How Text Games Affected My View of UHC
Jul 24th, 2009 by Ice Cream Jonsey

I’m replaying Circuit’s Edge, which was a graphical text adventure developed by Westwood, under the post-merger Infocom label. I once said it was the 59th best game ever made. While that list, um… is in desperate need of an update, I still feel it’s excellent, playing it in 2009 instead of 1989.

It’s great, yeah, but not perfect. In many cases, default dialogue is used for all characters on some plot-insensitive subjects.  The manual’s map is just wrong about the locations of certain shoppes. You can only save in Marid’s (the protagonist) apartment. There’s a police computer that will let you look up anyone if you know their full name – while it’s never mentioned in the game, I’ve read the three Budayeen books enough times to have the name of the Marid’s ex-girlfriend memorized (Yasmin Nablusi) and she’s not in there. I’m not saying it’s bad, but it could have been perfect.

(I’m going to hope the fact that the first thing I did when I gained access to a futuristic criminal database was look up an ex-girlfriend is just sort of glossed over here.)

But the game rocked my world during those years where your world can get rocked by things, and I’m thankful to know that it still holds up.

Circuit’s Edge was developed in part with the author of the source material, George Alec Effinger. George wrote three novels that featured Marid Audran, commonly referred to as the Budayeen series, for its setting. I’ve tried, over the years, to acquire everything George ever wrote. He’s my favorite author, and I suppose he always will be. But I have this “thing” about finishing games and reading everything a deceased author wrote, which is just – if you finish everything… then it’s over. There’s no new stuff. So long as I didn’t do the last couple of missions in Circuit’s Edge, the game would never really be over for me. But as I start to accept the fact that I’m going to have less and less time for gaming over the next thirty years,  well… okay, I just wanted to finish it.

Same with George’s books. I purchased a recent anthology titled A Thousand Deaths. It’s not a Budayeen-based work. Rather, it contains the stories involving one of George’s other protagonists, Sandor Courane.  Sandor – and this is not a spoiler, it’s on the dust jacket – passes away in a number of the stories George wrote that featured him. I’m just getting around to reading all the short stories within, but the feature is definitely the complete 1981 work The Wolves of Memory.  I don’t want to spoil anything, but George passed away at 56 after a long battle with stomach problems and while he wrote it well before having any idea of what his fate was, you can retro-fit some things as metaphor.

As an professional author, George didn’t have proper health insurance. He was great at what he did, but he wasn’t making the kind of money where money wasn’t a problem. After years of treatment at Charity Hospital in New Orleans, which he did not enjoy, he finally had an operation in “the early 1990s” at Tulane University Hospital. He wasn’t able to pay the bill, and the hospital went after the most valuable thing he had, his intellectual property.

I mean – okay, the hospital obviously needed to be paid, I have no problem with that. George shut it down, when it came to the Budayeen, after that. He got two chapters into the fourth Marid Audran novel (and honestly, having read them, they are the best work he ever did, his characters absolutely crackle with life, and whatever reservations I had with much of the third novel, The Exile Kiss, are blown away. The man was at the top of his game.) and that’s all he ever did. He wasn’t going to work on it if every penny was going to directly go to the hospital.

You can criticize his decision. You can criticize the heartlessness of the hospital. My hobby of making text games is, at some level, and attempt to make the kinds of things that people that loved George’s writing might enjoy, without mimicking him. It’s that way for me because I feel there was at least one amazing novel we never got because of circumstance. So that’s why I’m in favor of some kind of universal health care in this country. I couldn’t speak to the details, or how anyone’s going to pay for anything, but it seems silly that lives are saved and financially destroyed at the same time.

I believe that Fyodor Dostoyevsky said “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering the prisons.” (For real, it’s what I believe, I had the quote totally wrong in my mind and did some Googling, and came up with that. It’s totally not fact-checked.) And that’s fine, but I think you can say something similar regarding how it treats its artists.

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