Early 80s games, and their huge influence on my (non-IT) career

[ By TerryS on December 18, 2013 | Filed under: Blog | Tagged with: , , ]
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I was never in the “gaming scene” or “gaming culture” as such. I was never a member of a software-swapping “club” nor did I spend many night and weekends gaming with my peers.

Unlike many retro-gaming enthusiasts, who remember the games of their school and teenage years, by the time I got my first computer (the Dick Smith System 80) I was already 23, married and hard at work. Not only was it a great hobby machine, but also useful for work in terms of word processing and stats analysis in my job as a agricultural researcher. Word processing was unheard of and at that time all stats were done on the mainframe at my company, and the university I was soon to work at. People were amazed!

However, I did play games. I enjoyed the clunky arcade games on the System 80 as a way to de-stress. The games I enjoyed the most were the Scott Adams adventure games and games like ZORK. In fact I was able to involve my whole extended family (mother, father, sisters, brothers) in solving these puzzles even though they lived in different parts of the country! Some we did as a team, even calling long distance to share a clue or possible way forward (e.g. “Have you tried feeding the beef jerky to the starving rats?”) Once I had a week’s leave and spent the whole week trying (with 97% success) to get through ZORK; that’s how much it grabbed me.

Games on micros spilt over to my work, where I designed and wrote several teaching games I used in my undergraduate classes. My specialty is plant protection, and most of the games involved some modelling and decision making. The experiences with Adventure games also had a big influence, and I designed and build an “adventure type game” to give students practice in diagnosing plant diseases. It was essentially a shell, so I could put lots of crop conditions in there. I sold some of these games internationally.

Anyway, to cut a very long story short, this lead to a ten year period of my academic career focusing on “scenario-based’ learning (using the “adventure game’ approach), software collaboration and academic development in fields much wider than just plant protection. It lead to some large grants, publications and several years as a teaching consultant assisting in other areas of the university.

In the past year I’ve returned to my roots of plant protection, and I’m less active in supporting other faculty. However I still have lessons and assignments that use “active learning” and an adventure game approach. Those old early 80’s adventure games lead to career adventures of my own!

Terry Stewart

New Zealand

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