Videogame (1985). Infocom. Designed by Steve Meretzky. Platforms: AppleII, AtariST, C128, DOS, Mac (1985); Amiga (1986).
The release of A Mind Forever Voyaging represented an attempt by Infocom to produce a game that would be less of a text-based Adventure and more of a work of Interactive Fiction. The choice of title – a quotation from William Wordsworth's autobiographical poem The Prelude (1850) – reflects this goal. In context, the phrase refers to a statue of Isaac Newton, "The marble index of a mind forever Voyaging through strange seas of Thought, alone." In another significant departure from previous Adventure games, A Mind Forever Voyaging is almost devoid of puzzles.
The game is set in 2031, in a future "United States of North America" suffering from social decay and the threat of global Future War. Immediately before the start of the Adventure, the player character is informed that he is an Artificial Intelligence (see AI) called PRISM rather than a human being, and that the small town of Rockvil where he lives is only a simulation. The head of the PRISM project explains that he is now needed to investigate the likely effects of a politically conservative "Plan for Renewed National Purpose", by entering a simulation of its likely effects and reporting on what he sees. The player is then introduced into a series of artificial Rockvils, projected into the future at ten year intervals. Within the virtual Rockvil, PRISM takes on the life of his previous "human" identity, Perry Simm. Gameplay largely consists of roaming through the extensive environs of the town and experiencing or observing interesting events. These sequences can be quite disturbing. Notably, the effects on Perry Simm's family life of the simulated America's decline into totalitarian theocracy (after a brief initial revival) are genuinely moving. After several excursions into the projected future, it becomes apparent that the Plan will eventually result in a savage anarchy. At this point, the Plan's sponsor attempts to shut down PRISM in order to suppress the results of the experiment and players must act to defend themselves, using only the systems accessible to their computer selves. This sequence contains the only puzzles in the game.
Arguably, A Mind Forever Voyaging suffers from a lack of interesting gameplay when considered as a game and an absence of dramatic tension when regarded as a narrative. Nevertheless, it has moments of real power both as a work of American liberal evangelism and as a story of personal tragedy. Its greatest importance may be as a seminal text for the amateur creators of Interactive Fiction who appeared after the demise of the commercial text Adventure; its structure has been very influential on many of their works. [NT]
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