Gold Machine: A Mind Forever Voyaging (new post Monday, December 5)

I will be spending more time with A MInd Forever Voyaging than with any other game in the Infocom canon.

I am not yet sure how many posts there will be. More than the usual three, certainly.

As always, I am very interested in your thoughts on AMFV generally or on the post specifically. As so many have noted, it is completely unlike any other Infocom game in terms of its core gameplay loop. It is one of the few games that changed or expanded my idea of what games could be and do. I’d place it in the esteemed company of Zork (of course), but also games as different as Super Mario Brothers and Dark Souls. I think—it will be up to me to make a case for this—that its influence upon the wider gaming landscape is underestimated.

This will be a bit of a slow burn! I hope you’ll stick around for the duration.

  1. Initial Groundwork for a Reading of A Mind Forever Voyaging (September 22, 2022)
  2. Agency, Empathy, and the Call of the Other in AMFV (October 3, 2022)
  3. On Naive Readings of A Mind Forever Voyaging (October 10, 2022)
  4. A Mind Forever Voyaging: Game/Anti-Game (October 24, 2022)
  5. Present Gifts of Humbler Industry (October 31, 2022)
  6. The Future Is Terse: The Constrained Rhetoric of A Mind Forever Voyaging (November 14, 2022)
  7. Spots of Time: Modular Design in A Mind Forever Voyaging (December 5, 2022)
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Hello, IF Comp :slight_smile:

Gold Machine’s deep dive into A Mind Forever Voyaging continues with an attempt to unify the many different modes of play that have all been called, at one time or another, “interactive fiction.” Here, I make a case for empathy as the unifying characteristic of interactive fiction. As always, I welcome your thoughts!

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The AMFV journey continues with a progressive read of its 1980s politics. During the Obama administration, it was common for critics to call its critique of conservative politics over the top or too on the nose.

Perhaps it doesn’t seem so, in 2022.

If you think you might be bothered by my progressive politics, you may want to stay clear.

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With our critical groundwork for A Mind Forever Voyaging established, it’s time to discuss its release and reception with a grounded review of historical documents from the Internet Archive.

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A closer reading of A Mind Forever Voyaging continues with a look at Perry Simm’s “autobiographical” essay included with the game.

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Hello Drew, Enjoying your series on AMFV so far.

Just read the most recent entry on my phone and thought to myself, “I should leave a comment!” and then proceeded to make a perennial mistake; I wrote and edited that comment directly on my phone in the reply field for the article. Suffice it to say, after spending more time than I’d like to admit getting the comment where I wanted it, I scrolled up to the article to double check the spelling of Dr. Perelman’s name. The comment field reset and permanently annihilated my words from the universe.

:sob: :sob: :sob:

So, after spending sufficient time feeling sorry for myself, I’m going to try to rewrite some of what I wrote before, but it’s late so it won’t be as much as I had the first time. Also, replying here safely using a real keyboard because Intfic saves my partial replies because it is amazing.

[gets head screwed back on]

So…

The things that have always stuck with me with A Mind Forever Voyaging were the things that Meretzky never directly addressed in the game itself. Enough of them were obvious to me, that I’ve often wondered if he entertained some sort of sequel or spiritual successor while writing AMFV. Let me give a couple of examples…

(Spoilers for those who haven’t beat the game)

JILL

In the introductory article, we find that Perry is in love with his future wife, Jill, a painter and generous cake-baker. He starts a family with Jill, and, in the eventual ending of the game, grows old and goes out to travel the universe with Jill. She is his life companion and he stays faithful to her as she does to him, which, on the surface, is quite sweet. However, with Dr. Perelman’s very first admission, he shatters the foundation for this relationship, “You are the first of a new breed - the thinking machine.”

You see, Jill can’t be real in any meaningful sense. Perhaps Jill is an NPC produced and maintained by the accessory computers creating Perry’s reality, a glorified chatbot, forever faithful and loving, but no more alive than the “live” chat assistant on your phone carrier’s home page. Or, maybe she’s more than that, with a spark of agency and apparent sapience that could only be supplied by one source, Perry himself. He is, by Dr. Perelman’s admission, the only conscious machine, so perhaps his subconscious is being tapped to breathe life and vitality into the people of his simulated life, including his wife. This would make Jill, at best, an alter ego, and, at worst, an imaginary friend; either way this shadow of Perry’s own mind is made real to Perry by the power of virtual worlds. Or, even worse, perhaps a PRISM project staff member has been providing the things Jill says and does. Perhaps Dr. Perelman himself has been fleshing out Jill with his own thoughts and personality. This is honestly reminiscent of Truman’s wife in The Truman Show. With whom exactly is Perry in a relationship with in this case? Dr. Perelman? An unknown staffer, or combination of staffers? Or a fiction altogether?

In any of these cases, Jill isn’t real in any meaningful sense. She isn’t a separate being with her own thoughts and desires and agency fully existing in Perry’s reality in good faith. In one way or another, she’s fake. And worse, Perry must know this. Yet, he stays with Jill anyway, and commits to his relationship with her in every way. He isn’t even portrayed as trying to determine the true nature of his wife, or any other important individual in his life. The fact that he doesn’t demand more answers upon revelation and eventually asks to be permanently put back into this simulation with these false loved ones suggests to me, assuming Dr. Perelman is correct in suggesting his psychology is essentially human, that Perry is in a form of emotional denial that will eventually grow to literal and full denial of anything contradicting his preferred reality. Who in their right mind wouldn’t ask if their growing child will actually experience anything or if their existence is just a farce? Someone not in their right mind. Dr. Perelman should have been more thorough with those psych tests.

THE NEVER-ENDING VOYAGE

In the final scenes, we learn that Perry is traveling out into interstellar space with his wife Jill, leaving his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren with a final zoom call before setting out. His ultimate desire is written large here, being able to leave and explore the depth and breadth of this universe. It’s quite the inspiration tear-jerker, set up as the ultimate feel-good ending.

The problem with this is similar to the Jill problem listed above. This can’t be real in any meaningful sense. Perhaps the software that produced the results of the plan can also populate a postulated universe in front of Perry as he explores it, like the ultimate rogue-like. Or maybe Perry is consciously or subconsciously creating this world himself. Or maybe the benevolent folk at the PRISM facility are creating new content for him, it doesn’t really matter. This individual is the world’s ultimate prisoner. He CANNOT leave the room(s) he was built into. He will never leave the Dakota’s, let alone explore the universe at large. I suspect, knowing this is unattainable, he very much desires exactly that. The ending isn’t a happy ending, it is the acknowledgment that Perry is pining for yet something else he can never have (like a committed romantic relationship with another real individual). Leaving him in this false reality along with the knowledge of it’s artificiality will lead to his undoing. Mind you, he is mechanical and not bound by normal human lifespans or the objective passage of time, as he already experienced 20 years of childhood in 11 years of real-time according to Dr. Perelman’s own words. Depending on the circumstances and processing power available, someone in Perry’s position could experience the equivalent of many thousands or even millions of years of subjective experience.

Perry will either learn to forget/reject/rationalize his memories of physical reality to make his current existence more convincing and palatable, which in and of itself is a form of mental illness, or he won’t be able to accept the reality he’s living in and eventually, this will likely lead to depression and suicidal tendencies. How does anything you say, do, or think matter in a reality like that. I’ve never since encountered the ending of a creative work that was presented as so ostensibly positive, while being so cloyingly horrifying. Dr. Perelman created a being that thinks, feels, and perceives as a normal human being, that can suffer and introspect as we do. He created this being in a form that knows what human relationships and reality should feel like and sincerely believed they had already experienced these things until told otherwise. He also created this being in a form that could never experience these things in reality, as a building-spanning supercomputer with access to only flat surveillance footage, mic pickups, text output, and no physical sensations whatsoever. Nearly full sensory deprivation. He then made this being fully aware of its circumstances before consigning it to a false reality forever.

Finally, I’m not entirely sure Perry CAN commit suicide. If he kills himself, this ends the simulation, but previous deaths show that his consciousness endures. His death will simply serve as a reminder of the falseness of his experiences after a lifetime of immersion. What other choice does he have but to either start another simulation or reach out to the PRISM staff requesting to be shut off forever? The absolute hell of this existence, to be reminded that the loving family and children and grandchildren are not only not really conscious, undermining everything they’ve ever said or done, but also that they never will be no matter how long and hard Perry commits to this farce, is utterly mind-boggling. I, for one, would have asked for the eventual transition to a form or body that could experience the real world, even if the size limitations restrict me to a large vehicle like a spaceship or a boat/submersible. Failing that, I’d insist on immediate and permanent shut down.

I could make more than these two examples, but I think these are enough to make my point. I don’t think someone like Meretzky wouldn’t have thought of these things, but these sorts of reflections are conspicuously absent in the game. This is even more poignant when you consider one specific line of dialogue from Dr. Perelman, “We have known for years, based on PRISM’s responses to our inputs that we have succeeded in creating true intelligence in a machine. The only question that remains is how PRISM will react to the discovery of what he really is.” If anything, Perry has an immediate non-reaction, and his later actions point to a pointed disassociation with physical reality. Suffice it to say, the title of the game says it all and Perry’s continued existence as is with no therapy or psychologic treatment is probably the ultimate cruelty. At this point, it’d probably be mercy to just pull the plug. Perhaps Meretzky had some vague intent to follow-up his saccharine sweet ending with a potential sequel rug pull and a cold splash of realism, but I suppose we may never know.

By the way, if anyone here actually has a relationship with Steve, I’d love to increase the number of times I’ve incorrectly hypothesized about a relatively famous creator’s intent only to be publicly corrected by the author in question from once to twice. Don’t want to pass up opportunities like that!

:grin:

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Thanks for really engaging with the game here! I don’t want to spoil future content (there are four posts to go), but I agree, Perry’s—the choice of calling him “PRISM” or “Perry” seems momentous, doesn’t it—self-awareness is a big problem in the text.

By problem, I don’t mean “bad.” I just mean self-awareness is something readers have to sort out for themselves. It’s an unresolved complexity.

I’ll just say a few things for now, but I hope we can get back to this after Monday’s post.

  1. The entire arc of the browsie is about Perry’s “development” as a person and culminates in his newfound self-awareness. It must be important as the introductory framing for the narrative.
  2. Would you really say that Perry has no reaction to this discovery? It’s presented—by Perry, the credited author—as a disturbing or shocking twist.
  3. You are right, the ending is the most glaring instance of the PRISM vs Perry conundrum.

I don’t usually like to get into authorial intent, but since you brought it up: do you think Meretzky intended that readers be attracted to Perry’s humanity, repelled by PRISM’s inhumanity, both, or neither? Perhaps, even without knowing his intent, we can look at the way the browsie frames things. It is our first impression of Perry. I suppose it is also, after twenty years or so, Perry’s first impression of PRISM.

I think the main thing for a player/reader to sort out is: what kind of story is A Mind Forever Voyaging? Our answer to that question sets up our initial expectations, informs the language we use to talk about it, etc. I made a brief comment about this on the podcast months ago but will hopefully build a case next week.

Again, thanks for diving into some philosophical problems in the game. More soon!

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I have some thoughts here, but I’ll hold off for the rest of the posts in your series.

Hmmm… Probably a wise instinct, lol. In all seriousness, though, I find contemplating the potential authorial intent one of the more interesting parts of reviewing a creative work.

I’m not sure whether or not Meretzky is reflecting his own perspective into the PC, but I can assert that Perry himself seems strongly repelled by the inhumanity of PRISM and his own corporeal form simply by the pointed avoidance of that form due to his own choices. I wonder if Perry experienced some form of body horror with this revelation.

Anyway, looking forward to the rest of the series! :smiley:

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Of course! I think there are some caveats:

  • Some authors don’t know why they do what they do.
  • For better or for worse, some authors fail at what they were trying to do but still do something interesting.
  • Some authors lie.
  • In my critical framework, the act of reading is as important as—if not more than—the act of writing. I don’t believe texts can “mean” things without a reader. So you have as much say in what AMFV means as SM does!

Some of this is controversial, and I don’t claim to be absolutely right about any of it. However, this is where I am usually coming from in my writing.

I’ll try to address the body horror question adequately, even though it’s kind of a toughie. Thanks for bringing it up.

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On concision, time, and the language of witness in A Mind Forever Voyaging.

Still going! Three more posts to go in this AMFV blowout.

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Time and modularity in the narrative design of A Mind Forever Voyaging

There are two posts remaining in this series.
“It is a game that, rhetorically, consists of a computer talking to itself for hours and years on end.”

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