Our world is so much less magical than I wanted it to be. Like many teenage weirdos, I spent my adolescence grasping at the usual straws in hopes of uncovering one last portal to an adventurous, hidden, cooler world: tarot cards, auras, Wiccan girlfriends. All to no avail.
I want to tell you about a game called 3 in Three. It’s a puzzle game, not in the Free-To-Play, Bejewelled sense, or the Wander-And-Wonder, Myst sense, but the Mind-Wracking Eleventh Hour sense. That’s the book by Graeme Base, by the way, not the CD-ROM. 3 in Three was set in a world inside a computer, and follows the exploits of an adventurous digit, 3, and her efforts to explore and restore a virus-laden Macintosh.
Released in 1989, the development of 3 in Three would have been in parallel with the Cyberpunk movement in science fiction literature (Bruce Sterling’s influential short story collection, Mirrorshades, arrived in 1986, while Neal Stephenson’s novel Snow Crash debuted in 1992). Despite predating Cyberpunk’s transition to film, 3 in Three’s visuals were full of the black and neon, geometric landscapes that would form early “cyberspace.”
Cyberpunk provided my teenage self with one last vector for arcane mysticism: computers. Sexy boxes of daemons and light, operated by console cowboy-wizards, tools for both self-enlightenment and world domination.
Can there be a less Cyberpunk-toned game about the world inside a computer than 3 in Three? Our heroine, 3, is cast as the only sane woman in a world gone mad. In working to restore the system via a series of logic puzzles, hints are provided via running commentary from 3, who displays the put upon straight-man wit of Adam Scott’s character Ben Wyatt on Parks & Recreation. Gone are noir’s shadow, and the techno-shaman’s fetish.
3 in Three tames the wilds of cyberspace with the order of a spreadsheet. It reminds us that every sorcerous dragonslayer eventually winds up a practical magician, whether that means controlling the elements to avert village droughts, or exploiting fundamental physical forces in a controlled reaction to power a closet light bulb.
I eventually gave up my doomed rebellion against mundane reality. Perhaps I finally started to see that there were things about the world that dedicated weirdos could change without magic. Or I discovered that there was no Wiccan girlfriend who could transform my world better than I could transform myself?
3 in Three is free these days, but you’ll need either a working computer from the 90’s, or an emulator. The designer, Cliff Johnson, has instructions for getting it running on Mac and Windows.
I want to tell you about this game called Slave Of God. It’s by a guy named Stephen Lavelle who also made the puzzle game English Country Tune. He’s the kind of guy who will make a game and just call it whatever.
Slave Of God is the sort of game that makes some people ask “is that even a game?” which usually just means that it’s reminiscent of Myst, which was definitely a game, but was also incredibly commercially successful, and that sort of tacit popular approval gives you a lot of leeway.
When you finally leave school and head out into the world of adulthood, one of the difficult things you have to learn is how to make friends when there’s not a scheduling computer throwing you into a room of strangers with similar interests every few months. I left school and fell directly into the world of AAA console game development at Electronic Arts, which left me with no free time, just outside of San Francisco, where I knew no one, so it took me nearly a year to figure out that I needed to own my own social life. I had been getting more into hip-hop recently, so I decided to go clubbing.
Every weekend, I would take the N train all the way from the Outer Sunset where I lived to Milk, a small hip-hop club notable for being directly across the street from what had once been a bowling alley, but is now Amoeba Records, which if you’re unfamiliar, is one of the best record stores in the country. Once there, I would stand awkwardly in a room of strangers who all seemed to have come in groups (I always went alone, since I didn’t know anyone to bring with me). Saying nothing, I would wait until the music got too loud to talk to any of them, drink a vodka Red Bull, and dance by myself until close.
I did this every weekend for a year. The music was cool (Diplo and Prince Paul came through regularly, which was awesome), but I wasn’t solving my fundamental loneliness problem. Today I still have very mixed feelings about the whole thing. I legitimately enjoyed the dancing, but it was also an incredibly isolating experience to be around those other dancing people, but feeling like I couldn’t interact with any of them.
Slave of God is like that, but it’s free, which is a lot better than a $10 cover ($7 before 10pm).