Monday, 9 August 2010

Teh Bias: Mystery and Adventure

This article was originally printed on my community blog at Destructoid. I have reposted it here.

Shorah b'shem. If this month is about bias, I think it's my duty to speak up. I'm definitely biased about one thing, as anyone who's seen my game collection can tell you. If there's one thing that's clear, it's that I love Adventure games. And I don't mean The Legend of Zelda and Metroid, as Nintendo labels as games of the "adventure" genre. I refer to what would more suitably be called "Adventurelikes". Games similar in style to the classic 1976 game, Colossal Cave Adventure.

I'm talking about Zork, King's Quest, Monkey Island, Loom, Day of the Tentacle, Myst, Gabriel Knight, Broken Sword, Syberia, The John DeFoe Quadrology (aka Chzo Mythos), and countless others. I'm talking about one of the most niche and PC-centric genres in the industry.

Don't worry, the name-dropping stops here.

If there's one thing I'll defend more ferociously than anything else, it's Adventure games. And if there's one thing I'll attack more viciously than anything else, it's The Legend of Zelda. I don't even have to play the new Zelda game, I just know it's gonna be another of these samey, boring, action-adventure games.

Even though they aren't all the same. And they aren't all boring. I quite liked Wind Waker, actually.

I suppose you could say it's resentment. I practically grew up on two things: Adventure games, and shmups. Adventure games moreso. And of the two, the latter has definitely had a much higher impact on me. Nintendo is often seen as the "father" of gaming, it seems to me. That we have them to thank for the greatest in gaming. And don't get me wrong, they've done a huge deal. They saved the entire industry after The Crash. But that being said...

The Legend of Zelda is labelled as an "adventure game". Nintendo, and many gaming sites, label it as such. When I ask people what they think "adventure game" means, most people point to games from that series. Metroid is another series that often gets pointed to. But, let's look at a bit of history: The Legend of Zelda was released in 1986. Metroid was released in '86. Adventure was released in '76. Hardly seems fair for Nintendo to dictate the meaning of the genre when Will Crowther came around ten years early with his work of genius.

But this is all incredibly biased. When it comes down to it, Zelda just isn't my type of game; Adventure is. And more importantly, perhaps, is the fact that Nintendo is meaningless to me, from an emotional standpoint. I don't have any nostalgia for their games, cause it wasn't till the Gamecube that we had one of their consoles. No, my history lies squarely with the PC, and especially with its iterations of adventure games.

Let me take you back. (I should let you know, these are the events as I remember them. I may be a couple of years off in all dates. If there's one thing I'm bad at, it's my own chronology.)

One thing my father liked to do with my brother and I as we grew up was play computer games. When I was around three years old, he started showing us how to play a simple port of Pac-Man. He would also play through Doom in overhead mode (so we wouldn't get scared by the monsters).

From an early age my parents wanted me to read. A lot. When I was four, I started getting books. Simple books, and mostly pictures, but books none-the-less. But, from how easily we took to Pac-man, it was obvious my brother and I had an affinity to these bright, pixelated computer-game-things. My literary skills were developing pretty well (I could read the words "cow", "duck", and "squash"), and my dad decided he should let me try out some games of a more wordy variety.

In he popped the floppy, and he sent me off to play Adventure. When the words "interactive fiction" are mentioned, it's an eloquent way of saying "text adventure". And Adventure was the first of this type. Suffice to say, it was both one of his better and worse ideas. On one hand, it was a great introduction to the genre. On the other, navigating by the cardinal points isn't exactly easy when your understanding of directions is summed up by "never eat shredded wheat" (which is bullshit, I love that stuff). And don't even try explaining to a kid why you can't crawl into a foot-wide crevice of a creek.

But I still played it a lot. And I mean a lot. Despite my simple linguistic understanding, by my fifth year I could get past the locked grate in the forest clearing, find the serpent in the underground hall, get axed in the back by a dwarf, and fall into a crevice and die. A fine beginning to a life of adventure.

And speaking of my fifth year, my fifth birthday was coming up. I don't know what possessed my grandfather to do it, but he decided to buy me a game for my birthday. Both the first and the last time he did so, oddly enough. The game he bought me was Myst.

It worked a lot better than the typing. I could actually see what I was doing. That being said, I still didn't fully grasp navigation. So, the family decided to sit down and play it together; something we would do for the sequel, Riven, as well. My father didn't join us for Myst III: Exile, but my mother and brother played it with me, and it was immensely enjoyable. There's something about the series that drew me in. I was raised on narratives, and a game built entirely around discovering the narrative yourself seemed so perfect. Perhaps that's why I feel a synergy with the series.

I wish my grandfather had been as into it as we were. I never did get to play it with him. Nor did I get a chance to thank him for cementing my love of the genre. From Myst, I managed to reach into the rest of the genre. Soon I was playing Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle, and Loom. King's Quest followed, and at some point I was introduced to the works of BenoƮt Sokal, most notably Amerzone and Syberia

And it didn't stop there. I discovered the indie Adventure game scene, (AGS, Yahtzee's work, etc.) and at some point in my ventures into the internet, discovered that there were other people like me; others who enjoyed this niche genre so immensely. I stumbled across the site Adventure Gamers, and from there things became fantastic. I suddenly discovered tons of titles I had not even known of before, and gleefully purchased those that I could with whatever little savings I could scrounge together.

If you're curious, my library of PC games is probably around two or three hundred titles. 98 of them are Adventure games. And yes, I've counted and cataloged them.

It's not like I don't have any consoles, though. My two most recent (current-gen) consoles are a Wii and a DS. I know, odd isn't it. The consoles of my "worst enemy". Perhaps the biggest irony of all follows. My favorite game on the Wii? Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars - The Director's Cut. My favorite game on the DS? Hotel Dusk: Room 215. Perhaps it's fitting that two of my favorite Adventure games would be on the consoles of the company who "soiled" the term.

It's really a nostalgia thing for me. My entire childhood is basically Adventure games. I still remember the nights I spent, staying up late past my bedtime, hoping nobody would notice, playing The Secret of Monkey Island. Or my genuine shock and terror at the bathroom scene of 5 Days a Stranger. (Hey, I was like, 14.) Or how Saavedro's speeches in Myst III: Exile brought me to tears. (By the way: Fantastic performance by Myst fan and excellent actor, Brad Dourif.) I don't have any memories like that of Nintendo games; I can't. I was too old by the time I found them, and they weren't my style.

Feel free to enjoy them. That's your right. Oh, except one thing. They are not Adventure games. Zelda, and all those other games that Nintendo slaps the label on? No, they're action-adventure games. And if you disagree with me, I'll gladly engage in a shouting match about it. It's my childhood, after all.

Yeah, it's quite silly, isn't it? Almost as silly as a tentacle growing arms and taking over the world.

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