Today a long-awaited treat arrived in my mailbox: copy #858 of Get Lamp, a film by Jason Scott.
I’d already seen an early cut of this film from when Scott did a midnight screening at Notacon 7, but now here it is in my hands, two discs representing thousands of hours of work by hacker historian Jason Scott. I’ve been waiting for this for… almost a year?
If you used a computer in the 80’s, then likely you are familiar with text adventures. As a gaming genre, text adventures have all but disappeared, but at one time they were among the most popular software products available. There is nothing like them today, except maybe in some very tiny niches. They were games that required literacy and imagination, off the wall problem solving skills, a sense of humor, a love of fantasy, and could suck a player in for hours, even days at a time. It seemed like you could do anything in these games, all you had to do was figure out the right command to type in.
To my knowledge, I only ever played one actual text adventure on a computer: Zork. I might also have played Colossal Cave once. I was maybe about 10 years old, perhaps a bit younger. I don’t remember a whole lot about the experience other than being amazed that a world so rich could fit inside a computer, and that the computer could actually (well, seemed to, anyway) understand what I typed into it, allowing me to interact with it in a manner not unlike my experiences playing pen-and-paper role playing games. Growing up, I didn’t have a computer in the house for many years; all we had was an Atari 2600 gaming console, and later, a Nintendo Entertainment System, and an SNES. I only got to play text adventures if I was lucky enough to get a little time on a computer at school, or at my mom’s friend’s house. One time at my grandma’s house I got to play on a computer (I think it was an original Compaq portable) that my uncle brought home with him from college. When I couldn’t play on a computer, I spent hours reading and re-reading Choose Your Own Adventure books, and looking for people to play D&D with.
By the time we got an a computer in the house, an Apple //gs, text adventures were already falling out of fashion, and hybrid text/animation adventures like the King’s Quest series from Sierra Online were the new big thing. Graphics were here to stay, and it seemed no one really missed text-only games.
There really can be no way to adequately quantify the influence that these experiences collectively had on me during my formative years. Suffice it to say that I could not have been who I am without them playing the role in my life that they did. I can’t thank Jason Scott enough for investing the last four years of his life, thousands of dollars, hours, and miles to produce this wonderful documentary and DVD, and to the people who donated to his kickstarter fund to allow him to devote himself to this project.
This post isn’t going to be a proper review of the DVD, as I have barely had time to pull the shrink wrap off, let alone explore all the special features on it. But I have seen the documentary, and if you have any fond memories of afternoons spent trying to puzzle through the arcane puzzles and mazes that made these game such an obsession, or if you’re just curious to know something about a forgotten bit of computer history, you definitely should order a copy of Get Lamp.