The computer game Moria is a beautiful thing. It can be played on almost any hardware, even without a graphical display. You generate a character (literally an "@" symbol) and press various keys to move it on the monitor. You encounter monsters, and if you survive your fights with them you get better --- smarter, faster, stronger, and (maybe) wiser. You find loot: gold, weapons, magical artifacts. You descend deeper and deeper into a dungeon, and eventually you meet the Balrog, the biggest Bad Dude of them all. Beat the Balrog and you win the game, retire, and live out your life in peace.
What's most amazing about Moria (to a non-player) is its engaging nature. All of the action comes via arbitrary symbols on the monitor: "a" = ant, "c" = centipede, "k" = kobold, "r" = reptile (e.g., snake), etc. No pictures, no sound, no vibrating joysticks --- just a few letters. Yet somehow, after a short time the sight of a "D" (= Ancient Dragon) (or, as Moria says, "Ancient Dragon (Beware!)") makes the pulse pound, the palms sweat, the knees knock. I've been killed (or rather, my characters have) by too many dragon attacks to take that letter "D" lightly! (Even more fun is when you're playing with that Wand of Wonder, and it polymorphs some "c"entipede into a "d"ragon ("d" is Young or Mature dragons) - RadRob)
But come to think of it, maybe what's really amazing is not Moria but the deep human ability to become engaged ... to imagine that a little blob on the screen is a person ... to develop an emotional attachment to an artificial "character", such that when it gets killed, we feel a genuine sense of loss. It's the same human talent that makes all storytelling work --- that lets a novelist build strings of sound-symbols, mere ink-marks on paper, and turn them into people in our minds: people whom we really care about, whose problems worry us, and whose successes against overwhelming odds give us hope that we too may win through our struggles. Moria is just another medium for that magic to work its wonders. We don't need 3-D graphic coprocessors to render millions of polygons per second. We're dreamers.
Friday, September 22, 2000 at 20:12:51 (EDT) = Datetag20000922