Atari Poop

Atari Poop – Adventure

As a kid, I played Adventure for the Atari 2600.  I remember it fondly.  I never really had any idea what I was doing.  I would pretty much just run around, find an item, get eaten by a dragon, start over, get the item again, open a door, get eaten by a dragon, the go play outside or something.  I thought it was great even though I had no idea how important the game was in the history of video games or what the game was really about.

See, little did I know that this game, released in 1978, sold over a million copies and introduced gamers to many staples we now take for granted.  To start off, Adventure is considered the first action adventure game.  Second, it has items that you find, pick up, and move along with your character to them open doors, kill dragons, etc.  Third, the game contains what many believe was the first Easter Egg.  In reality, there were some in a few older games for the Fairchild Channel F, but since Adventure sold almost four times better than that console, it is at the very least the first well-known Easter Egg.  Finally, it also introduced many gamers to the possibility of a video game world spanning many screens.

Those are all things I discovered in my teens, however, it was only recently that I discovered the reason why this is quite possibly one of the greatest video games ever made.  Adventure for the Atari 2600 is a video game that takes place entirely inside the mind of a young man dealing with serious psychological issues involving his parents.  All of the action adventuring happens in his subconscious.

The hero of this game is simply represented by a dot.  This immediately shows that the young man in question does not think much of himself.  The dot is small, almost insignificant.  His subconscious could have molded himself into anything imaginable, but instead made him the smallest thing in his entire world.  He is also the colour yellow, symbolic for cowardice.  This is not a good start.

Also in this world are three dragons. One is red, representing the mother, one black, representing the father, and the third is green and is the physical manifestation of who the protagonist wishes he was.  To add the the confusion, though I did call them dragons, these creatures look much more like seahorses, a species of animal that actually has the male carry the eggs and gives birth to them.  What happens when we encounter a seahorse in this game?  All three will begin chasing as soon as you are seen.  If caught, they will “eat” you, and if eaten, you remain trapped inside the seahorse’s “stomach” where you are still able to move and don’t actually die.  It’s as though you’ve become an egg inside the male seahorse’s pouch.

The amount of neuroses that cause this kind of warped dream is mind-boggling.  The first implication is that the young man has not only made himself to be insignificantly small, but also female (there is nothing inherently wrong with being female, but one has to wonder what has pushed his subconscious to change his gender).  Secondly, he apparently also harbours fantasies of being inside his mother, father, and himself and being birthed by all three.  Third, the fact that the seahorses are much larger than he is and actively seek to capture and him prevent him from reaching his goal shows that this is how he truly feels about his family and himself.  He must escape his parents, but also metaphorically escape himself to be free.

Finally, there is another character in this game: a bat.  The bat has the ability to move freely within the subconscious sleep-world (even move through walls) and pick up every item and seahorse and take them elsewhere, even if the young man is carrying the item.  This shows that the young man honestly believes that outside forces are actively attempting to thwart him.  The amount of paranoia involved here is staggering.

What is this goal that the young man strives for?  He is simply trying to take his sippy cup, an item from his childhood represented in-game as a chalice, a symbol family, tradition, creativity (in the sense of procreation), and a vessel used in Christianity for alcohol, and bring it to the gold castle.  Once this is done, the young man wakes up.  Interestingly, the easiest way to do this is to get the sword and kill the dragons/seahorses before doing much of anything else, implying that the young man subconsciously believes that he must not only kill his parents, but also kill a part of himself to be free.  This is where the symbolism of the chalice comes in.  The part of himself that must die is his childhood.  He must kill the part of himself that still depends on his parents, but the fact that he must bring the chalice and keep it means that it also symbolizes not only his family as formed by his parents, but also the family that he himself will also form through the at of procreation with another person.  The young man must break with tradition (by killing his metaphorically killing his parents) and follow it (by creating his own family).

All of this is only a small part of why Adventure might be the greatest game of all time.  Psychologists have done studies on groups of young adults, some of whom had very open, loving relationships with their parents and others who did not in an attempt to see if any outside influences had a causal relation to parent-child relationships.  Initially, the studies were inconclusive.  The only finding was that children who grew up in the 80s had, on average, better relationships with their parents than those who grew up in the 70s and 90s.  It was only much later while revisiting the subjects of the study that a psychologist decided to ask about their video gaming habits.  It was then that they discovered that every single subject who had played Adventure had a much better relationship with their parents than those who didn’t.  As a result of this research, Adventure is now used as a therapeutic tool to help teenagers and young adults better cope with their problems and issues surrounding their parents.

So, the next time someone tells you that video games are bad for you, just send them the link to this article and educate them.  Tell them it’ll help them turn this:

Into this: