I recently read an article on BBC News that bought back a lot of good memories. Years ago, in the dim and distant past when floppy disks were the mechanism of loading games on a computer and Windows 3.1 was the norm, I was a fan of the Monkey Island computer games. Created by LucasArts, these games were the evolution from the old strategy text games and presented a crafted story of humour, brain teasers and action in a point and click cartoon world. From the log in process, which involved using a card cypher that you twisted to match strange symbols and discover the password, to the witty action sequences that involved choosing the best insults rather than actually controlling the sword action, Monkey Island was a captivating world that enchanted my pre-teen mind.
Looking back now, the graphics of Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge would seem practically stone aged to my children, who are used to HD television and retina displays, but the content stands the test of time. For me, the appeal was the same as the appeal of a good Jonathan Creek episode – the challenge of the puzzle. It was quite easy to lose not just an evening, but a whole week, in the game and find your mind wondering back to the latest puzzle you had encountered.
But these games are unfortunately becoming more of a thing of the past, largely due to changing attitudes about gaming. One of the reasons that games like Monkey Island were probably so appealing in their day is because the alternatives were not particularly good. It wasn’t possible to create realistic fast action games in those days so it was a choice between blocky shoot em’ ups like Wolfenstein and Doom, strategy games such as Lemmings, which whilst entertaining is limited in its appeal, or platform games (in my case Keen).
So filling that void, for those who wanted a little more, was the likes of Monkey Island. But the world now is a different place. People’s tastes have moved on and reflect the change in our entertainment expectations. Now that it is possible to create immersive, realistic action games and the TV and film industry is increasingly filling our world with crazy action films, it seems that the in depth strategy games have faded away. There are new games now that try and fill the void, for example the game Plague Inc. This game pits you as a Pathogen that has to destroy the world through a strategy of evolving symptoms, resilience and abilities to try and evade the race for a cure. This game is not quite on the same epic scale as the novel like games of the past, indeed you can complete it in a couple of hours, but it does require a level of calculation and cunning to do well.
The world is now focussed on either games consoles or app based games. Lemmings has been replaced by Angry Birds, a global phenomenon with all ages, whilst the long play style of games most comparable to any sort of story seem to be The Sims and Sim City (a new incarnation of which has just launched with incredible levels of detail). But I can’t help but feel that these all lose some of the movie like storytelling ability that these wonderfully crafted games of the past had. Perhaps we just don’t have the time to sit down and engage in deep thought any more? Most people who are avid gamers these days are the World of War Craft type crowd, and the rest of us only play in passing on our tablet apps. In my view it is a real shame that the world has moved on and left this genre of game behind, consigned to the shelves of the digital museum for youngsters to scoff at and laugh and the blocky graphics. For me though, it will forever be one of the reasons I feel in love with storytelling and particularly with the pirate era of history. I will always favour the well crafted story, that challenges my brain, to the simplistic (albeit very entertaining) action shoot em’ ups. Maybe I am becoming a relic as well, or maybe in the future we will see a reprise of these games at some point. After all, fashions do come around again. I hope this one will.