Rendered Unwinnable - If History Was an Adventure Game

Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at 5:00 pm
Adventure games -- the cruelest form of video game.

One of the delights of studying history is looking back and wondering what the world would be like if the great figures throughout the ages had been a little wiser, or a little crueler, or a little drunker. The events of the past are full of circumstances that, slightly altered, would result in a completely different present for us all. History is rife with close calls; things that, if they didn't go exactly as they did, would have spelled calamity. To be a world leader is to walk a narrow path -- one false step, one missed opportunity, and it can mean that you will never achieve your goals.

Modern video games, where autosaves and adjustable difficulties all but ensure a player's eventual success, usually don't have these kinds of stakes. But there is one type of video game that mirrors the stark calculus of history, that will give you no quarter if you fail to do everything exactly right:

Old-school adventure games.

You will need this rotten fish.

In today's games, if you receive an item that is vital to the main plot, you will literally not be allowed to throw it away. In the adventure games of the 1980's and early 90's, not only can you throw vital items away, but sometimes they will be stolen by a dwarf. In today's games, each item in your inventory usually has a clear use. In old adventure games, you get all kinds of idiosyncratic items that must only be used under very specific circumstances. Today's games are kind of soft. Adventure games, just like the real world, are BOLD FONT / ALL CAPS HARD.

So I got to thinking -- what if all the failures of history were due not to complex political forces or unavoidable circumstances. What if history operates like King's Quest, and the great snafus of history were due to the player character (or, in this case, a historical figure) doing something that made the "game" unwinnable?

Here are three historical figures, and how their famous historical defeats would have unfolded if they were in adventure games:

James "Jim" Bowie

James "Jim" Bowie, storied Alamo defender and all-around Texas legend began the game with a wad of money earned through land speculation and a big knife. Early on in the game, he was approached by a pudding machine salesman, who offered to take his money in exchange for a steam-powered pudding machine that could output unlimited tapioca.

Bowie decided to turn down the offer, and instead spent his money on a big rifle. The pudding machine salesman walked off. Bowie had just doomed himself, but he did not know it then, and continued on his merry way.

Much later, at the Alamo Mission, Bowie and his Texian brethren were besieged by the Mexican army with seemingly no way out. After much frustrating trail and error, Bowie finally consulted the strategy guide, where he learned to his dismay that he needed to purchase the pudding machine, use it to create a tapioca moat, and then fire on the Mexican army as they trudged forward slowly, covering in molasses-like pudding.

But, alas, the minute Bowie didn't buy that pudding generator, the game was lost.

Herbert Hoover

Herbert Hoover is famous for taking a Great Depression directly to the nads. He tried to counteract the effects of the economic disaster that occurred less than a year into his presidency, and even authorized public works projects not unlike those that his successor, Franklin Roosevelt would use. But, try as he might, he couldn't reverse the tide of bullshit that was the Depression. And thus, Hoover, despite his admirable humanitarian work and good intentions, is remembered primarily as one of our lamer presidents.

But Herbert Hoover blew it way before he even entered the presidency. Hoover made his game unwinnable years earlier, when he was a young man in the employ of a mining corporation in Australia. He did well by stumbling upon a patch of magical cabbage and taking a head. But when he met an Australian witch bemoaning that her mystical stew is missing a good source of riboflavin, he failed to give her the magic cabbage, and thus she never gave him the Amulet of Stimulation, which is actually not a sex toy but a gemstone necklace that gives its wearer incredible Keynesian powers. With the Amulet, Hoover could have created millions of jobs.  Without it, well, he pretty much gets his name on a big dam and a lot of little shantytowns. His total score was like 20 out of 153 possible points.

Robert McNamara

Finally, the Vietnam War could have absolutely been won. Totally. It just required different moves from the hero of Secretary of Defense's Quest III, Robert McNamara. McNamara did almost everything right. He picked up the Ring of Escalation and put it on near the end of Kennedy's time as president. Then he used the rat meat he got in a dungeon to lure the bald eagle (a symbol of America) to him. He grabbed onto the eagle's talons, and flew with it to the North Vietnamese base camp. He traded the eagle for the Sword of Capitalism, and was ready to battle Ho Chi Minh, ending the Vietnam War and initiating the awesomest parade sequence ever.

However, just before the end of the game, all his stuff was stolen by a dwarf.

Dangerous Physical Appliances 2000 is a strange weekly column written by Aaron Matteson.
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