Crispy Gamer

Play Well With Others?

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Here's one. Take old Sierra adventure games -- the first Space Quest, Police Quest, and Leisure Suit Larry games -- and make them playable on the Web. Then allow you to see everyone else who's playing the game along with you, and to overhear what they are saying to the game.

"Look body," one player says. "Take rose," says another.

"Use retrieval device," I say. "Use retrieval device," echoes someone in the room who thinks I have the right idea.

"LOL HOW DID U GET THE GIRL SKIN," asks one player to another who has changed avatars.

"Suicide," says a depressed soul at Lefty's Bar in Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards.

These old point-and-click adventure games were rich environments built to be explored. You always used to explore them alone. In each scene and situation, you intervened in the world and brought about a cascade of events (for example, by finding a piece of gum and giving it to a handyman, who gives you a screwdriver, which you can use to mess with a control panel, which allows you to create a distraction that draws a guard away from a cell ... and so on) -- thus creating your story. But there was also your larger story about uncovering the world's secrets and unraveling its order. It was a slow and intimate process of discovery between you and the game.

Not that anyone asked for it, but Sarien.net has created the point-and-click multiplayer adventure -- opening the doors to these craggly old maps like floodgates and letting us all in at once. At best, this lets us play the games cooperatively, running ideas by each other until we hit upon the one that works. This is a hell of a lot more fun than looking up the solution in a FAQ. But at times, it's like those pristine streets and chambers that were meant for just one pair of eyes have become Second Life-like lounges wearing old makeup. There's a fitting new subtext to the sight of eight Larry Laffers all crowding around one girl at a bar. (Or a dozen of them packed into a very small bathroom. Some with pants down.)

But the game isn't as docile as you might think. Wandering around the halls of Space Quest I's beleaguered spaceship, I spied the occasional body. These were props -- wall dressing for the story of your escape as the only survivor from the ship, I thought. Then a roving alien suddenly shot me in the chest, and I fell alongside them. They were real bodies, belonging to players that didn't last very long. The game's rejected visitors were accumulating all around me. You can still live or die in this world, and nobody here can save you from dying. These games weren't designed for that.

Linger on the street outside Lefty's Bar, and you'll get plastered by a passing car. Thinking that I was safe in a crowd, I joined three other flattened Larry Laffers as roadkill. When I restarted the game, I stepped quickly past the rabble into the safety of the bar, afraid that the others might drag me down.