Warning: this headline is possibly a slight exaggeration. But adventure games certainly saved my afternoon, and some enormous embarrassment. Because earlier this week, I found myself locked in my bathroom, with no sensible means of rescue. Then immediately fell back on 40 years of adventure gaming, to make good my heroic escape.
I have loved adventure games since I could read. In fact, they in part taught me to read. The first computer games I played (after, admittedly, Pong) were text adventures on my dad’s Spectrum 48K. To this day, I still read the word “exam” to mean to “look at.” Solving problems based on the batshit logic of the genre has been programmed into me for the last four decades. But it wasn’t until this week when all this training proved so vital.
My wife, saintly though she is, broke our bathroom door handle. Like, clean off. On the outside of the door is just a hole where a handle should be. However, on the inside the other half of the mechanism remains, and it was this that lulled me into my foolishly closing the door so I could... have a quiet sit down.
This mid-morning constitutional completed, with a new-found spring in my step, I was ready to take on the world. But discovered my available world had suddenly become very limited. I was trapped, the door handle useless, the door very adamantly closed. Which was awkward.
More significantly, I hadn’t brought my phone. Yes, I know. What kind of clot goes for a poo without a phone to read? This kind. My wife was out, I was in the third-floor bathroom in our loft conversion, and the drop from the window entirely deadly. Surely I would die? Or worse, miss my Kotaku shift.
But did I scream out of the window like a hapless victim of Rampage? No, I did not. Instead, I looked around for inventory items.
I would like it to be known this is not the first time I’ve applied my long-earned point-and-click skills in real life. I remember the time as a student when I replaced the backdoor deadlock of our revolting little rented hovel, with nothing but a bread knife and a pair of scissors. (We had discovered our abysmal landlord had glued on the previous one. And yes, we did change the locks of a rented accomodation. Ha.)
I’m genuinely proud of the calm I felt on experiencing my recent predicament. With a coolness that belies my usually frantic and panicky mind, I just scanned the room for useful items. The first two things I saw were a hair clip, and—once again after all these years—a pair of scissors. Not the same ones. If only. But with these in my inventory (hands), I set to work.
I figured the best course of action was just to remove the door handle. I’d obviously tried just forcing the door open, but on hearing a wooden cracking sound, I realized I was just going to bust through the door frame, and that would be a whole other thing. I popped the idea in my back pocket, conscious if need be I could just Hulk my way out, but with a lot more explaining to do. Instead, I USED [scissors] ON [screw].
It’s funny how this action now reminds me far more of mobile room escape puzzles, than it does the traditional graphical point-and-clicks that have punctuated my entire life. From Sierra’s earliest parser interface, through to the dying embers of LucasArts’ glorious 2D cursor-based escapades, these were the highlights of my gaming childhood. I’ve persisted with the genre through good times and bad, but at the same time noticed another phenomenon: All new genres are destined to become adventure games.
Take the hidden object game. Remember that craze? Well go play any modern example and you’ll be surprised how they’ve evolved (if you ignore the cladogenesis that gave us all that followed Hidden Folks). Over the years they began to add more narrative, more moments between the screen-hunts, then puzzles, inventories, dialogue...
The same is already happening with room escape games. Where they began with Flash-based static screens, asking you to find hidden codes and solve convoluted chains of puzzles to discover keys, more recently more are adding a narrative purpose, characters, more overt inventories with persistent items.
Which is to say, it’s only a matter of time before battle royales start offering dialogue choices, or demand you poke a key out of the other side of a door with a pencil, catching it on a sheet of newspaper slid through the oddly ample space beneath.
As I was saying before you distracted me, the action of removing a screw with something other than a screwdriver now much more immediately brought to mind any number of room escapes I’ve played. Which was appropriate, given the circumstances. Frankly, at this point, anyone who still uses a screwdriver for a screw is being gauche.
The problem with pointy scissors to remove a screw is they don’t have the light touch of a screwdriver, and as such are much more prone to pushing them deep into the hole. This is where the hair clip stepped in, which I’d opened out, to use the flat metal end to keep the screws prised forward.
Here’s the next moment that felt so adventure gamey. I didn’t remove all four. You never need to remove all four, whether it’s a painting or a air conditioning tunnel cover. Take out three, then let it rotate and dangle by the fourth. This done, the cylindrical hole in the door was revealed.
I’ll admit, I’m not the handiest of Andys. I rarely put the Y in DIY. Fortunately, my wife is a far more competent human than I, and she takes care of this aspect of being a grown up. So I did not, I’m ashamed to say, know exactly how a door handle works. They just do, right? Like microwaves and daytime soap operas, they are not ours to reason. But after poking my fingers in the hole, I realized this was a whole new puzzle.
I won’t drag it out any further. I closed the scissors, stuck them in the square hole in the mechanism still trapped inside the door frame, and rotated them to pull in the latch. AND I WAS FREE.
I was a GODDAMN HERO.
OK, so also I was an idiot who closed himself into a bathroom with a broken door. I knew it was broken, but forgot in the moment. But I undeniably found myself calmly falling back on video game instincts in that moment. It wasn’t so much that the situation or the choices were that interesting or unique, but rather that I just assumed it would work, because, you know, it always does in adventure games.
I’m pretty much ready for anything now. You need a tiny sweater 200 years in the future? I’ve got you. Want me to pass myself off as a man with a moustache, without growing a moustache? Easy peasy. Just don’t ask me to sneak past an unpleasant goat.