LucasArts and the rationalist tendency in videogames

Wonderful essay by Alexander Kriss at Kill Screen regarding Lucasarts’ golden age of adventure gaming and its impact on the burgeoning gaming market:

In the mid–1980s, the similar albeit slightly less profound question, “How do I know this is a videogame?” would be answered very differently than today. Such a query might have yielded answers like, “There are discrete levels that increase in difficulty, therefore it is a game,” or, “Progress is tracked by a score system, therefore it is a game,” or, certainly, “If the player fails, she reaches a ‘game over’ state, therefore it is a game.” The medium was young and existed in a kind of philosophical terrarium, bound by certain unwritten rules carried over from arcade era of the late ’70s.

Out of this experimental haze came Ron Gilbert, a young programmer and game designer at Lucasfilms Games (later to redubbed LucasArts). Beginning with 1987’s Maniac Mansion (co-designed with Gary Winnick), he embarked on the impressive project of dismantling the assumptions that had become so ingrained that most game designers had forgotten they were there. Like Descartes, Gilbert sought to find the latent truth of the (gaming) world through the power of the intellect.