For my second talk at Tech Confluence, I presented on Art and History of Adventure Games Pt 1: the 70s and 80s. I would really like to make this talk into a zine when I have some more time.

What is an Adventure Game?

An adventure game is a computer game in which the player assumes the role of a protagonist in an interactive story driven by exploration and puzzle-solving.

Scumm characters

People of the 21st century are fascinated by the idea virtual world changing humanity’s relationship with the physical world. Every two bit op-ed writer on a deadline has something to say about how virtual reality is rending the fabric of our very existence. It’s preventing us from concentrating on work, undermining our relationships, making us violent and radicalized, giving us bad taste, rendering fact indiscernible from fiction. Or it’s facilitating grass roots political movements on an unprecedented scale, opening up new markets, providing the only remaining jobs, improving our access to information, allowing us to work anywhere but also all the time.

I think adventure games are useful because they give us some insight into a time when our relationship to virtual reality may have been different. Rather than the effect of virtual reality on the human brain, we can see the effect of culture, society and politics on virtual reality, especially in its initial manifestations in our home as games.

This perspective is similar to how one might invert the old argument that exposure to video games makes children violent. Perhaps violence in video games reflects our culture’s general disregard for human life and not, as the tabloids of my youth claimed, the cause of it. This change in perspective allows us to take a look as adventure games functioning as art, namely as Charles Hawthorne writes, “the ability to tell the world something that it unconsciously thinks about nature.”

Research Questions

  • What is the historical evolution of the adventure game genre? Why did it largely give way to first person shooters?
  • What were the game designers’ influences? What were their backgrounds? What were they motivated to express?
  • How did adventure game designers feel about the present and future of virtual reality?

Presentation

Here are my slides if you care to check out what a Commodore 64 looks like. Please note that I did not create any of the images used in my presentation, I found them on the internet.