Today I’m falling back on one of Belghast’s writing prompts. “What was the first game that made you ‘feel’ something”. I think it’s interesting that Bel says we’ve all had a human emotional response to a game; it wasn’t all that many years ago that the idea that games could provoke a response in the way that other media does was widely dismissed. As the new form of media, gaming was experiencing the same sort of disdain that comic books, television, movies previously had. Looking back now, after experiencing games like Bioshock or Brothers, it seems silly to think that people thought like that. I was disagreeing with them way back in the 80s though, because the first game that provoked an emotional reponse in me was a text adventure.
Infocom made a massive number of text adventures back in the early days of personal computing. The one that first really hit me in the feels was Planetfall. In Planetfall you played the part of a Stellar Patrol member (basically the United Federation of Planets) who is stranded on an apparently depopulated planet and must figure out what happened there and how to contact help and escape.
Early on the course of the adventure, you come across a ‘helpful’ robot named Floyd. Floyd has the personality of a small child, and mostly tags along with you making comments on the areas you enter and the like. Looking at it dispassionately he’s really not that complicated, but he’s very endearing.
Late in the game, you reach a point where you need to activate a machine to continue. The activation card, however, is locked in a room with a number of deadly mutants. Trying to enter the room yourself results in your quick and bloody demise. Once Floyd becomes aware of the card, however… well, I’ll quote the game here.
“Looks dangerous in there,” says Floyd. “I don’t think you should go inside.” He peers in again. “We’ll need card there to fix computer. Hmmm… I know! Floyd will get card. Robots are tough. Nothing can hurt robots. You open the door, then Floyd will rush in. Then you close door. When Floyd knocks, open door again. Okay? Go!” Floyd’s voice trembles slightly as he waits for you to open the door.
> OPEN THE DOOR
“The door opens and Floyd, pausing only for the briefest moment, plunges into the Bio Lab. Immediately, he is set upon by hideous, mutated monsters! More are heading straight toward the open door! Floyd shrieks and yells to you to close the door.”
> CLOSE THE DOOR
From within the lab you hear ferocious growlings, the sounds of a skirmish, and then a high-pitched metallic scream!
You hear, slightly muffled by the door, three fast knocks, followed by the distinctive sound of tearing metal.
> OPEN THE DOOR
Floyd stumbles out of the Bio Lab, clutching the mini-booth card. The mutations rush toward the open doorway!
> CLOSE THE DOOR
And not a moment too soon! You hear a pounding from the door as the monsters within vent their frustration at losing their prey.
Floyd staggers to the ground, dropping the mini card. He is badly torn apart, with loose wires and broken circuits everywhere. Oil flows from his lubrication system. He obviously has only moments to live.
You drop to your knees and cradle Floyd’s head in your lap. Floyd looks up at his friend with half-open eyes. “Floyd did it … got card. Floyd a good friend, huh?” Quietly, you sing Floyd’s favorite song, the Ballad of the Starcrossed Miner: ….
As you finish the last verse, Floyd smiles with contentment, and then his eyes close as his head rolls to one side. You sit in silence for a moment, in memory of a brave friend who gave his life so that you might live.”
Reading that just now, I teared up a little. I was no older than 10 when I played Planetfall and got to that point. It was heartbreaking. Floyd had been my companion through the whole game, and now he had sacrificed himself for me. That’s the first time I remember feeling real emotion in response to a game. Planetfall came out in 1983, over 30 years ago. It had no graphics, no sound, nothing but plain text, and yet it had more heart than some games I see come out in modern times.
Source: Thalen Speaks