Gamer's log: A Mind Forever Voyaging - Day 1
December 15, 2007
For information on this project, be sure to check my post, In search of narrative, character, and empathy.
If you want to read a novel written 200 years ago, you can probably find it at your local library or bookstore. If you want to play a video game created 20 years ago, you may have a problem.
Such is the case with A Mind Forever Voyaging, a classic piece of interactive fiction written by Steve Meretzky and released by Infocom in 1985. The first issue I faced trying to play this game was simply locating it in its original form, with all the included materials intact. Yes, I once owned this game. No, I can't find it anywhere. So, yes, I'm officially an idiot.
Ordinarily, tracking down a copy of the game file and a z-code interpreter would suffice, but that would be a mistake in this case. Infocom famously kickstarts the player's immersion into its games from the moment you open the box, and A Mind Forever Voyaging is no exception. The original AMFV box contained the following items (pictured above):
- a printed copy of "Dakota Online Magazine," dated April 2031
- a map of Rockvil, South Dakota, including ads from local businesses
- a yellow ball-point pen ("Quad Mutual Insurance")
- a "Class One Security Mode Access Decoder"
Each of these fictionalized items draws you into the world presented by the game and, in the case of the map and decoder, will serve as invaluable keys to your success. Perhaps more importantly, the included "magazine" contains stories that flesh out the narrative you are about to enter, contextualizing people and places that will soon matter to you.
Fortunately, devoted Infocom fans have scanned and archived all this stuff, so even if you can't hold them in your hands, the magazine, map, and decoder are all available (see below).
I find myself greatly enjoying these well designed pre-gameplay materials. Part of what I'm interested in with this project is examining how video games engage us as players (or in this case, player-readers) and hook us into their stories, characters, and environments. The April 2031 edition of Dakota Online Magazine cleverly initiates this process before I have even booted up the game.
I eagerly read the intriguing short story "A Mind Forever Voyaging" and perused the rest of the magazine when I experienced a sudden realization: I can't remember the last time I actually looked at a game manual (which these cleverly disguised AMFV materials function as). I routinely ignore them with today's games, and the vast majority of manuals I own have never been removed from their cases.
A recent exception is the collector's edition of Mass Effect, which comes with a small art book and a "codex" outlining the races, alliances, ships, etc. of the game. As impressive as these are, however, they seem to me devoid of the cleverness and fun Infocom routinely infused into its game materials--I mean, Dakota Online Magazine contains an ad for "Glutman's Restaurant: All the pizza you can eat for only $39.75, with your choice of onion, kelp, or olive topping!" Perusing AMFV's box materials reminds me of the lighthearted spirit of play Infocom infused into its games...even the ones with powerfully somber themes.
So, my initial incursion into A Mind Forever Voyaging is well underway...and now its time to begin playing the game!
You can find all the materials included in the original box version of AMFV (including scans of the pen and decoder wheel) in pdf format here.
If you are new to interactive fiction, also known as text adventures, you can find some excellent help for beginners here.