Gilbert Lowe overcomes his childhood frustrations of text adventure games, and takes Northern Powerhouse for a spin with his teenage daughter.
I was a 12 year old ignoramus in 1983, the year I first got my hands on a Commodore 64, the Zork series was in full swing and soon after, Hitchhiker’s was released. The Tri-Lambs and Omega Mus amongst my classmates were obsessed. But did I indulge? Not a chance. Those “games” were too much like homework for me. Borrrrrrring, why would I want to spend hours or even days pondering over whether or not to open doors, envelopes and even more doors when I could be mastering The Way of the Exploding Fist? ‘Text Adventure Game’: a contradiction in terms if ever there was one, as far as I was concerned.
Now it’s thirty three – or should that be eighty two – years later and my hand-eye coordination has predictably rendered my fighting days a distant memory. So when I was presented with the opportunity to open those doors and envelopes and even more doors all these years later my reply was, unsurprisingly, a less than enthusiastic “Erm, sure, ok, I suppose so. Can’t wait, I guess”. And who better to drag along for the ride with me than my hyper-critical eighteen year old daughter – to call her reluctant would be an understatement. One tough crowd to please indeed.
In Northern Powerhouse: Last Towns Standing I find myself wading around post-apocalyptic Britain, now consisting of (or reduced to, depending on how you look at it) Burnley, Wigan and Hull. Each town presents its own unique set of engrossing complications. Despite some initial decisions made against my daughter’s better judgements that lead me to a swift demise, I gradually find myself fully immersed in my new surroundings, wanting to explore the options available to me, becoming increasingly frustrated with every wrong move but equally eager to start over and make more informed choices in the hope of advancing further in the game.
Surely that wasn’t my heart rate increasing with every new decision I was faced with? I felt obliged to become bolder than I could ever dream of being in the real world: for more than a few brief moments Northern Powerhouse gave me a new sense of daring, enabling me to make rash, potentially game-threatening decisions without batting an eyelid, I felt empowered in my quest to survive.
Alas, the sense of responsibility got the better of me. Growing frustration at consistently being thwarted in my attempts to progress – down to my own inexperience – along with a combination of my indecisiveness and my playing partner’s insistence in contradicting my selections lead us to trade barbs at each other and eventually abandon our endeavour, for the time being at least. It’s a testament to the authors’ commendable literary skills and imaginations that this wannabe Alpha Beta, “too cool for text-based adventure”, became as engrossed as I did. Stellar stuff. Consider me converted.