I’ve Been Eaten by a Grue or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Text-Based Adventure

>x me

You are twelve years old. You have just completed the setup of your very first computer, a Macintosh Performa 6300. You may be late the party, but you come in style. A cursory surfing of the world wide web has rewarded you with a desktop folder filled with .jpgs of Mulder and Scully. You will print them out and cover one entire wall of your bedroom. Your mother will chide you for wasting the printer ink. It’s expensive!

You relegate yourself to websites that won’t tempt you into redecorating. In your efforts to find information about dragons, wizards, and sorceresses, you stumble upon this. And also find yourself here.

Games! You know games. Games you can do. Games you can make up if you have to, even if you’re outside by yourself. Games you can play, and play well. You download the necessary emulators (you don’t know what that word means) and a smattering of coded game files. Games from a company called Infocom.

One of those games is Trinity.

>x trinity

It’s the last day of your $599 London vacation. Unfortunately, it’s also the first day of World War III. Only seconds remain before an H-bomb vaporizes the city…and you with it. Unless you escape to another time, another dimension. For every atomic explosion unlocks the door to a secret universe; a plane between fantasy and reality, filled with curious artifacts and governed by its own mischievous logic. You’ll criscross time and space as you explore this fascinating universe, learning to control its inexorable power. Trinity leads you on a journey back to the dawn of the atomic age…and puts the course of history in your hands.

Sometime later, you will play Braid on your Xbox 360, marvelling at the gameplay that feels both old and new; the familiar graphics that burst with freshness. And you will be impressed that someone made a game that wasn’t afraid to tell a story. A story with complexity and nuance that not everyone, maybe not anyone save the author, can fully understand. A story about a breakup and the atomic bomb, two things that are somehow the same thing.

And then you will remember Trinity.

You will remember what it felt like to walk through the pages of a book, writing and reading and being the story all at once. You couldn’t type fast enough; your typos became the uneven ground you stumbled over, slowing your progress to the point of comedy. You will remember what it was to see that first missile in the sky, to feel the weight of dread so palpable in your stomach that you could actually finger the knot. And you will remember the white door that appeared, beckoning you to escape to a new land apart from anything you’ve known before. You will remember Trinity.

>wait

>x me

You are fifteen years old. You are a sophomore, and you’re finding the complications of high school to be a new kind of confusing. You are funny, and people like that about you—but you’re also way into marching band and truly enjoy reading for fun. Let’s have some real talk: no one’s inviting you to any parties.

You download Stephen Granade’s Losing Your Grip, the short story equivalent to Trinity’s novel.

>x losing your grip

Synopsis: Losing Your Grip, a Journey in Five Fits. Remember the days of Infocom text-adventure games? Ever wonder, “Does anyone still make those games?” Yes, they do.  Losing Your Grip is a piece of interactive fiction (aka a text adventure) written using TADS, the Text Adventure Development System, by Michael J. Roberts. If you have played text adventures before, you shouldn’t have any problems with Losing Your Grip. It will understand commands like:

  x – examine
  l – look
  i – inventory (list everything you are carrying)
  g – again (redo last command)
  z – wait (do nothing for a set amount of time)
  n, w, s, e, nw, sw, se, ne, u, d – move in different directions

You will play Losing Your Grip over homecoming weekend (after you’ve played your clarinet in the marching band at the big game). Early on, an NPC in the guise of a puppy will be assigned to you, and will faithfully be your companion for the duration of your game. The puppy will age according to your progress, however, and will be dead by the time you “win.”

Sometime later you will play Fable II, and early on, an NPC in the guise of a dog will be assigned to you, and will faithfully be your companion for the duration of your game. You will name her after your real-life pet hamster. The hamster that weirdly acted like a dog, answering to her name and happily sitting with you on the sofa while you watched movies, feeding her fresh fruit as a treat. The hamster that would come out of her little hut every day when you came home from work, wearing what seemed to be a pleased grin, and standing up on her hind legs in greeting.

She will die in the middle of your Fable II playthrough. Every time you look at your NPC dog, you will remember her—trying to convince yourself the lump in your throat is a silly thing to feel. She was just a hamster. This dog is just a collection of code. But the game dog’s name is Rini, like your real-life little puff of fur, and you will always find a bittersweet comfort in her happy welcome every time you load your hero’s file.

>wait

>x me

You are eighteen years old. You’ve just started college in a state far away from home. You are tentatively navigating your way through your new class schedule, new friends, and new forced independence. You are making a triumphant go of it, but you still feel the need to turn to your computer games for a sense of the familar.

You sign up for the multi-user domain (MUD) Gemstone IV.

>x gemstone iv

Adventure at your fingertips! Come to Elanthia, where you can explore a vast and detailed world over a decade in the making, triumph over ferocious monsters, cast hundreds of spells, and choose from a wide variety of professions and races to build your character!

You play a half-elf rogue, a race and profession that are both at their best on the outskirts of society. You build up your skill at picking locks quickly, too quickly to play a viable fighter, but you make camp inside the gates of a bustling city and earn tips and experience picking the locks of the treasure chests other adventurers bring to you. Eventually, you earn the trust and affection of a solid group of in-game friends.

Sometime later you will watch the web series The Guild, and laugh at the characters’ simultaneous displays of loyalty and annoyance towards each other. The show questions the sincerity of the relationships developed in-game, yet never shies away from discovering the answer. You relate. You look forward to seeing your fellow text-adventurers in late evenings and on weekends, just as much as you look forward to socializing with your fellow university students. All of them are adrift, seeking a place to belong. You help them to find it and they respond in kind.

Your multiple forays into these text-based worlds have taught you innumerable lessons, some big and some small. You learned to type 95 wpm. You learned how to read with the comprehension of a scholar of literature. You learned the importance of staying true to character. You learned what it means to be a team player. You learned that immersion isn’t dependent on a graphics chip. You learned how to read a story, and how to tell it. You learned how to die spectacularly. You learned how to survive. You learned how to live. You learned how to play.

>wait

>x me

You are twenty-nine years old.

You are here.

You are a writer.

You are a gamer.

>wait

6 Comments

  1. Tim July 11, 2012
  2. Stefanos July 11, 2012
  3. trashcanman July 11, 2012
  4. Sara Clemens July 11, 2012
  5. Neil B July 11, 2012
  6. Jack Fancy July 12, 2012

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