn to when we want to tune out the world beyond the screen. These games have likely been conquered – maybe several times over. We know the routes and what to expect around every corner. They are places that are as cozy (sometimes more so perhaps?) as our homes. We reacquaint ourselves with non-player characters as if they had something new to tell us, despite their recitation of the same old script.
Although many early computer games had their start in stuffy and sterile MIT research labs, the people that created them often set out to recreate places that provided that same sense of belonging. One of the first computer games, Colossal Cave Adventure (or Adventure) was born of this sense. Accomplished caver and programmer Will Crowther created Adventure as a way to not only capture the awe of exploring Mammoth Cave, but also his love of Dungeons and Dragons. Additionally, the text-based adventure was a gift to his daughters during the aftermath of a recent divorce. Working with Crowther, Don Woods would expand Adventure in 1977, adding more of the fantasy elements that made the game so captivating.
Available on numerous platforms today (including mobile), Adventure is a playful romp through an underworld inhabited by snakes, impious dwarves, and other oddball creatures. But it also captures much of the spirit that propelled early game development. Whether is was Mammoth Cave or Dungeons and Dragons, early developers like Crowther, Woods, and many others set out to recreate a place that was welcoming not only to players but to themselves. As I wrote in a previous post on Zork, these early games were crowdsourced before crowdsourcing was cool. Shareware was king and developer communities became a place to share code and experiment with existing works.
For Crowther, Adventure offered not only a return to Mammoth Cave but also a place to share with his daughters. A lot of us old school gamers now have families of our own and know how wonderful sharing these places can be! How many have eagerly presented an old console to their children anticipating the same excitement we felt at that age? Though my own children don’t yet share my fascination with classic computer games and interactive fictions, we all indulge in the occasional return to Black Mesa to play Half Life.
What games provide you with that sense of place? Which games do you share with your children? Which did your parents share with you?
Speaking of special places, congratulations to the organizers of the Midwest Gaming Classic on landing the Wisconsin Center as a venue!
Taken from the Infocom text adventure A Mind Forever Voyaging, the command SUPERBRIEF displayed “the name of a place you have entered, even if you have never been there before.” It is also the title of Kristopher Purzycki’s weekly bit where he reflects upon the earliest PC games, their development, and their significance within the history of the medium.