Experienced Points

Experienced Points
The Rise, Fall and Rise of Adventure Games

Shamus Young | 20 Aug 2010 17:00
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Like most genre names, the term "Adventure Game" is an unfortunate wreck. The genre is typified by gameplay where you WALK around, LOOK at STUFF, TAKE STUFF, and USE STUFF, which sounds more like a garage sale than an adventure. Meanwhile, platformers, shooters, brawlers, and roleplaying games (the latter of which has its own naming issues) are pretty much nonstop adventure. So the term "Adventure Games" generally refers to the genre of games that have less adventure than all the others. It's enough to make me question the feasibility of pigeonholing gameplay mechanics in an ever-evolving hobby.

Sometime during the age of Rubik's cubes and breakdancing, I encountered King's Quest III and Leisure Suit Larry in the computer lab at school, and fell in love. (The latter was a lot more educational than most of the actual class material. The game isn't nearly as dirty as its reputation warrants, and might even seem tame on broadcast television today. But the jokes and pop-culture references for the over-forty crowd gave me a look into a world I never knew existed. Who is Peter Fonda? The Chicago Seven? And what the heck IS a leisure suit, anyway?) Those games presented a chunky pixelated world where you could freely explore and experiment to solve puzzles. This was a radical new thing for me. Up until then, the games I played were plot-less, endlessly escalating reflex challenges designed to eat quarters.

Kings Quest, Space Quest, Police Quest, Gabriel Knight, Sam & Max, Monkey Island. Throughout the '90s, these franchises were as much a fixture of gaming as Lara Croft, Metroid, and Sonic are now. And about as variable in terms of quality. The problem was that adventure games didn't age well or evolve fast enough. Gamers were coming to realize that random "gotcha" deaths weren't all that fun. And while everyone loves a good puzzle, not even the most die-hard adventure game fans enjoy getting stuck for six hours because they were typing "PUT MAYONNAISE ON MINOTAUR" instead of "USE MAYONNAISE WITH MINOTAUR." And for those of us who loved games as a way to explore and see cool places, other genres came along that offered us a lot more cool stuff for a lot less hassle.

It wasn't that the games were made poorly, it's just that adventure game designers didn't seem to be learning from past mistakes or reacting to what gamers wanted. They just cranked out one annoying gibberish puzzle after another, until gamers got sick of it and stopped buying them. And then people lamented that gamers were just too shallow and graphics-obsessed to enjoy a classic adventure game. As if "PUT SYRUP ON MUSTACHE" was the gaming equivalent of Charles Dickens.

The '90s ended and so did the long, inglorious, self-inflicted death of adventure games. Years would pass between titles, and when one did show up it was usually a remake or re-release ... like Tupac or Elvis coming out with a new album. I had started out as an adventure game fan, but by the time they gave up the ghost I'd pretty much stopped caring. It's sad to see something die, but "it isn't any dang fun" is a pretty good reason to stop making a game.

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