In the first grade, I set out with the ambitious goal to write my first novel. My mother would pick me up from school and take me back to work with her at the family business where I would make my way to the office, sit down at the desk, and start up the computer:
This was the early 90s, and MS-DOS was the reigning operating system for Microsoft PCs. The graphical user interface (GUI) of the Windows operating systems we know now would not come into more common use until the mid 90s.
I never thought I would be typing in command prompts (that’s how you navigated the drives and opened programs) post-2013; that is until I went on a quest to find The Treehouse for our My First Game series.
Originally released in 1991 by Broderbund Software for MS-DOS, The Treehouse is an educational point and click game for kids. When it came out, the June issue of Computer Gaming World gave it five stars. I still remember the catchy little, synth-based diddy of the opening title. During my research, I discovered that you can still download the game. Clearly, I had to download the game in order to simulate my early 90s gaming experience, all in the name of objective geek journalism.
Since, I made the switch to Apple a few years ago, I had to download a Mac-compatible version of DSBox, and then download the game. Apparently, learning MS-DOS is not like learning to ride a bicycle because it took me about an hour and a half to figure out how to navigate MS-DOS again. (But then it took me a long time to learn how to ride a bicycle. *shrug*) After learning what the hell a MOUNT is and some minor cursing, I was up and running!
Here we are, once again, in the land of jerky movement and pixelated images! See those two little possums? You select one and then they climb up into the treehouse. (I believe the possums are supposed to correspond to gender, but there aren’t really gender-based signifiers as to which one is male or female. I usually went with the blue-shirted possum because I prefered blue to orange.)
You had two basic options: to play mini-games or click on random things that would cause something to happen in the treehouse. If you click on the clouds, you can change the the shapes; if you click on the fruit and hand it to the possum, they will eat it, and so on. But let’s talk about the mini-games.
The Treehouse has four different games that you can play: a music game, a vocabulary and syntax game, a math game, and a biology game. Being an animal lover, my favorite game was the biology game that occurred in the yard of the treehouse.
In this mini-game, you could click on various animals which were categorized according to their physical characters such as vertebra vs. non-vertebra, warm blooded vs. cold blooded, etc. Along the way, you learned interesting tidbits like: “If you put 40 fireflies in a jar in a dark room, you would have enough light to read a book.” This probably involved a geek kid like me frequently reciting my knowledge of animal characteristics to the various adults in my life. I am sure it was charming.
The other option was to play a two-person game (you vs. a partner or you vs. the computer) where you used deductive reasoning to determine the animal based on a series of clues about the animal’s physical characteristics before your opponent. If you won the game, you got to pick a prize to take back to the treehouse. Note: playing this as an adult I figured out the cheat for ALWAYS winning. Turns out I am still not above cheating a computer game, which I sure as hell wasn’t as a kid.
The other games are less interesting:
But as the spare room in our house was solely devoted to the loads of computer parts my father, a dabbling computer programmer, accumulated, computer games were an early part of my geeky formation. Thus, I couldn’t write this article without mentioning:
Chip’s Challenge was a puzzle game originally released in 1989. I mainly recall playing the 1991 version. At my aunt’s house, we, the kids, would take turns trying to complete the various levels. I found an online version here, and you can still download the 1989 version to play on DOSBox. My newest goal in life is to win every level. I was born ambitious, what can I say?
Life & Death
Life & Death, released in 1988 by The Software Toolworks, was another game I played on MS-DOS. The game simulated performing surgery. It was too advanced for me at the time, but I took a lot of glee in murdering my patients.
Oh, Myst. Originally released in 1993 by Broderbund, Myst still evokes a geeky nostalgia for me. Immersive with an intriguing narrative and setting which was accompanied by atmospheric sound and graphics, Myst was an adventure puzzle game and best-seller until Sims took over that spot in 2002. Myst was advanced for me, but I loved the atmosphere so much that I spent most of my time exploring the setting and immersing myself in the narrative with little intention towards solving it. It was followed by a sequel Riven in 1997.
The funny thing – my mom wouldn’t let me play video games because she was convinced they would rot my brain, but hours plopped in front of the computer playing computer games was allowed. As a teenager, I moved on to figuring out learning the hacks for building elaborate houses in Sims and getting my Sims to have sex all while I chatted away with total strangers on AOL Messenger. I wonder what my mom would say to that? Hi, Mom!