Oh My God, the Browser MS-DOS Games. My Own List.

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Last week, the Internet Archive put up over 2,000 MS-DOS games you can play in your browser. It feels like I’ve found the thing that’s been missing in my life. I’ve found some significant, formative piece of myself that I almost forget existed.

By thirty-four years-old, I’ve re-visited and re-claimed most of my childhood nostalgia; I’ve collected back my Ninja Turtles figures and fired up the old Nintendo more than once. And yet a huge chunk my childhood went completely obsolete and unreachable. Because unlike albums that were issued to CD or VHS tapes that later came out on DVD, those old computer games didn’t make the leap to newer formats. They just stayed there forever on those floppy disks.

There’s no way to definitively list the must-play games available on the archive. I’d argue there is no such thing. So many of these games act as demonstrations for what computers can do — or would go on to do. As games, most of them are dull, yet as historical artifacts, they’re marvels.

There’s also just something unique about the way we interact with computers. Just as our browser history would reflect some primal element about ourselves, the games we once interacted with on the computers reveal an interesting imprint. Therefore, there is no single list of games you must play — there is only our nostalgia, oursevles, and maybe our parents’ seedy connections to pirated floppy disks. (Hi Dad.)

Here is my list:

1. Oregon Trail

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Everyone has this at the top of their list. At first I thought our collective nostalgia for this was boring and predictable, but then I played it the other night with the wife. Holy shit. It’s still so so good. It teaches you about geography, history, budgeting, planning ahead, and most importantly, dysentery.

I was way too cocksure when we came to the first river in the game. Confidently, I exclaimed, “always ford it,” and pressed with A to ford it without any hesitation. I lost all our sets of clothes, an ox, AND drowned the wife. Well, crap.

Bottom line: This game still rules, listen to your wife and take the ferry, and some day I’ll have to brag to you of my God-like hunting skillz.

2. Leisure Suit Larry

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I didn’t know this until just now, but apparently Leisure Suit Larry still exists. It’s an active series with new games that still come out. It’s an adult-themed game, where you can do stuff like have sex with a prostitute, contract a sexually-transmitted disease and die shortly thereafter. This fate may be avoided by buying a condom at the convenience store. This is all, of course, in barely-above Atari-grade graphics, which would have been on a neon green monochrome monitor.

I shouldn’t have been playing this game in 1988 when I was eight years old. I wasn’t allowed to play it. The game even had a rudimentary “parental control” on it that made you answer five general knowledge questions that kids wouldn’t know the answer to, before letting you into the game. It’s true that I spent more time playing that trivia game trying to get into the game as a child than I did actually playing the game. Most of my nostalgia, sadly or fortunately, is for that.

3. Life and Death

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Before the Internet made us all experts at diagnosing our illnesses, there was this game. It was a hospital game where you evaluate, diagnose, and operate on patients. And in this game, everything always led to abdominal surgery. Having flu-like symptoms? Abdominal surgery. Having stomach pains? Abdominal surgery. No one got out of that hospital without abdominal surgery.

And really, no one got out of that hospital. I killed every last patient. That was the fun part. I’m not even sure there was any other goal to this game.

4. Avon

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This is a text-based game. I’m not even sure if it was THE text-based game I played, but I can’t remember anything about it, and for some reason, the word Avon sticks out. But yeah, text games evoke a certain kind of nostalgia for me — even if that nostalgia is actually a grim reminder that I wasted away HOURS of my precious, dwindling childhood playing this shit.

5. Trolls

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Likewise, I’m including Trolls in the hate-nostalgia category. The acid-neon graphics could make your eyes bleed eternally in a Lisa Frank afterworld. My dad had snagged this game from his seedy underworld of pirate computer gaming (it looked like Shredder’s lair in the Ninja Turtles movie, I liked to imagine.) He got it for my sister, who was a Class-A Troll Fanatic (I’m certain that’s a real categorization.) Anyway, I hated trolls and STILL played the hell out of this game, which in turn, made me hate trolls even more.

6. Avoid the Noid

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I’m pretty sure I never got past the first level of this game. I’m pretty sure I never got past the second floor on the screen there. That was probably the biggest thing about these games — most were unplayable for a myriad of reasons. Gaming was like the Wild West with no quality control and no instruction manuals.

7. Girlfriend Construction Set

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Another text-based game, another game I probably shouldn’t have been allowed to play. As one reviewer put it best, “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll lose at Strip Monopoly, you’ll put up with this jealous bitch and her dumb friends, you’ll remember the adventure forever.”

In fact, that review sums up every last MS-DOS game, ever. You’ll remember the adventure forever.

Christmas Guest

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I’ve learned this. Grief is a guest. It’s easy to treat it as an unwanted guest — to leave it unattended in the other room, to not even ask if it wants a soda or anything. Don’t be a jerk to grief. Go in there, sit down with it, get it a damn soda. Be an adult — offer it that soda in a glass with ice. Acknowledge it.

Last Christmas, the first without my mom, we did my family’s Christmas exactly as if my mom was there. We went over to my parents’ house at the same time as always, my dad wrapped all the gifts she had bought us before she died, even his own, signed them from her, made her signature dishes, decorated the tree as she had, etc, etc. And we sat there, around her tree, opening her gifts, listening to the Christmas station she always played, etc, etc.

It was grueling. It was painful. It was like we were putting on a play and acting as ourselves. And the actor playing the role of my mother was Grief. It sat in with us, taking her place.

Not one second after we left, I got in the car with my wife, and I announced, “we are never, ever doing THAT again,” as I ripped the knife out of my gut.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why we did that — why we re-created a Christmas with mom without mom. None of us decided to do it consciously. It just happened. The obvious answer is we knew no other way. It was only a month after she died. What else were we supposed to do? Just magically forge a new tradition right then and there?

I wish. I wish things could magically create themselves. Life would be easier that way, if we didn’t have to trudge through the hard stuff first.

That’s all it was — the re-creation, the theatrical play. Just a trudge. Nothing more, nothing less. I shouldn’t be so hard on myself about it.

My dad and sister had also bought tiny gifts acknowledging the baby last year. Who was, at that point, something between a clump of DNA and a tadpole. I felt deeply uncomfortable opening those gifts — just a baby hat and a Ravens “future linebacker” tree ornament. At one month pregnant, anything could have happened at that point. Those were terrifying gifts on multiple levels.

And yet those tiny gifts were like seeds that have sprouted fully into wrapped, shiny, big boxes this year. Now we have a six-month-old, and he has tons of presents. Not that he cares, although I like to think babies show their appreciation by how desperately they try to cram the wad of wrapping paper down their throat. And by that measure, my kid is obviously thrilled.

We’re hosting Christmas at our house for the first time. Of course, Grief will also be a guest this year, although it won’t be playing a starring role, and it’ll be just stopping by to say hello. I’ll welcome it to stay as long as it likes, but it keeps having to run. It stopped by last night, but only for a few minutes. If it shows up today, that’s cool, whatever. I bought it a special soda — the Cranberry Splash kind. If it shows up tomorrow, I’m armed with glasses full of ice.

I’m armed with plates full of wasabi deviled eggs, cornflake casserole, baked brie, spanakopita, mini crabcakes, brownie brittle, popcorn, fudge, cookies, egg nog, and cider. That’s a good spread, eh? I’m not just all Pop Tarts and dollar store candy, folks.

Merry Christmas out there. Forge on, trudge on, surf on.

Fear and Loathing in Breakfast Choices

This December, I have sort of gone on a Hunter-S-Thompson-esque bender in breakfast choices. I’ve gone deep into the rabbit hole of things that should never ever ever be consumed for breakfast.

1. Pop Tarts. This is food. Look at this. THIS IS FOOD.

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I ate an entire box of Pop Tarts by myself. Which, you’re thinking, is no big deal. No — it is. I ate the Value Pack. The big box. And I don’t think my wife ate a damn single one. Let’s just hope that science comes up with a cure for whatever eating sixteen Sugar Cookie-flavored Pop Tarts with little cartoon beavers printed on the shellac frosting gives me. Let’s just hope.

How are Pop Tarts even a socially-acceptable breakfast food? Have you ever asked yourself this? Does it even say “breakfast” anywhere on the box?

Have you ever noticed how agonizing the wait is to toast a Pop Tart? Like, it’s not even that good to begin with. It’s just a dry, cardboard-like cookie. And yet I cannot WAIT to eat it when I take it out of the package. I cannot wait that additional minute-and-a-half to toast it. So I rarely ever toast my Pop Tarts.

The Sugar Cookie flavor is great. It’s basically vanilla on vanilla on vanilla. An entire box. A value pack.

2. And when I wasn’t eating Sugar Cookie Pop Tarts, I was eating Sugar Cookie Crunch.

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Certainly, this is a more socially-acceptable breakfast. Sure, it’s just a re-hash of Frosted Toast Crunch, but you can’t deny the warm fuzzies you get from looking at this box artwork. And while I don’t remember anything remarkable about Frosted Toast Crunch, I loved and devoured through this box of Sugar Cookie Crunch.

3. The same can be said for Holiday Sprinkles Cookie Crunch.

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This is just Sprinkles Cookie Crunch part-deux, a cereal that already came out a few years ago. But re-dress it in Christmas colors, and I can’t resist it. And again, even though I don’t remember anything remarkable about the regular old Sprinkles Cookie Crunch, I actually wake up in the morning craving and salivating for this Christmas version.

Or maybe I’ve just eaten too much sugar for breakfast this season, and now my body is just addicted and expecting it.

4. Then there’s this. Whatever this is. It’s — it’s — CHRISTMAS LOG.

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WHAT IS CHRISTMAS LOG?

I ATE IT AND I STILL DON’T KNOW.

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NO SERIOUSLY, I DON’T KNOW.

I ate it for breakfast though. Not the whole thing, but like, a solid portion of it. There’s only been 23 days in December so far, and I’ve managed to eat sixteen Pop Tarts, two boxes of cereal, and a “solid portion” of Christmas log. I don’t even know how this is statistically possible.

Don’t worry guys. I take a multi-vitamin everyday. It magically undoes everything bad you eat and makes you healthy.

I Met Santa

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Guys, I met Santa.

Of course I’ve met him many times in my life between the ages of two and ten, at malls, on firetrucks, and maybe during a random appearance at a bank. And then I stopped meeting Santa. And I stopped trick-or-treating. And I stopped hearing the voices that all my action figures and stuffed animals once had. That is to say, I grew up.

For the past four years that we’ve lived in our house, the local fire department has gone around the neighborhood with Santa riding the firetruck. And for the past four years, I’ve experienced a longing — a psychic pain during that hour when I’ve heard those sirens echoing down to the bottom of the cul-de-sac. Of course part of me still wanted to run up to the top of the street with a half-crazed look in my eyes, gawk at the big shiny firetruck, and meet Santa.

But I didn’t. Because I didn’t want to be a weirdo.

This year, I had the kid. He was my socially-acceptable ticket to the top of the street. (He was also my socially-acceptable ticket to trick-or-treat this year, and it was awesome.)

He’s five months old now. He’s super cool. Look at him:

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I began hearing the sirens on Saturday night. Immediately I dropped everything I was doing and announced to the wife that IT WAS HAPPENING. We ran around the house Home-Alone-style, looking for our shoes and hoodies, and bundled up the kid Christmas-Story-Style. As a last minute thought, I also harnessed up the dog. THE WHOLE FAMILY WAS GOING.

We power-walked to the top of the street, while also trying to look like we were just calmly, casually taking a family walk. Well, that’s what the wife was doing anyway, with the baby. By then, I had worked up to a full-on jog with the dog, leaving those two in the dust. I didn’t want to miss anything.

I got up there just in time to see the firetruck drive by without turning down our street. I stood there dejectedly and awkwardly, along with a few other kids. We stood there completely lost. There was another parent — a dad who also looked gutted. He stammered “oh, I’m sure they’re going to loop back around once they go up Mayfield.” The kids clung to that explanation, and so did I.

We all waited for a bit, but I realized the baby couldn’t just hang out in near-freezing temperatures for long. Rather than go home, I went to get the car. I parked at the top of the street with the heat on, and the four of us — me, the wife, the baby, and the dog, sat there in the car for thirty minutes, waiting for Santa.

I felt like we were camping out for rock show tickets or something. Actually, I began to feel a little deranged. Then again, it was for my son. It was so my son could meet Santa. Which my son would only care about if he could put this Santa thing in his mouth.

Well, at least there was the dog. She seemed game. Then again she also probably just hoped it ended with something she could put in her mouth.

Then the wife said, “you know, we’re finally getting to do one of those things we always said we were going to do once we had the kid.”

I presume she didn’t mean “obsessively stake him out as a family.” We never talked about doing that.

But yeah, we were doing it. And it was super great.

And fortunately, that dad was right — Santa did loop back around and come down our street. And I met him! And so did my son! And the wife! And the dog!

And I can’t wait to do it again next year.

Dollar Store Christmas!

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Hot tip ya’ll: Dollar Tree brought its A-Game this year. I stopped in with no expectations and left having spent the greatest four dollars of my life.

Choice Item Number ONE: Nativity Magnet Set!

Wife’s Reaction: Absolutely none, whatsoever. Continued tending to baby blankly.

Why I Had to Have It: I love Nativity scenes. I know I’ve told this story on the blog before, but it’s one of my favorites. Growing up, we had a porcelain Nativity scene. The Joseph figure had long ago taken a spill, and was beheaded. Each year, my mother went to great lengths to re-attach his head. Some years it was krazy glue; some years it was the hyrbid glue/tape method. One year she went all in and rigged something up with a rubber band. She called it The Christmas Miracle every year that his head stayed attached throughout the season. I never went to church a day in my life in childhood, yet my mother’s annual respect and dedication to re-attaching that head taught me everything I needed to know.

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Which, speaking of respect, doesn’t really explain why I had to have a Nativity scene in magnet form. I don’t have any good reasons. It’s perversely tacky and I love it.

Choice Item Number TWO: Wind-Up Train!

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Wife’s Reaction:: Yeah right. That’s not ever going to work.

Why I Had to Have It: Well, duh. I HAD TO see if it would work.

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The results: IT ACTUALLY WORKS. I wound the train up, sat it on the track, and it heartily chugged around the track full circle. This is worth a million dollars.

Choice Item Number THREE: This Mini-Gingerbread House COOKIE

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Wife’s Reaction: Are you actually going to eat that? It probably has lead in it.

Why I Had to Have It: A non-descript, no-brand name, random sketchy cookie in the shape of a house? Ummm, yes please.

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I didn’t know quite where to start, so I just awkwardly bit off the roof. This in itself was deeply satisfying and worth the dollar. Taste-wise, it’s dry, stiff, and floral-tasting. It’s really, really terrible. Someone asked me in the comments on my Sad Christmas Candy post what I do after I taste these things. Do I just throw them out or do I actually continue eating them just because? The answer varies, but I can tell you this “cookie” is going directly in the trash.

Choice Item Number FOUR: This Amazingly Crappy Nativity Scene

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Wife’s Reaction: That looks like something somebody pooped out.

Why I Had To Have it: Because this belongs in a museum. But not because it’s a work of art. More because it’s a curious artifact. Dwindling materials and fuel from our precious, dying planet were to used to create this.

THIS

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It looks like a random glob of amorphous clay that only accidentally resembles the nativity. Which come to think of it, I will proclaim as this year’s Christmas Miracle.