Enchanter and My Next Meal

I always need to know where my next meal is coming from. During the average work day, I raise the question “what should we have for dinner?” at about 4:30pm. When I’m traveling, I need a plan in place about obtaining sustenance. My friends make fun of me for this foible, but–like my apprehension about getting left behind on BC Ferries–it’s baked into my psyche.

I’ve never understood the origin of this anxiety until the other day, when I was talking to some friends about a computer game I played in my childhood. Called Enchanter, it’s a text-based swords and sorcery game first released in 1983 by Infocom. You can play it online. It isn’t exactly Dead Island.

I never bought the game. My older cousin made a copy of it on a floppy disc, bless him, and sent it up for me from California. He was the original dealer for my gaming jones. The game was definitely too old for me. I was probably 10 or 11, and as such never finished any of the early Infocom text games. I wasn’t clever enough, and there was no Internet on which to find walkthroughs, clues and cheat codes.

In talking about Enchanter, I explained to my friends how the game–like many early games– requires you to eat and drink throughout your adventure. At the start of the game, you find a loaf of bread, and you slowly consume it as you play. As you eat it, the game tells you how much is left:

Naturally, the game reports less and less bread left as you make progress. It’s a game mechanic, I suppose, to prevent the player from playing a particular playthrough for a very long time.

For reasons that I can’t explain, that mechanic embedded itself in a profound way in my pliable young brain. I have an ever-present awareness of the amount of consumable stuff I own. I know how many eggs are in the carton in our fridge, how many bags of berries I’ve frozen for my Canadian diet and even a pretty accurate sense of time (something I never “lose track of”–I don’t understand how people do this). As my wife pointed out, this bread and water requirement is probably also responsible for my low-level worry about my next meal.

I don’t think often enough about the impact all those hours of gameplay had on my prepubescent and teenage mind. I’m truly among the oldest people to have grown up playing video games. What other lasting impacts did it have on my psyche?

If you played a lot of games grown up, how did they impact your life?


  1. Anytime I see a giant walking mushroom, I’m compelled to jump on it’s head. Also, whenever I go to a new town, I replace all my clothing and make sure to talk to all the townsfolk at least twice, in case they change what they’re saying.

    Actually, I can think of a case of how video games didn’t affect me. I played (and still played) a significant number of RPG games, starting with Dragon Warrior 1 on the NES. Dungeons / mazes are a hallmark of such games, and often when there’s a dead end you’re at least rewarded with some sort of treasure / item / magic want for your troubles. In fact, if you make your way through a maze on your first try, you quickly get suspicious that you’ve missed all sorts of great loot, and thus go back and explore all the nooks and crannies. This behaviour has been reinforced over many generations of consoles, and I still do this on my Xbox 360 25 years later.

    However, this enjoyment of complete thoroughness and willingness to explore the “what ifs” doesn’t really carry over strongly to my professional career – software. While I can do it, and it’s important for various types of analysis, I could never see myself in QA, where a strong tester revels in trying to explore all the nooks and crannies for “loot” (or bugs, as they like to call them).

  2. I have a 7 year old son who actually does (or would do if I were to let him) what Chris says he doesn’t do. I suppose it’s a result of playing too much lego Star Wars or Indian Jones but when going for a walk with the little guy, he has this strange compulsion to explore *every single side path and trail*. A few times I’ve tried to humour him to see how far he’d go which generally leads us to be neck deep in twigs and branches.

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