My first memory of narrative design is from some ZZT game. It was probably done in myriad other games and media, but there I was in the early 90s as an innocent kid playing games for fun, accidentally learning about narrative structures like callbacks and returns. When I interact with media now, it’s for exploring culturally-significant [or insignificant] titles, learning narrative structure, or casual, sometimes inattentive meandries, through media until I finish or drop them.
I’d rather play any ZZT game than the Jill of the Jungle trilogy.
Even though the Jill games are free, easy, and straightforward platformers, they’re tedious and outstay their welcome at times. It’s not that they’re bad. The first one is better than the second, if only because the second is front-loaded with recycled ideas, so it feels like you’re replaying the first game when you’re not interested in playing through it again. I would almost say that the problem was in recycling assets, but ZZT has similar assets through many of its games, whereas it shines with its ingenuity.
ZZT was designed as a level-builder for players.
Jill was designed as a level-builder for game designers, so they designed the games to be played with minimal challenge. The worst challenges, even without a lucrative save system, can be overcome just by learning the strategy or jumping in the right pattern, so it becomes a matter of learning to think on its terms. This is true of all games, which is why similar to movies, these sorts of games can become boring and tedious enough to be a challenge to complete.
If each game took more than one hour to complete, I wouldn’t have bothered.
A three-to-five hour romp through a trilogy of games I vaguely recall seeing the first level of as a kid is fine enough, because this is an example of nearly thirty years of unchecked nostalgia hype. These games looked so cool! Playing them now, though, reminds me that sometimes things in our imagination take on a life of their own. They can lead us into believing that they’re better than they really were, so that when we finally get around to experiencing them with an unbiased perspective, we might just be bored enough to not want to finish them.
So, that ZZT level, huh?
The game, whose name or particulars I forget, start off in some village. There is a gated door on the left side of the screen. Your goal is to defeat the baddie, or something, so you go through the entire game until you get some key. You return home and use the key to unlock the first-screen’s door to find the baddie. They were there all along! For someone that hadn’t yet been exposed to the lie that is corporate morale-boosting team events, this was a fun bait-and-switch surprise. Normally, the big bad is all the way across the map. Instead, they were right under our noses!
This, for some reason, is a strong narrative reference point for me.
After I finish the third Jill game, maybe I’ll play through the main ZZT game and then check out some others? I have all these other games I want to play, too, which means I need to be more decisive over how much time I spend indulging with certain memories. I won’t return to the second Jill game, although I may return to the first one in a few years, just because what few original ideas it has are too sparse to appreciate when there are thousands of hours of other games that I am actually still excited to play. Still, it’s fine for a boring meandry through some easy platformers, like reading an easy book about nothing in particular.
Will I have any memories from these Jill games?
Outside of writing the essays I’ve written? The occasional jump may flash through my memories. Contrast that with multitudinous soundtracks, where the first few seconds of some songs can remind me of exciting worlds or vibrant characters, or watching clips or thinking about their titles give me that sort of pleasant nostalgia everyone seems to be after these days, and it’s not a big shock that I would prefer the overwhelmingly positive memories over the ones that are just good enough.
Now, my memories are special to me, and me alone.
EarthBound is a game I cherish and yet I know it’s not for everyone. Scenes from its world inhabit my imagination and when I think of certain ideas, like a run-down shack, I might think of places in EarthBound before I think of real-world locations. The Jill games might be like that for you, and that’s where we should look to see what memories are the strongest for us. What’s the difference between a cool intro we saw once, an expansive world we saw when we were over at a friend’s house, or a limitless world of infinite possibilities we spent hundreds or thousands of hours exploring?
We should explore through everything we can.
I don’t like the idea of writing things off without at least a cursory meandry glance, although we should also be careful with our time, because how many more decades of time do we have to spend engaging our time with pointless activities that don’t thrill us? There are many other videogames, movies, and other media I haven’t dedicated the time to thinking about as thoroughly as this second Jill game, where I did decide to focus on playing through it, even if I had considered playing some other background music to multitask. The reward for not doing that, and focusing on the game itself, was that subtle reference to ZZT toward the end, which although it didn’t spark some long-forgotten memory, did encourage me to add it onto the list, so I will play it sooner than I might have otherwise without seeing the casual name-drop.
The main memory I’ll keep from playing Jill Goes Underground is that ZZT reference; quite underground…!
|Sources: My personal experiences.|
|Inspirations: One point of these essays is to encourage me to slow down with my constant work schedule of writing, editing/publishing, and thinking about what to write with the majority of my time. Even though it can lead to essays like this where I’m basically saying that you shouldn’t waste your time on things you don’t care about, it is an excuse for me to write about something I did with my leisure time, which in my mind legitimizes it to the point where I’ll then encourage myself to meander through more media.|
|Related: Other Media Meandry essays.|
|Screenshot: Spoiler? Sorry.|
|Written On: 2020 March 05 [6:24am to 7:02am]|
|Last Edited: 2020 March 05 [First draft; final draft for the Internet.]|