Parser Life

Oh, God, nostalgia bomb! I was just scrolling Twitter and someone had painted the cellar from King’s Quest III. Took me right back, that did. I loved those old parser games. It felt more involved, writing in your commands, like the wee man was listening, his fate in your hands. It’s not quite the same when you just hit a button, when you go up to the bookshelf and press X, and the computer decides what you do. I mean, maybe I didn’t want to check behind it. Maybe I wanted to hump it, or root around under it. I used to try everything, like in Conquests of Camelot:

>fuck Merlin
Merlin: Why, my dear boy! I didn’t know you cared!

>kiss Merlin
Merlin: I never kiss men with beards.

>steal Merlin’s hat
Oh, dear. He’s turned me into a dog, hasn’t he? What do I do now?

I wish life were like that, complete with SAVE and RESTORE functions, like

>open fridge
You open the fridge. A jar of salsa falls out and shatters on the floor. Your socks will never be the same.


>open fridge slowly
As you ease the fridge open, you hear something slide off the shelf. You put out your hands and catch a jar of salsa. Five points!

I suppose if life were a game, I’d put that salsa in my pocket and carry it around all day, then use it to knock a yeti off a mountainside, but I might enjoy the absurdity. I think I would. And I think…remember playing those games, how you’d fill your whole save folder in case you wanted to go way back? I’d love to have that option—

RESTORE sbeach.sav

August 12, 1989
You’re out of the car before it’s stopped moving. What luck: a day at the beach! Several waterslides spiral down the hillside to the west. To the north, you see a battalion of picnic tables. To the east lies Lake Erie, and beyond that, the old quarry, long since flooded into a swimming hole. What would you like to do first?

>all of it. My God, all of it, and forever.

We used to stop off for onion rings on the way home from beach days. I don’t even like onions, but I did on beach days. Or I loved spicy mustard, and I drowned them in that.

There was RESTART as well, wasn’t there?—when you got in hot water a RESTORE couldn’t fix. Like in that Hitchhiker’s Guide game, if you didn’t get the toothbrush before Earth was destroyed…it was a toothbrush, wasn’t it? I can’t remember. But there was something you had to grab, and you got one chance, and if you didn’t, you’d lost already. You didn’t know you’d lost, not for several hours, but you had just the same. I often wonder, y’know,


1982, midsummer
Your mother regards you doubtfully.
Mother: Do you really want a third slice of cherry pie? (y/n)


Mother: Probably for the best. Go on and play, then.

…I mean, if I’d not made myself sick on cherry pie, would I still like cherries? Would I be afraid of bees or cats instead of vomiting?

You hear that a lot these days, what if we’re living in a simulation? If we are, I hope it glitches. I hope it hops back a few decades like a record jumping a track. I hope no-one notices and it stays there a while, caught on that Sherkston Beach groove. (I’d go to the slides first, by the way. That’s what we always did, slides, then picnic, then lake, then quarry. The quarry was the laziest, good for the end of the day. Warm sand and still water. You could rent paddleboats, or those floaty bike things, but we never did. We just swam and lounged and got sand in our hair. (I used to put sand in my hair, grime it on in so I could take that beach feeling on the road.)

Wouldn’t it be brilliant if death let you enter developer mode, and you actually could try again? If you could edit stuff, mess about, tug at this thread and that?

SAVE parserlife.sav

EXIT GAME? (y/n)

…maybe just pause it. Exit feels too final when life’s the game.

2 thoughts on “Parser Life

    1. Oh, right. Of course it was a towel. There’s a toothbrush as well, but it’s the towel that makes the game unwinnable.

      I’m not sure how to feel about the fact that modern games don’t tend to include extended unwinnable states. On the one hand, some of them take like 100 hours to complete, and it would be annoying as hell to have to go back to square one. I thought “Dragon Quarter” had a good solution to that: it had a steep difficulty curve that REPEATEDLY rendered it unwinnable on your first few tries, but you could restart with some of your progress intact and get a bit farther every time, which made it interesting. I haven’t seen that again, though.


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