Sixteen rooms along the corridor and I seem to be the only one here. The joint’s deserted. There’s a howling wind outside, and the windchill factor’s pushing the mercury well below zero in the darkening gloom.
It’s at times like this my comic-booky imagination takes over, and the particular situation that comes to mind is Infocom’s Lurking Horror game from the 1980s.
I loved Infocom’s games. Text adventures, the old ‘GO NORTH’, ‘TAKE LANTERN’, ‘YOU HAVE DIED ANOTHER GAME Y/N?’ The best were as immersive as any great novel. It’s something today’s youth – with their turbocharged graphics, billion-triangle rendering engines and Hollywood-standard photorealism – would never understand, the same way the Facebook Generation will never comprehend how thrilling Usenet was.
It started with Zork, a Dungeons’n’Dragons fantasy born on the earliest mainframes. But I preferred the later games. There was one set in an Eastern Bloc country, another set in a circus, so real you could smell the urine-stained concrete and the greasepaint-flecked sawdust. There was one set in a hi-tech city where you never played a character, just took viewpoints from what your antagonists typed into terminals or passed in front of CCTV cameras; another sent you on a Kafkaesque journey to get a single form signed-off through a maze of bureacracy. Frustration, fear, and bewilderment laced those games. That’s what was so great about them.
Lurking Horror was set in a University, during a blizzard. You had to get across campus using hidden tunnels under the school, but the sense of foreboding it created was as dark as HP Lovecraft; I shiver thinking about it, even now. Because when you’re at a computer screen, your back’s always turned to anything creeeping up behind you…
And tonight, seemingly alone in a building designed for 600, I feel the same icy finger on my spine. Exquisite.