A Mind Forever Voyaging, Part 2: Don’t Go Back to Rockvil

29 Apr

A Mind Forever Voyaging

Our theme song for today is the inevitable.

During the mid-1980s American liberalism was arguably at its lowest ebb of the century. This was the era of Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America,” when liberalism was viewed as the cause of the economic doldrums of the previous decade and the social unrest of the decade before that, when the de facto voice of the Democratic party for many people was still Jimmy Carter’s handwringing “malaise” speech. While Carter told the people that they needed to fundamentally change their ways of life, to carpool and conserve energy, Ronald Reagan told them the country’s only problem was that they weren’t being American enough. After a somewhat rocky first few years in office, by 1984 the economy was booming as it hadn’t in almost two decades, and Reagan soared to reelection that year. Oddly for an ideology so rooted in tradition and fixated on a mythical America of the past, conservatism felt fresh and vigorous and new, like the future, as the “Greed is Good!” 1980s got rolling at last in earnest. To stand in opposition to Reaganomics was to blow into the face of a hurricane; even counterculture icons like Neil Young were making noises about supporting Reagan. Yet it was at this moment, before the Iran-Contra scandal began to at least reopen a window for debate in the American body politic, that Steve Meretzky penned A Mind Forever Voyaging. Whatever else you can say about it, it was one hell of a brave piece of work.

Meretzky’s stand-in for Reagan — with a bit of Joseph McCarthy thrown in for good measure — is a charismatic senator named Richard Ryder (subtle Meretzky ain’t). It’s 2031, and the United States of North America is once again gripped by economic malaise. Ryder is promoting something called The Plan for Renewed National Purpose to fix all that. I might complain that the name is rather too fascistic-sounding, except that I’m not really sure it sounds any more ominous than The Patriot Act. I might complain that the specifics of the Plan hew a bit too closely to the Republican agenda of 1985, except that the Republican agenda of 1985 is largely still the Republican agenda of today. So why not 2031 as well?

* cut tax rates by fifty percent
* vigorous prosecution of tax evasion
* decentralization of federal responsibilities
* deregulation of all major industries
* reinstatement of the military draft
* emphasis on fundamentals and traditional values in education
* mandatory conscription for troublemakers and criminals
* a strict "USNA First" trade policy
* termination of aid to nations not pro-USNA
* cutbacks on all types of bureaucracy, e.g. registering cars, guns
* termination of government subsidies to outmoded industries

A Mind Forever Voyaging‘s criticism of these policies and the mindset that spawned them will grow increasingly strident, as befits a muckraking work meant to shake the people and get them to wake up! But the criticism builds slowly. When we first enter the future Rockvil, in 2041, it seems a pretty nice place.

As Jason Scott noted in his comment to my previous article, Rockvil itself is a major achievement not just for its sheer size but also, more so, for what a believable place it is. Rockvil is a prosperous mid-sized town perhaps about the size and character of a real-world place I once lived, Olympia, Washington. It’s laid out in a way that just feels intuitively right. There’s a tourist district in the north with a zoo, a sports stadium, parkland, concert halls and theaters; a bustling downtown at the city’s center, with residences for city-dwelling hipsters (Perry Simm among them) along its edges; a university in the west surrounded by the expected student hangouts like a bar and a cheap Chinese joint; the obligatory shopping mall and cineplex to the east. Traveling south takes one across “the proverbial railroad tracks” — every city has them — to the less photogenic parts of town: the power station, the skycar factory (“the last surviving smokestack industry in the area”), the city dump, liquor stores and laundromats and gun shops and tenements and reminders of a more industrial past in the form of shuttered factories and warehouses. Surrounding the whole, but beyond “the boundary of this simulation,” are the suburbs.

We spend the majority of the game wandering about Rockvil, and we come to care for the place almost as if we really had grown up there. In 2041 it’s largely a happy, welcoming place for a (presumably) successful young writer like Perry, with just a few ominous signs, if you’re inclined to view them as such, like the growing underclass on the other side of the tracks and the population of Rockvil Reformatory: “From what you’ve heard, the prison is overcrowded, because today’s stricter law enforcement and mandatory sentencing regulations are putting people into the penal system even faster than the military draft can remove them.” The city’s slow decline is horrifying, as the place becomes a nightmare version of itself like Festeron in Wishbringer but without a trace of that game’s whimsy. (It’s funny to think that Infocom released two games back to back that relied on such a similar mechanic, another of a number of odd confluences in their history.) A weird cult-like religion rises and finally takes over the government; infrastructure crumbles and publicly-funded museums close or fall into horrid neglect; the criminals and police both get ever more brutal; the films showing at the local cineplex get baser and uglier, as does the graffiti on the streets; racism becomes institutionalized and celebrated; the credit card in your wallet is replaced with a ration card. There’s much here that’s disturbing and/or heartrending, like the “monkey torturing” that becomes the zoo’s main draw or the eventual use to which the stadium is put: “Execution Matches.” The last version of Rockvil, from 2081, is an apparent post-nuclear wasteland inhabited by roving bands of possibly mutated, certainly cannibalistic savages. We don’t last long there.

There’s a message to this progression that’s as relevant now as it was in 1985: what seems expedient in the short term can be profoundly destructive in the long term. And, without putting too fine a point on it, I can’t help but note a certain extra layer of ominous prescience for those of us playing the game thirty years after it was written. Many of the government’s worst abuses are initially justified in the name of preventing terrorism. The apartment Perry shares with his wife and son is subject to unannounced raids by the “Border Security Force” — Homeland Security, anyone? — even in 2041. A sign in the airport soon reads, “All international travellers must pass through strip-search. No exceptions!”

The apartment is a special nexus of interest in each version of Rockvil. While Perry gets a lengthy backstory in the game’s manual, his wife Jill and son Mitchell are the only people we meet with whom he has a personal relationship. Not that we learn much about either in the bare handful of substantial paragraphs that relate to Perry’s home life: Mitchell is just an average little boy; Jill is a painter who is addicted to trashy romance novels and madly loved by and in love with Perry (perhaps relevantly, Meretzky himself got married just after finishing A Mind Forever Voyaging). But it’s enough to make their final appearance in 2071 the most harrowing scene in the game:

Six or eight heavily armed Church police storm into the apartment. You see a look of horror come over Jill, as she covers her mouth with the back of her hand, as though stifling some silent scream. You follow her gaze, and -- a shock of recognition -- sauntering in behind the police...

The ten years since you last saw him have left scant change on the face of your son. "Mitchell!" you yell, and take a step toward him, but a blow from one of the cops sends your frail, old body flying against the wall.

"She is the one." The voice is Mitchell's, but the tone is cold, unrecognizable, sending shivers through you. He raises a fur-clad arm, pointing at his mother without a hint of emotion. "She spake against the Church; she tried to poison the mind of a child too young to know the Truth." The thugs grab Jill, who reaches toward Mitchell, tears of terror streaming down her face. Totally unresponsive, he turns and walks calmly out of the apartment.

As Jill is dragged, screaming and crying, through the front door, you try to follow, but a cop pummels you in the stomach with his club. You fall to the floor, retching, as the apartment door slams closed, shutting you off forever from the son you cannot understand and the wife you will never see again.

Now, one could argue with some justification that this is rather emotionally manipulative, that the game hasn’t characterized anyone involved well enough to really earn our pathos. But like Floyd’s death, it’s unforgettable and affecting in spite of it all — more so, really, because it fits in so well with the tone of the game around it rather than coming out of nowhere as an aberration in the middle of a science-fiction comedy.

There’s a lot to quibble about in Rockvil. As believable as the city in general is, the writing is sometimes frustratingly perfunctory. Meretzky has a tendency to just tell us what something is in the manner of a tourist guidebook or government brochure rather than give a real physical sense of place. So, we learn that “Rockvil Municipal Stadium is a multipurpose sporting event facility, home of both baseball’s Rockvil Bobcats and soccer’s Rockvil Rockets.” Okay, but what’s it like there? Where am I standing inside? What do I see and smell and hear and feel? This mode of description gets particularly confusing as we go deeper into the future. The game always acts as if Perry knows this place intimately. Yet the whole ostensible purpose of visiting these future Rockvils is to find out what the (simulated) future holds. If I have full access already to the simulated memories of the Perry of the future, why do I need to go there to access them? But here we’re getting into the more problematic if also philosophically interesting parts of the game, which I’m going to reserve for the next article…

I also wish the implementation was less sketchy. There are lots of interesting little Easter eggs, but they’re hard to find because most of the time the game doesn’t much reward actions other than just wandering around and reading the room descriptions. And even when you do stumble upon them they sometimes leave you wanting more. When I played the game before writing these articles, I found in 2041 a delightful little book store where I bought The Wizard of Oz, a favorite from Perry’s childhood. Given the tradition of bookstores in dystopian literature as seats of resistance and beacons of freedom, I went back there in every later time: to see how it had changed, to see how the “kindly” proprietor was doing, to hopefully buy more books that would tell me more about Perry’s state of mind amidst the societal decline. But there was nothing new to see or do, until the place was closed completely and that was that. I of course understand that many of these complaints can be laid directly at the feet of technical limitations. Still, I can’t help but think about how A Mind Forever Voyaging could be even better with better writing and a deeper world to explore.

The other obvious complaint to make is thematic: that A Mind Forever Voyaging isn’t exactly the fairest of political critiques. At risk of sounding too inflammatory, I will say that the game puts its finger on a certain authoritarian impulse that strikes me as a bothersome undercurrent to so much Republican political thought. But still, the game’s message that we’re all going to wind up food for roving cannibalistic mutants if we vote Republican is a bit farther than I’m willing to go. In the last act of the game we meet Richard Ryder himself at last. Consistent with Meretzky’s view of Reagan as an “asshole,” he’s content to just make Ryder a mustache-twirling villain, guilty not only of bad policy but of fundamentally bad faith. There’s literally no division in the game’s universe between a Reagan Republican and a full-blown fascist.

"Now let's get a few ground rules straight, Perelman. Nothing is stopping the Plan. Even if I didn't think your damn tapes were faked, I wouldn't give a damn. A helluva lot of people have a helluva lot at stake in this thing, and so what if a lot of creeps who can't take care of themselves get a little hurt." "I'm very frightened, Senator," says Perelman, his voice laced with sarcasm. "Shut up," Ryder shouts back. "I said that I'm doing the talking here!

"And let me tell you another thing, Perelman. Don't think that just because you've been on the news and been a big hot shot around here, you're gonna get some special consideration, because all that doesn't mean diddly-squat in the kind of power circles I'm talking about!"

Ryder is getting really worked up; his normal, fatherly demeanor is completely gone. "Perelman, you're an even bigger idiot than I imagined if you think we'd let some two-bit egghead scientist and some high-tech whiz bang computer stand in our way! Remember this -- if you were to have some unforeseen accident, you wouldn't be the first person who's gotten crushed by standing in the way of the Plan!" Perelman, with a quick glance in your direction, says, "Quite an oration, Senator. Vintage thug. I wish I could save it for posterity. Would you be willing to go on the record with that statement?" Ryder becomes even more livid. "A real jokester, huh? Lemme tell you this, Perelman -- you'd better stop joking and start listening to my advice, or you're not going to be around to care about posterity, understand?

"So, here's the bottom line, Perelman. My men are going to stay here and keep the lid shut tight on you troublemakers, until the Plan is the law of this land. Nobody leaves, no communications at all, and don't worry about visitors; we'll take care of that. And if I get any trouble out of you, I swear to God I'll personally pull the plug on that goddam wonder machine of yours. Got it?" He stomps out without waiting for a reply, leaving Perelman sputtering in anger. A few seconds later, National Guardsmen enter and escort Perelman away.

Again, and while righteous anger certainly has a power of its own, I sometimes wish A Mind Forever Voyaging had a little more nuance about it.

After we prevent Ryder from pulling PRISM’s plug and thwart his Plan, a sequence which contains the only significant puzzles in the game, we come to the lengthy and justifiably oft-remarked epilogue in a Rockvil of the 2091 of a different timeline, a veritable liberal utopia.

The headline story is about a newly released study which indicates that the average life expectancy for both sexes has now passed one hundred years, and success in the development of regeneratives should send that figure even higher. Despite the dropping mortality rate, global population remains stable at just under two billion, with offworlding now running at a staggering seven million people annually.

To celebrate next month's special twentieth anniversary Disarmament Day, the World Council has passed a bill authorizing fireworks displays in each of the former capital cities of the twenty-two former nuclear powers. The fireworks displays, by Aerialist designer Jean M'gomo, will feature disarmament themes, and will be the largest display of pyrotechnic art in this century.

A story on an inside page catches your eye: "Perry Simm, Noted Author, To Join Crew of Silver Dove," reads the headline. "Perry Simm, author and poet, recipient of the 2089 Mexicana Prize, has been selected from nearly a thousand applicants to be the resident author aboard the Silver Dove, the space colony that is currently being equipped for mankind's first interstellar journey, a trip expected to last a dozen generations."

The epilogue, of which the above newspaper is only a modest part, goes on to show Perry reunited with a healthy and happy Jill and with a clean, prosperous, and peaceful Rockvil in which everyone has excellent health care, access to higher education, support when they need it, and freedom to do and be whatever they wish. And you know what? Having lived for almost five years now in two of the three happiest countries in the world, I have to say that that’s just a better way to run a country. Oh, sure, the epilogue is over the top, so much so that it’s almost hard to take entirely at face value. Yet Meretzky clearly, profoundly cares. In this era of irony and antiheroes and cool detachment, the gawky sentimentality of A Mind Forever Voyaging‘s epilogue comes across as brave and inspiring and kind of beautiful. Really, what is so funny about peace, love, and understanding?

Infocom saw A Mind Forever Voyaging as likely to prompt discussion and controversy, just as a similarly strident book-borne critique of Reaganomics would. Far from running from it, they positively courted such a response, a remarkable fact indeed when one considers that they were still desperately trying to sell Cornerstone to a corporate America who thought Reagan was pretty great. The back of the package announced A Mind Forever Voyaging as a “major departure for Infocom,” and the game was announced at a press conference held at the New York Public Library to emphasize its literary qualities. In light of all this, the game’s reception was perhaps the most dismaying possible: nobody seemed to have much of anything substantive to say about it. Astonishingly given how unsubtle it is, many or most reviewers didn’t realize the political critique existed at all — or, if they did, knew better (or their editors did) than to touch on it even in passing. A Mind Forever Voyaging attracted none of the buzz of Chris Crawford’s contemporaneous Balance of Power. The mainstream press was moving on from bookware and with it moving on from Infocom, and everyone inside the industry took it as just another adventure game, albeit one with a weird shortage of puzzles. Sales amounted to no more than 30,000 or so, making A Mind Forever Voyaging Infocom’s least successful game to date (excepting the oddball Fooblitzky). Infocom took this as a rejection of the whole idea of puzzleless interactive fiction, even though their final game of 1985, the much more traditional Spellbreaker, wouldn’t sell much better despite being available on many more platforms. Neither Meretzky nor Infocom would ever attempt anything quite like A Mind Forever Voyaging again.

We, however, aren’t yet done with the game. There’s a whole additional set of ideas here which are if anything even more interesting than the more straightforward political allegory. We’ll get to them next time.


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36 Responses to A Mind Forever Voyaging, Part 2: Don’t Go Back to Rockvil

  1. Felix

    April 29, 2014 at 4:58 pm

    I have a couple of gripes with your article. First, if you think neoliberalism is significantly different from fascism, remember what’s been going on in Greece last year, or in Romania the year before, or in the UK not long before that. Today, the riot police will beat you up if you dare protest against austerity policies in the streets. Tomorrow… are you feeling safe at home? Rewatch V for Vendetta one of these days.

    Second, I’m tired of hearing social and political messages being criticized as strident. That sounds dangerously like “stop yelling! people will notice I’m raping and killing you”. Subtlety doesn’t work, especially in new media, and certain messages absolutely need to be heard.

    In retrospect, what worries me the most is that so few people predicted what a disaster neoliberal policies were going to be; almost everyone used to acclaim Thatcher and Reagan, and look where we are now…

    For that alone, Meretzky deserves praise. And history vindicated his message as well as his game design.

    • Jimmy Maher

      April 30, 2014 at 6:21 am

      1. I think you need to be careful not to commit the logical fallacy of stuffing a whole lot of disparate things into a box labelled “Neoliberalism” and declaring that these things are all the same. While there may be a common thread linking the events you mention, lumping them together with the Republican agenda of today, much less thirty years ago, is problematic. Conservatism in America is a different beast from conservatism in Europe: We should try to understand each thing on its own terms first, then look for commonalities. For the record, yes, I do think a Reagan Republican is significantly different from a fascist.

      2. There’s a place in art for pure cries of rage and frustration, especially in more visceral forms like music (remember Bono yelling “Fuck the revolution!” in the Rattle and Hum version of “Sunday, Bloody Sunday,” the last time he seemed like he really cared instead of a rock star playing someone who really cared) and poetry and perhaps even painting. However, if your purpose is to *convince* such an approach is rarely productive. At its worst it just leads to a sort of self-satisfied solipsism, an echo chamber that makes the teller/artist feel better but changes nothing in the world at large. If you want an example of such a message at the extreme, read one of the comments to the article before this one. Did it convince you of anything? If everyone is always shouting, we’re just, well, all shouting at each other.

      • Felix

        April 30, 2014 at 6:57 am

        “Help! They’re beating me to death!”

        “Calm down and politely explain what’s bothering you. People will think you’re overreacting.”

        “Aaargh! Glg glg!”

        “I give up. There’s no way to have a coherent dialogue with you.”

        *bleeds to death on the sidewalk*

        “And clean up your own messes.”

      • R Flowers

        July 31, 2014 at 7:05 pm

        For the record, yes, I do think a Reagan Republican is significantly different from a fascist.

        Uh, thanks… I guess?

  2. Duncan Stevens

    April 29, 2014 at 5:41 pm

    Somehow I had never made a connection to the song before. REM released “Reckoning” in April 1984, so it might not be a coincidence. (It was not exactly a chart-topper, but perhaps Meretzky, just a few years removed from MIT, was still listening to college rock.)

    You may be getting to this next time, but: it’s made clear, around the edges, that Perelman does not exactly have an open mind about all this. The backstory explicitly says that the PerrySimm project was developed “to deter Senator Ryder and his plan.” Perelman develops the simulation, you go in and record what he wants you to record, and you’re done when you’ve assembled enough “evidence.” In that sense, whether deliberately or not, AMFV is less about the consequences of a certain political program than about the (theoretical) ability of a very determined opponent with good tools to come up with ways to stop that program. (Like, say, an interactive fiction author.)

    The sample transcript is an interesting tell. It’s the same sort of thing as the game itself, but in the sample, you’re looking at what will happen if the President’s proposed “Population Control Package,” contents undescribed, which various religious groups are fighting, isn’t passed. It turns out everything becomes terrible, people starve, etc. Now, it’s possible that a “Population Control Package” could be nothing that you or I would find objectionable, but the historical precedents for this sort of initiative aren’t particularly heartening. So there’s an implication that this sort of argument-by-simulation is not entirely free of problems.

    • Keith Palmer

      April 29, 2014 at 8:52 pm

      I’ve noticed before what might be called a “subversive reading” or two of the game to the effect of implying Perry Simm was “set up” by Perelman and company to support the status quo, and in amusing myself with the thought it would be a trivial matter to tweak the game’s structure and create a “conservative AMFV” (although I wonder a little if their own “forecasts of doom” are measured enough to allow even the first flush of apparent prosperity that makes what follows stand out so much) I do just sort of come back to supposing that all authors of fiction have their own advantages when it comes to supporting their points of view.

      In seeing the discussion go this particular way, though, I am reflecting on how I first played the game around 1993 or 1994 (before I’d been “prompted” by the discussions of anyone else on how to see it), and wonder if I managed to sort of miss the political statement. I thought it was interesting to be able to just poke around and not have to be always “unlocking doors” (by that point, I suppose I’d come to think I just wasn’t very good at solving the puzzles in Infocom games), and the slow decay that started setting in surprised me and troubled me, such that I just thought “it’s a problem I have to solve!”… except that once I’d managed to warn Perelman, I couldn’t figure out how to stay switched on and set the game aside until I first went on the Internet in 1995 and started looking for information on the Infocom games. (With the discussion of earlier adventures, I suppose now the game was similar to Deadline and the other mysteries in that you had to wait in likely places.)

      In any case, while I’ve been amused by the way AMFV’s stature seems to have risen over time with the way perspectives towards interactive fiction have changed and I may sort of “forgive” its “broad puddle” model of implementation as a demonstration that minimalism has its own certain advantages, I may see it myself as much a game that’s “easy to play through” as anything else more profound, because I don’t need to draw a map (or have one ready to hand, beyond perhaps the one in the documentation) or have to remember a whole series of solutions (as I can with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by this point) to finish it.

      (Just as a footnote, my understanding of the bookstore is that buying The Wizard of Oz there means that book is mentioned as being torn up with gleeful maliciousness in a Border Security Force raid later on in the simulation.)

      • Jimmy Maher

        April 30, 2014 at 5:42 am

        Your last paragraph does sort of illustrate one of problems I alluded to in the article. The police can only tear the book up if you leave it lying around in your apartment, which most players probably aren’t all that likely to do. So this scene, while perhaps effective, is awfully hard to come by; I only found it by looking through the disassembled game file.

        • Torbjörn Andersson

          April 30, 2014 at 7:14 am

          Isn’t it enough to just buy the book during an earlier simulation? I don’t remember having to do anything more than than when I accidentally stumbled over that book tearing scene.

          • Jimmy Maher

            April 30, 2014 at 7:27 am

            I definitely bought the book during my last playthrough and never saw the book-tearing scene. Something else must need to happen to trigger it. I’d assumed from the text the book would have to be lying in the apartment, but maybe it’s something else…

    • Jimmy Maher

      April 30, 2014 at 5:52 am

      These arguments for a more subversive reading are certainly fascinating, but I don’t think Meretzky had anything like them in mind. Based on Jason Scott’s interviews as well as everything else I’ve ever seen Meretzky say or write about the game, it’s pretty clear that his primary, very straightforward agenda was to offer a forceful critique of Republican policies of the mid-1980s. The fact that the game can support so many other readings, raises so many other issues that have nothing to do with politics, seems almost accidental. Which could easily lead to whole new discussion about schools of literary criticism and the Role of the Author of the Work and eventually lead us, as so many things do, to smack against deconstructionism. But maybe another time… :)

  3. matt w

    April 29, 2014 at 6:28 pm

    While we’re talking politics, “vigorous prosecution of tax evasion” can’t be said to be part of today’s Republican agenda; kneecapping the IRA has been a priority for the GOP since the Roth hearings at least.

    • Andrew Dalke

      April 29, 2014 at 8:18 pm

      While I can’t say that it’s a particularly Republican agenda, there have been vigorous prosecutions of overseas tax evasion during the last few years. Caught in the cross-fire are Americans living overseas like me and our host, who are subject to increased reporting requirements, like FACTA, and higher penalties.

    • Jimmy Maher

      April 30, 2014 at 5:38 am

      I assume you mean IRS, not IRA — although I’m sure many Republicans would love to kneecap the IRA too. :)

      But “vigorous prosecution of tax evasion” has been a part of the Republican public agenda to the extent that they use it as a (fundamentally unserious) answer to the question of where the money’s going to come from if they implement all of the tax cuts they say they will. Mitt Romney during the last Presidential campaign, for instance, could offer only “close loopholes and catch cheaters” in the way of clear answers to this question.

  4. Evan Miller

    April 29, 2014 at 9:18 pm

    Of course, coming across this game for the first time in 2011, without being told beforehand that it was even political – I came to the conclusion that it was critical of both religion and “Big Government”.

    And that Big Government was almost certainly liberal – whether I concluded this due to echoes of 1984’s anti-communism, or just my own views on which party has made (slightly) more progress in turning America into a dystopian wasteland, I cannot say.

    Sorry, Meretzky. If it’s any consolation to you, I was able to explain to a friend yesterday that Vonnegut wasn’t serious about the Harrison Bergeron thing.

  5. John G

    April 30, 2014 at 7:16 am

    Richard Ryder does seem like a bit of a stock, on-the-nose villain, doesn’t he? Especially after the wonderful characterization of Perry Simm in “Dakota magazine.” It sounds like a draft written to meet a deadline and that there was no time to give Ryder a little more nuance.

    Ryder reminds me of the bad guy from “The Dead Zone.”

  6. X

    April 30, 2014 at 6:17 pm

    Well…. The problem with peace, love and understanding is that it assumes that you’re working with another party who will bargain in good faith. You can lay all the peace and love you want on somebody like Vladimir Putin, and he’ll still snap up Crimea when he feels like it. You can lay down your arms and let the North Koreans take over the whole of Korea and you’ll wind up with millions more people subject to the mess that North Korea is. Sometimes, you have to accept evils (war) for the greater good (defending against tyrants).

    Or to paraphrase our greatest philosopher, Mel Brooks: “Evil will always triumph [when] good is dumb.”

    Anyway, to bring this back around to gaming, I would say that the ultimate realization of the vision of this game is in Sim City. You really have a place that works like the simulation in aMFV. And you have to follow pretty much the “right” political philosophy to make your city thrive: cleaning up pollution, building schools and libraries, adding mass transit. It kind of makes me wonder why there’s no gaming in the niche between Sim City and Civilization: where you can manage the priorities of a nation but not necessarily try to take over the world.

    • Jimmy Maher

      May 1, 2014 at 5:52 am

      I was actually thinking that maybe if and when I get around to writing about SimCity I should try to recreate Rockvil therein…

      • X

        May 1, 2014 at 5:03 pm

        I guess it just wouldn’t be the same without the social-engineering aspects. You can get some of that in Alpha Centauri (SMAC), where you have the option of declaring your society to be a Police State whose highest value is Will to Power and whose future tech is designed to allow Thought Control. And if the people rise up in opposition to your draconian rule, you can always have them Nerve Stapled.

        Actually, now that I think about it, SMAC has some design philosophy in common with text adventures. As you progress through the game, the quotes and videos reveal the story of Planet. You have to read a bit between the lines, but there’s some fascinating stuff there. And as long as you’re going to accept a style of play like aMFV where you’re doing more exploration than puzzle-solving, the lack of puzzle-play in SMAC is no detriment. The addition of a fantastic 4X game is just a bonus!

    • Andrew H

      May 1, 2014 at 11:32 pm

      You might enjoy Shadow President and Hidden Agenda then.

      SimCity seems to come from a more conservative mind set than this game, since the main effect on growth rate comes from property taxes. Sims will happily live in a polluted town with no jobs, no services and no water… as long as you don’t try to raise taxes above 0%.

      • Jimmy Maher

        May 2, 2014 at 5:58 am

        Sounds like a Republican paradise! (Sorry, couldn’t resist…)

  7. iPadCary

    May 2, 2014 at 7:44 pm

    Jimmy, I swear on all that is Holy & Goode that this was playing as I reread this article…..

    • Jimmy Maher

      May 6, 2014 at 5:31 am

      A very good choice for any occasion…

  8. Jon

    May 5, 2014 at 7:36 pm

    Fate of the World is an interesting game that sort of bridges the political tone of SimCity while having a broader world-view like Civilization.

  9. G Grobbelaar

    August 29, 2015 at 2:44 pm

    How the World is so Different Yet the Same, astounds me! (Brings a Moody Blues song to mind)!
    I didn’t really wanted to comment on AMFV till part 3, but I decided to post anyway!
    AMFV is so “Realistic” in the sense here in SA that it makes “salt water well up in my eyes” I grew up in those years when I thought everything was bliss, but very young I was given the brutal truth of what “Racism” is and how it effects lives! I had my grandfather to thank for it as he taught me the One and Only Truth about Humans: as brutal and loving as the human race can be, its the individual that counts, Thus a Person IS a Person until THAT Person proves You wrong!
    This is where SM’s AMFV hit me when I played it! Now I live in a country where the legacy is not about the individual, but a nation! SM’s world is my “Reality” where I have to live on a knifes edge as being a “White” person that is part of the nation that is a whole not an individual!
    As for Bono! I wil never have his music as he is the “ashole” here! He said he will gladly sing “Kill a Boer” with a politician that is prominent here!

  10. G Grobbelaar

    August 29, 2015 at 3:13 pm

    One last thing: Why is it the Rats goes first when the ship sinks? And those left behind must keep it afloat?

  11. Jason Kankiewicz

    February 20, 2017 at 11:59 am

    “I once lived, Olympia” -> “I once lived in, Olympia”?
    “And, and without putting too fine a point on it, I” -> “And, without putting too fine a point on it, I”?

    • Jimmy Maher

      February 21, 2017 at 9:46 am

      I think the first is actually okay, but the second certainly isn’t. Thanks!

  12. DZ-Jay

    February 28, 2017 at 10:46 am

    >> “the gawky sentimentally of A Mind Forever Voyaging‘s epilogue”

    Should that be “sentimentality”? It doesn’t seem like the adverb modifies any verb at all…


    P.S. I am now more intrigued by this game and will definitely try it out.

    • Jimmy Maher

      March 2, 2017 at 3:19 pm


  13. Tristan

    August 16, 2019 at 12:30 am

    > “Consistent with Meretzky’s view of Reagan as an ‘asshole,’ he’s content to just make Ryder a mustache-twirling villain, guilty not only of bad policy but of fundamentally bad faith. There’s literally no division in the game’s universe between a Reagan Republican and a full-blown fascist.”

    Re-reading this in 2019 is quite a trip! It turned out that the flaw in Meretsky’s political portraits was that he was not cynical or unsubtle *enough.*

    • Hyatt

      May 25, 2020 at 11:04 am

      Or he was a few decades ahead of his time.

      Though I can’t truly call him a prophet, as IIRC there’s no pandemic that the government’s incompetence and malice makes a thousand times worse in the game.

  14. Fronzel

    February 18, 2021 at 1:49 am

    Alternatively, draw a picture of Ronald Reagan on a napkin, add horns and a pitchfork and write “he is a bad man” underneath.


  15. Ian Crossfield

    April 7, 2021 at 5:57 am

    The Tube link at the top to “the inevitable” seems to lead to the message “Video unavailable:
    This video is no longer available because the YouTube account associated with this video has been terminated.”

    • Jimmy Maher

      April 8, 2021 at 8:17 am



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