March 25, 2023

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Reap your reward: cursed games illuminate the ghosts of our past

I heard a strange story a while back about a DOS game passed around California decades ago. And that unlike any of those wild and sometimes sinister adventure games from that era, someone had traced out its instructions towards something unspeakable. This title was allegedly lost forever in a floppy disc.

And it reminded me of an era when games felt steeped in mystery and madness, before guides and trailers and press releases. When starting a new game felt like entering another world and how occasionally you’d find something nestled at the bottom of a bargain bin that gave you nightmares, and no one else had ever heard of it.

Named Pale Luna, this enigmatic game followed ’80s text adventure conventions: blank screen, crisp white text characters, in the vein of Zork and The Lurking Horror. You began in a moonlit room containing gold, a shovel, and a rope, then set off to “reap your reward”. You then trundled through an incoherent text-based woodland using compass directions.

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