Why I fell in love with video games

On 15 October 2020, The Secret of Monkey Island turned 30-years old. This classic point-and-click is a one which had a huge impact on me as a gamer, so I celebrated its personal significance by publishing a tag post and streaming a complete playthrough on Twitch.

The timing of the first EXP Share event over on Tales of the Backlog was therefore very convenient. This new collaboration is the idea of DanamesX and was designed to encourage us all to share our experiences around a particular subject connected to our hobby. The topic for November is ‘The video game or moment that got you into gaming’ and today’s post is going to start with a response to this: here’s how it happened for me and why I fell in love with the adventure genre.

I was lucky enough to receive an Amiga 500 from my parents for Christmas when I was nine-years old. After spending most of the morning trying to hook it up to our television, my dad asked me what I wanted to play first; and it was a set of floppy disks in a cardboard box showing a mysterious skull and fierce-looking pirates which was chosen. I remember us both being slightly confused when the game loaded up because it didn’t look or behave like anything we’d seen before.

My granddad got roped into playing too and we eventually came to the section where you must break Otis out of the prison cell so you can add him to your crew. We struggled with the puzzles for a while until the grown-ups eventually drifted away from the screen. I was so proud of myself when I managed to figure out that you needed to use the various mugs scattered around the Scumm Bar with the grog, all on my own – something had clicked and it was like I finally understood what the game wanted of me.

A question asked by JMNelsonPhilpot over at Video Games as Art last month is related to the topic of November’s EXP Share, so now let’s move on to why it was this moment that made me fall in love with video games. My family had owned a Commodore 64 and NES before my Amiga, the former being bought as my dad had a hobbyist’s interest in coding at the time. It was something I then became curious about myself because I enjoyed anything to do with maths and logic puzzles a kid.

That’s why I started checking the Usborne coding books out of the local library. After going through several entries in the introduction series, I came across the four adventure books and it’s Island of Secrets that I remember most fondly. Getting the code to work in its entirety always seemed impossible and I never did manage to play any of the games; but I did teach myself a bit of BASIC and realise I could find story snippets hidden within the program listings.

Island of Secrets, book, television, monitor, CRT

They were far more exciting than any of the platformers my dad and younger brother had been playing on the Commodore. Rescuing a girlfriend from demons or finding a princess in another castle was boring – I wanted to explore fantasy lands and save the world from evil curses. These narratives were more in line with the sort of fiction that was my favourite back then, and I don’t think it had ever occurred to me that it was possible for similar stories to exist in video games.

That was until I played The Secret of Monkey Island. My young mind was blown: pixels were able to bring those stories I’d enjoyed reading in books alive on the screen in front of me. There wasn’t any platforming to frustrate me, no fights to get into or anybody who needed rescuing. But there were plenty puzzles to wrap my head around and keep me occupied, along with a plot about wannabe pirates, vengeful ghosts, kickass governors and mystical legendary islands to get sucked into.

LucasArts’ project made me see that all the things I enjoyed – tales that were far removed from reality, logic puzzles, stupid humour and even coding, to some extent – could be combined into a single thing. Why had nobody told me before that something so absolutely awesome existed? It ended up being the first video game I played truly for myself, all the way through to the end without a lot of help, and the one which sealed my fate as a fan of the adventure genre.

I went on to other point-and-clicks as soon as I’d completed The Secret of Monkey Island. I saved wizards from evil forces in Simon the Sorcerer; jumped between linking books in Myst; and explored alien planets and tried to get back home in The Dig. When I was slightly older, I scared myself silly while trying to recapture the Ixupi in Shivers; and I went on a quest to restore the Balance in what would turn out to be one of my favourite adventures, The Longest Journey.

The Secret of Monkey Island, video game, pirates, Guybrush, Carla, leather jacket

It remains my preferred genre to this day and I return to it frequently. Adventures may have changed since the 1990s and evolved into new forms, incorporating elements from other types of games, but there are many new releases which keep the heart of the point-and-click beating. If I hadn’t have been for that Amiga 500 and discovering The Secret of Monkey Island, or trying to learn coding for the Commodore 64 and finding those Usborne books, I might not be the gamer I am today.

Thank you to DanamesX from Tales of the Backlog and JMNelsonPhilpot from Video Games as Art for giving me the chance to share this post today. If you’re interested in joining in with the first EXP Share, you can find all the details here.

Stories Untold and the joy of text

I loved text adventures when I was young. It started with the Ghost Hunter choose-your-own-adventure by Edward Packard then progressed to games such as Zork. I used to scour our local library for the Usborne type-in books and I pored through the pages of code for story snippets.

There are a number of text adventures available on Steam nowadays but sadly, they’re not the same. I remember the excitement I used to feel as a kid when rolling the dice for a new page-number or typing in the next command and not knowing whether the result would be good or bad; and that just isn’t there any longer. Maybe it’s nostalgia talking or perhaps I’m becoming jaded in my old age, but it seems as though current text adventures are missing the thing that used to make them so special.

At least, that’s what I thought until I completed Stories Untold by No Code earlier this month. Let’s say that my opinion may have recently changed.

It was added to my wishlist in April where it sat for a few months before being purchased in the summer sale. But as is common with plenty of titles picked up in this way, it languished in my backlog until a couple of weeks ago when I had a conversation with Bradley over at Cheap Boss Attack. He referred to Stories Untold as one of his favourite games of the year and gave it a recommendation; so during a break between arguments with the other-half over whether Destiny 2 or The Elder Scrolls Online would be going on the PlayStation 4 that evening, I hit the ‘install’ button and roped Pete into playing with me.

Advertised as ‘four stories, one nightmare’, this experimental title manages to bend the genre into something new and unique. It cleverly combines text-adventures, point-and-clicks and psychological horrors into a rather remarkable experience which is likely to stay with me for some time to come. If you’re a fan of series such as The Twilight Zone and Stranger Things, of 80s nostalgia and retro games, or text adventures in general, you need to play it – I couldn’t agree more with Bradley’s recommendation.

The ending, when it arrives, is like an oncoming train. You can’t deviate from the path that fate has set out for you: as much as you want to tear yourself away from the inevitable conclusion, it’s simply impossible and you must see it through. The fear slowly rises as you make your way through the four episodes and see connections, until the hairs on the back on your neck stand up each time you’re asked to enter a new command.

I think that’s exactly what’s missing from other text-adventures. The items I mentioned at the start of this post used to invoke such fear in me as a kid but it was addictive: as much as I was scared by the spooks in Ghost Hunter or the Grue in Zork, I wanted to see them through to the end. The fact that there were no visuals meant it was up to the player to use the text to see the story in their own minds and that somehow made those worlds all the more frightening.

There was always the feeling that if you looked up from the screen, you’d start to see elements of the title in the real world; and that’s what Stories Untold successfully manages to recreate. It’s extremely hard to resist the urge to look over your shoulder as you play through The House Abandon episode or not to expect your phone to ring when the handset does in-game. It’s difficult to say more without spoiling it for future players except that No Code have crafted some very clever moments.

So say no more I will, and I’ll just encourage you to give it a go for yourself if you have the opportunity. I really hope the developer considers making a second season because I can’t wait to see where they take us next.