25 Years Later, Why Adventure Games Suck

A quarter of a century has come and gone since Ron Gilbert first wrote the article “Why Adventure Games Suck” in 1989.

I discovered this while flipping through some old posts on my blog, and I found one from six years ago that discussed this very article. Since my memory, generally speaking, sucks, I had to go back and read Ron’s article again, not to mention my own, as I could barely recall either. Note: I am not proud of this fact.

It was then that I realized that it’s the 25-year anniversary of that article. 25 years. That’s insane.

Ron reprinted it back in 2004, when a mere 15 years had passed, and at that time he declared that “adventure games are officially dead,” which is interesting considering he proceeded to collaborate over the next decade on several adventure-style games: Penny Arcade Adventures (“On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness”), Deathspank, Tales of Monkey Island, and The Cave. So it would seem that adventure games are not dead, not yet at least. I think some would argue that the genre is a bit more difficult to define than before. It seems that adventure has become more of a game design element rather than a genre per se, such that games these days (a parallel to “kids these days” for us old people) include “adventure” as a descriptor if the game includes elements of exploration and/or storytelling, even if it’s a match-3 game.

Things were a bit different back in 1989, of course. At the time, pure text adventures were still selling (although Infocom still existed, the sun was certainly setting by then on that business model), and graphical adventures were young, some still including text parsers to go with the graphics. Interplay’s Neuromancer was Computer Gaming World’s 1989 Adventure Game of the Year. We had yet to see some adventure game classics, like LucasArts’ Monkey Island and Indiana Jones franchises, Full Throttle, and, of course, Grim Fandango. Perhaps it was because of lessons learned, like those outlined in Ron’s article, that the 1990’s were such a good period for graphical adventure games.

I thought about going through some of the important passages from his article and discussing how they are still relevant or not in today’s world, but apparently I did that six years ago, too. (Apparently, I’d live most of my life over and over again if it wasn’t documented somewhere.)

Suffice it to say that it was a good read back then, and it’s still a good read today, well worth the time for another look. The video games industry, indie and AAA, have come a long way over the years, particularly adventure games. So too has interactive fiction, particularly with respect to new advancements in text parsing, character interaction, and storytelling. Although we often think of adventure games nostalgically, people still make them and players still really enjoy them, and I have to think that some of the really interesting, entertaining, and creative titles are still to come.


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