Tuesday, November 12, 2013

"I WAS A TEENAGE ZOMBIE!", 1983.

Perhaps I should have opened with this ad, fresh off of Hallowe'en -- Flesh Feast, Zombies Ate My Neighbors, Zombie Nation... Teenage Zombie! Oh well, something to keep in mind next time I open a seasonal game advertising blog!

(Borrowed from Vintage Computing)

I WAS A TEENAGE ZOMBIE!

MIDWESTERN YOUTH TELLS HOW INFOCOM DEPROGRAMMING BROUGHT HIM BACK FROM A LIVING DEATH.

"IT GOT SO I COULDN'T LET GO" confesses John Carlson of Hickory Falls, Iowa. "My hands were welded to my joystick twenty-four hours a day. Blisters covered both my thumbs, my wrists ached, my eyes throbbed ... I'd given up eating and sleeping." It had started as a mindless hobby for young Johnny. But now, it was turning his mind to green jelly.

Finally, a concerned relative decided it was time to take action. Johnny remembers: "I'd passed out after 63,000,000 points — I forget which game. When I came to, there was this personal computer in front of me, with an Infocom game in the disk drive. I just sat there, numb, staring at the words on the screen."

Then, the extraordinary happened. "It was like there was this voice in the computer, talking to my imagination. Suddenly, I was inside the story. It was something I'd never experienced before — challenging puzzles, people I could almost touch, dangers I could really feel. Kind of like Infocom had plugged right into my mind, and shot me into a whole new dimension."

"Sure, I still play video games. But the Infocom experience opened my eyes. I know now there's more to life than joysticks."

Johnny's folks agree. "We've got our boy back," says Mrs. Carlson, "thanks to Infocom."

We can't save all the Johnnies out there. But hope still remains for countless thousands in the remarkable prose of the ZORK® Trilogy, DEADLINE, STARCROSS, and SUSPENDED. So please — before it's too late — rush today to your local computer store. Step up to Infocom games. All words. No pictures. The secret reaches of your mind are beckoning. A whole new dimension is in there waiting for you.

Infocom - The next dimension.

Deprogramming isn't something that video game companies are accused of very often! Is Hickory Falls really a place? (I can find several, but none in Iowa.) If blisters covered my thumbs, I'd probably adjust my grip. (Covered? even the tops?) Giving up eating and sleeping sounds like a ridiculous exaggeration, but here in 1983 we weren't too far from video gaming's first fatality, the Berzerk player who was cut down in the arcade by a heart attack after setting a high score in 1981.

Not knowing what game the score was achieved in is a nice touch, but awakening with a family-bought PC before his eyes is, in 1983 dollars, a hugely pricey proposition that challenges the "Would you shell out $1000 to match wits with this?" question from a few ads back. A concerned family might genuinely front that kind of cash for a cult deprogrammer, but not to tip off a gamer to a new genre; it's like the ad presents itself as goofy but demands we take it seriously. (What fruit goes into "green jelly"? Grapes? Apples? Gooseberries? At least since You Can't Do That On Television, slime is now the standard green goo.) "I just sat there, numb, staring at the words on the screen" looks like set-up for an MS-DOS joke, but of course in '83 pretty much all OSes fit that description.

Then comes the subjective part: voice in the computer, talking to my imagination, inside the story, plug into my mind, shot me into a whole new dimension. From the sounds of things if this fellow hadn't fallen in with video game addiction, he would have thrown his lot in with some other cultish preoccupation instead, just predisposed, as are many young people without direction, to align with some movement or another. If it wasn't videogames it would have been Hare Krishna, or TM... or Emacs, heaven forbid!

That whole "All words. No pictures. The secret reaches of your mind are beckoning. A whole new dimension is in there waiting for you." business is practically all the writing any of these ads need, except for maybe a brief paragraph of text to qualify what the heck they're talking about. I'm not convinced that the rest isn't just drag factor filler.

For what it's worth, this was the golden age of the video arcade here -- by many standards, the zombifying joystick-operated action games are among the era's eternal classics, cherished and endlessly remade. ('83 was also admittedly very close to the industry-wide crash following the Atari 2600's market-saturation of unmitigated crapola for the home consoles.) This ad doesn't even forward the thesis that Infocom games are superior to arcade games, only... different. Really it's only by some stretch of the imagination that we're able to lump Pac-Man and Zork in the same category at all.