When Steve Meretzky created A Mind Forever Voyaging in 1985, he had hoped to attract some level of attention and controversy with the game’s heavy political content. Instead, it created no uproar at all. It’s ironic to look back at a game like that these days since “keep your politics out of my games” is so loudly demanded by a segment of the consumer base. Personally, I never understood that. We don’t have the same expectation of books or movies. Hell, a lot of the same people wanting to maintain that “purity” in games are also watching South Park, one of the most overtly political shows on television.
The truth is, I don’t think it was ever about “politics”, just as I don’t really think it was about “ethics” with those same people when referring to journalists. Making a statement in a game is fine, but it’s the type of statement that they have a problem with. That’s one of the many reasons I think A Mind Forever Voyaging would have been a lot more noteworthy if it had been released in a more modern time. A lot of people would look at it now as liberal propaganda, and I’ll be the first to admit, subtlety isn’t its strong point, but for the type of feeling that AMFV is trying to invoke, you kinda have to be hit over the head with it.
The year is 2031 and you are PRISM, the world’s first fully sentient computer. It’s a time of great struggle for the USNA (a merging of the United States and Canada) and you have actually spent the last 20 years of your human life unaware that you were in a simulation. Your creator, Dr. Perelman, brings you into reality and explains that you are to go on a very important mission. A powerful senator has proposed a revitalization plan involving huge tax cuts, a reinstatement of the draft, and a shift towards more fundamentalist religious values. You are to reenter the simulation 10 years after the plan has been implemented and evaluate the results. News is promising at first, but the further and further into the future you go, the more dire the situation becomes.
Looking at the time in which is was made, it’s clear that AMFV was a veiled warning about the Reagan administration. Part of the reason that I think it would work so well now is that a lot of the issues and fears expressed in the game have analogs to the present political climate, even if it does get a bit too strawman at times. Not all of it works. A few of the “horrifying” practices, like random searches at airports, are pretty common now and even a left-leaning person may find the Aesop a bit too overblown. At one point society has collapsed so badly that it’s possible to get eaten alive by dogs.
If you can ignore or at least tolerate that, AMFV is a tale of sci-fi paranoia and a fear of being a displaced presence inside of powerless shell. Your life isn’t your own. Nothing is real. You’re simply a tool. While you can and will die multiple times in the simulation (like to the aforementioned dogs), in the real world, you don’t even have arms, so if any danger were to spill into that realm, you’d be in significant trouble.
It’s difficult to recommend a long text adventure to most people in 2016, but the latter half of AMFV is among some of the best the genre has to offer, both in how badly the simulations escalate and in what becomes expected of you. It stirs emotions that most modern games can’t. For a game from 1985, it’s a hell of an achievement.