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Video Games That Embrace Irony and Death

New Yorker: In 1980, a group of computer-science students at the University of California started working together on a game called Rogue. Before Rogue, computer games were text-based; Rogue was one of the first to feature graphics, which it drew using artfully arranged letters, numbers, and punctuation. In Rogue, your job was to explore a vast dungeon, find a MacGuffin called the Amulet of Yendor—“Yendor” was the name of the game’s protagonist, Rodney, spelled backwards—and then make your way back to the surface, all while moving, one step at a time, as in a board game. Besides the graphics, two things distinguished Rogue and insured its immortality. The first was that its dungeons were generated on the fly, by the computer: each time you played, they were different. The second was that you had only one life: if you died, you had to start over. That uncompromising setup leant the game a tragic air. In general, video games are about defying the rules of everyday life. Rogue, despite its fantastical premise, seemed to reify them. No matter how much you explored, every game ended the same way.

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