Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Time Off for Good Behavior

I stayed in last night, a rather foreign concept on a night off work -- part of the parallel to my Commitment to Health, the Commitment to Responsibility. I think the latter will be a temporary experiment -- I've currently allowed myself Sunday (day off) to eat crappy and drink lots and end up asleep under a bus station bench somewhere, and I think I'll have to expand that to Monday as well. Sobriety's just too damn boring.

So I did some research on what people do on a night off besides go to bars. I started off watching a movie -- unfortunately I'd rented "Duets" from Netflix, which pretty quickly proved to be not remotely what I wanted to see. Moved on to reading -- Tony Judt's "Postwar," which is fucking great (to use the technical term) but also pretty damn complex. My attention span couldn't handle it.

By this point, I was looking contemplatively at the wine bottles, so I did something desperate: I busted out the computer games. I rarely play games, but as we've already established, I'm a pretty big nerd. I own some. They're there when I need them.

I ended up spending much of the evening playing "Civilization IV," continuing a string of Civilization-addictions that began with all-night sessions playing the first "Civilization" at my friend Stefanie Boyd's house, back in college. But before that, I fired up some other old favorites for the first time in years: the Infocom games.

God, I loved these as a kid (and teenager, and though rarely played, as an adult). Text adventure games, featuring deeply-thought-out worlds, crazy hard puzzles and quirky humor.

At this late date, I can't remember how exactly I got into them. What is known for certain is this:

* I initially played the original "Adventure" game soon after Dad got our first PC

* the first Infocom game I owned was "Deadline," passed on by a friend who couldn't stand it

* my friend David had "Zork I," and I remember a sleepover playing that the whole time while everyone else did more traditional sleepover activities (dipping someone's hand in a bowl of warm water).

What pushed me over the edge was when Infocom put out a text adventure version of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." I was a big fan of the books (and I keep meaning to re-read them, for the first time in ages), so I had to have the game. My parents caved in, got it, and oh God, another youthful obsession.

I was, it only struck me later in life, awful at these games. The puzzles are, I repeat, hellishly tough -- though it strikes me that perhaps my more imaginative 13-year-old mind was perhaps better suited to tackle them. Yesterday, I gave "Trinity" a whirl, a game I distinctively remember doing ok at as a kid. To get past the opening scene of the game, you need to get over a patch of grass that you can't walk on. To do it (ANYONE WHO STUMBLED UPON THIS SITE AND DOESN'T WANT A SPOILER, FOR GOD'S SAKE, AVERT YOUR EYES NOW), you need to climb into a baby's pram, and open an umbrella, after you've made the wind's direction change (don't ask). When I was a kid, I could figure that out. Here in 2006, I had to turn to the internet to get past it.

Infocom went under years ago, a combination of bad business decisions and a market increasingly reliant on graphics. But the games are still popular, and there's still a large, and active, community of people making their own. I rarely check in any more, but my friend Robb makes some really good ones (in fact, that's how we met) -- you can check them out here.

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