Escaping to the Point and Click Adventure

Some of my best gaming experiences; actually, just some of my best experiences alone during the last year of the 80’s and throughout the 90’s came from the incredible “Point and Click Adventure” genre. Also known as “Graphic Adventures”, each game was an absolute trip, deep layered and immersive – I tuned out of reality and tuned in to a different world, allowing me to be someone else from the time those disks were inserted to the time I flicked that ON/OFF switch and went to bed.

To escape my ordinary school kid life, all I needed to do was boot up, and I instantly became a pirate, a secret agent, a time traveller, a space janitor, a detective, an archeologist, a wizard or a king. Douglas Quaid had “Rekall”, I had my Amiga.

This was beyond “the book”; Point and Click adventures enabled the player to delve in to a rich story but actually be the protagonist, walk as them, answer as them, interact with other characters as them and make their decisions for them; each time being rewarded with further storyline, conundrums and puzzles. Before the integration of real audio dialogue in to the games when they arrived on CD-ROM years later (which I think spoiled them); the much cooler generation of users of the limited capacity floppy disk were forced to read all of the dialogue in their head, (creating their own voices if they wished) with a 16-bit soundtrack and sound effects to accompany them. It was a sublime experience.

I preferred to Point’n’Click alone

Often with the intriguing story-lines and with the intense need to beat the current puzzle; players would invest countless hours in to the games without a break, playing all day, evening and in to the early hours of the morning. With a tired mind this could transform them in to a trance-like, dreamlike state, as if the dream they were having was in front of them but it was in full colour, completely controllable and lucid. These were the best dreams they had ever had. Everything beyond the 4 sides of the screen in front of them crumbled away and nothing else existed except for the adventure; the only reminder that they were still a human-being looking on was the feeling of their wrist and hand Pointing with the mouse and the sound of the Clicks as they chose a verb, and then an object.

It was a very personal and solitary experience; a journey that could only really be enjoyed thoroughly when done alone. I sat with a friend once, together trying to beat a few puzzles of a certain game that was out at the time, at his house. I had the feeling that I was encroaching on his experience, and he was definitely spoiling mine; this was an experience that I wanted to have shut away in my own bedroom, not his. It was similar to trying to sit and read a classic novel at the same time as another person, both peering over the same pages, one wanting to turn a page and get through it, and the other wanting to hang around and take in the intricacies of the story and the dialogue and apply imagination to enhance the scene. We were just two different instances of that sprite in two different mindsets. On his screen was the exact same animated collection of pixels, but I didn’t recognise this character, it wasn’t the same one that was waiting for me back home. We’d been through different things at different times; I’d built up a rapport with mine, and here was just a clone carrying out actions that I wanted to save for later – it just wasn’t the same. Needless to say I never tried co-playing a Point’n’Click again.

Graphic Adventure piracy, before Monkey Island

It all started for me in 1989, I had given to me by my Uncle a pirated copy (naughty naughty) of the brilliant Future Wars by Delphine – this wetted my appetite for the genre, however since only one floppy disk had been handed over for (unbeknown to either of us) a two disk game, I was only able to complete a few of the puzzles before being asked to “Insert Disk 2”. Without the disk, I was unable to continue which was frustrating to say the least, but this had me hungry for graphic adventures – I needed to play more.

I used to order Amiga games from some kind of mail order catalogue (I can not remember for the life of me what this was called, or why I was doing it this way since I could probably go to a computer shop in town.), I believe though that this catalogue contained games that were not widely known or distributed at the time, perhaps from overseas. Contained within it, a small advert showing a game with strange and exciting cover art, like that of a cool 80’s cartoon or movie, which was accompanied by a captivating sales pitch – right there and then I had to find out what was going on in the Maniac Mansion. And so it was ordered and the waiting time commenced (I seem to recall 14 – 28 days?). Every day was a “Has the postman been?” routine, until one warm and fuzzy Saturday morning, finally it had arrived. I remember opening the big brown jiffy bag and pulling out that amazing box. On the front, a large and colour version of what was displayed in the catalogue but on the back, a weird painted image of the stories antagonists: Dr Fred, Nurse Edna and Weird Ed. If I wasn’t already drawn in; the fact that inside of the box was a huge poster depicting a noticeboard with all kinds of plot related and character back-story references really clinched it. Maniac Mansion Disk 1 was in, and I was going in to Maniac Mansion.

Adventures for an adventureless time

With a firm craving for pointing and clicking, and as the 90’s arrived, many more titles ensued; Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Secret of Monkey Island, Operation Stealth, Loom, Day of the Tentacle, Cruise for a Corpse, Leisure Suit Larry, King’s Quest, Space Quest, Police Quest, Dark Seed, Dreamweb, KGB.. Some atmospheric and serious, some filled with incredible wit and humour; they came thick and fast, each taking me to a different place, time, and life.

As the genre became popular and consistently filled the charts, it wasn’t long before sequels appeared giving us even more adventures and even more time to spend with (as) our favourite characters.

However, as consoles came more and more in to the limelight with their gamepads, this meant the end of pointing and clicking (of course, consoles don’t use a mouse), and with game sales at an all time low due to the amount of floppy disk piracy; this meant the end of the Amiga. PC’s carried on for a time with the genre but with the new generation wanting more shock value and graphically exciting games in realtime 3D; the whimsical innocence of the Point and Click games as we know them fizzled out and the adventures were seemingly over. Fast forward 15 or so years… Although lacking interaction authenticity (less like “point and click”, more like “Look then Touch” adventures), in recent years with the intimacy of touch screen devices and tablets the Point and Click adventure made a come back and I was happy to see the re-release of some classics. It’s nice to see the genre becoming popular once again, although sadly, for me they have lost the charm that made the games what they were. Perhaps it’s because the actual hardware that was used at the time to play them is missing; with not a lot of storage space, processing power and graphics capabilities the storylines and characters really shone through because they had to. Or maybe it was because of what else was going on (or not going on) outside of the computer screen at that time. In an era before the internet, mobile phones, social media, MMO’s and instant digital entertainment there were few places in which to transpose the consciousness of a young boy who was seeking real adventure. With such a lack of options at that time for escapism, the Point and Click adventure was a Point and a Click away from a whole different world.

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