A Mind Forever Voyaging by Steve Meretzky, played by Adam Cadre

Look at a record sales chart for the early 1980s and you'll find such acts as Michael Jackson, Culture Club, Duran Duran. The Melvins, Black Flag, Scratch Acid? Not so much. But it was these latter bands that inspired the musicians who went on to dominate the rock world in the early 1990s. Nor is this a unique phenomenon: obscure films inspire people who go on to direct smash hits; obscure philosophers get read by students who go on to lead nations. And, on a somewhat less grandiose level, perhaps the IF game most frequently cited as an inspiration by the current generation of interactive fiction authors was actually a relative flop, commercially speaking: Infocom's A Mind Forever Voyaging.

Unique among the Infocom catalog, A Mind Forever Voyaging is, for the bulk of its length, puzzleless. The player is plopped into a (simulated) city, with a checklist of things to see and do: visit a church, see a movie, that sort of thing. But there's no need to find a key that'll open the church door, no need to look under the mailbox to find the bracelet to sell at the pawshop to get the dollar to buy the doughnut to bribe the ticket-taker to see the film. You just walk into the church, walk into the cinema, and you're done. Your reward? A description of what you see. The pleasure of the text is not that which comes from solving a Rubik's Cube; it's that which comes from wandering around an unfamiliar city, with a discovery around each corner. And then returning to the city ten years later. And then again. The city of Rockvil would be a wonderful toy even without the story surrounding it.

As for the story — well, had it been straight fiction, A Mind Forever Voyaging would count as about a fourth-rate dystopia: it's no 1984, no The Man in the High Castle, not even a Brave New World. Had the author, Steve Meretzky, led me by the hand through the world he'd created — "Perry nervously walked through the zoo. He passed a sign that read MONKEY TORTURING: 2 PM IN THE PRIMATE CAGE." — I probably would've groaned and felt as though I were being lectured at. But this is IF. I chose to walk through the zoo; I chose to look at the sign. What could have been ham-handed magically becomes a chilling detail, delivered with a light touch. The story might not be quite so inventive or rich as that in, say, Trinity, but then, Trinity blunts the potential impact of its story by forcing us to futz about with icicles and soccer balls. A Mind Forever Voyaging grants us the liberty to explore freely, to happen across some details and miss others according to our inclinations. Exploration as a goal in and of itself in IF might well have developed without A Mind Forever Voyaging, but AMFV certainly provided a huge landmark along the way.

Adam Cadre, June 2001