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What if you could live your life over again?
December 31, 2010 9:51 AM   Subscribe

You are in a warm, dark, comfortable place. This has been your place since you became aware that you are alive. It's almost time to enter a different world now. In 1986, Activision published a roleplaying computer game called Alter Ego. Unlike the action and fantasy titles that ruled the day, this game simulated the course of a single ordinary life. Beginning at birth, players navigated a series of vignettes: learning to crawl, reacting to strangers, getting a first haircut. The outcome of each scenario subtly influenced one's path, and with every choice players slowly progressed through infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and old age. Graphically minimalist -- one's lifestream is represented by simple icons, and the scenarios are all text -- the game was nevertheless engaging, describing the world in a playful, good-natured tone tinged by darkness and melancholy. And it had quite a pedigree; developer and psychology PhD Peter Favaro interviewed hundreds of people on their most memorable life experiences to generate the game's 1,200 pages of material. Unfortunately for Dr. Favaro, the game didn't sell very well. But it lives on through the web -- PlayAlterEgo.com offers a full copy of the game free to play in your browser, and the same port is available as a $5 app for iPhone and Android. More: Port discussion group - Wishlist - Vintage review - Original game manual (text or scans)
posted by Rhaomi (46 comments total) 93 users marked this as a favorite

 
(Protip to avoid early frustration: Run, don't walk, away from creepy strangers at playgrounds. Don't even give them the time of day.)
posted by Rhaomi at 9:54 AM on December 31, 2010


How about I just give you an iPad Thaomi and you can stop making us all look bad.
posted by The Whelk at 9:57 AM on December 31, 2010 [9 favorites]


The vintage review link says:
You must have cookies enabled on your browser to view scans. This is because people were leeching all the scans in one go and using up all the available bandwidth of the site.
even though I do in fact have cookies enabled. Has anyone got an alternate link?
posted by enn at 10:00 AM on December 31, 2010


That was a fantastic game, but my love for it dimmed. There's a moralism in it that makes it hard to lead an interesting life. Maybe that's because its gaminess encourages you to prioritize quantifiable successes like lifespan, but the last time I returned to it it just felt preachy.
posted by beschizza at 10:13 AM on December 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


Hands up if you learned a life lesson when you killed yourself racing your car in the desert.
posted by griphus at 10:14 AM on December 31, 2010


I had a feeling this was a Rhaomi production. This is just neat.
posted by Askiba at 10:18 AM on December 31, 2010


I remember playing this as a teenager. I don't think very many games to this day follow any character from birth until death. It's kind of a sobering experience, especially if your main gaming fare beforehand has been bashing trolls with text commands.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:19 AM on December 31, 2010


If I can't die of dysentery or get eaten by a grue, I'm not interested. I can get into a car crash in real life.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:33 AM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Jesus. I just almost got molested.
posted by cmoj at 10:35 AM on December 31, 2010


I played this online years ago. I reached adulthood and, really, just grew bored of it. I think it's the same problem I have with the Sims. After a while, you're living a normal life, one that you could be out there living yourself. I play video games for the chance to be someone else, to rule a planet, to slay a dragon, to save the world, etc. If the game is very close to what my life is like, after a while, no matter how well created it is, I find a desire to actually have a proper life.

Reading this, maybe I should buy more of these games.
posted by Hactar at 10:39 AM on December 31, 2010


I'm enjoying the game but I'm not thrilled with the strict gender roles it is making me conform to. Also, it keeps assuming I'm straight, even as an infant, which I find weird. I prefer Choice of Broadsides, for its Sapphic swashbuckling and gender nonconformity.
posted by Lieber Frau at 10:41 AM on December 31, 2010 [11 favorites]


"There's a moralism in it that makes it hard to lead an interesting life."

Yesterday, I was thinking about how you'd go about making an RPG pretty much exactly like this, and I'd already decided that the moralizing on my part would have been a HUGE stumbling block. Coincidence? I think not.

So thanks for the confirmation! I now have a lot more free time to spend with my family.
posted by sneebler at 10:52 AM on December 31, 2010


Also, I've found that this game is a lot more fun if you start off in childhood instead of as a baby. Being a baby is surprisingly boring.
posted by griphus at 11:01 AM on December 31, 2010


"There's a moralism in it that makes it hard to lead an interesting life."

It's not just moralism. It's genuinely hard to live an interesting life. That's why so few people do it.
posted by phooky at 11:05 AM on December 31, 2010 [6 favorites]


I have fond memories of playing Alter Ego on my C64, almost 25 years ago. It's great that there is now a browser version, even though some of the magic seems to have been lost in translation. Nevertheless: Ahoy captain moneybags!
posted by Eco at 11:36 AM on December 31, 2010


MetaFilter: You are in a warm, dark, comfortable place.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 11:44 AM on December 31, 2010 [4 favorites]


I got dumped because I reminded my partner too much of his mother. Great...
posted by Gordafarin at 11:54 AM on December 31, 2010


If you're interested in Alter Ego, do yourself a favor and pick up Life's Lottery.
posted by jcruelty at 11:56 AM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


You have chosen an inappropriate response. (Or, at least, we hadn't thought of it. Please make a different selection.)

All I wanted to do was calmly hit the man in the nose. Sigh. Sometimes it's tough being a baby.
posted by trip and a half at 12:25 PM on December 31, 2010 [5 favorites]


In Wyoming you meet a beautiful girl who teaches you about life, in general.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 12:38 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


are we sure nancy reagan didn't write this? jesus. if you want to be smart and physically fit just turn down alcohol at every opportunity!
posted by nathancaswell at 12:50 PM on December 31, 2010


and almost on cue...


He tells you that you have just passed up the opportunity to make some easy money. He is caught dealing three weeks later, but nothing much happens to him. Three months after that, you read that he was jailed in South America during a drug-related incident.


thats what you get for selling 'ludes, hippie
posted by nathancaswell at 12:52 PM on December 31, 2010


oh and i think i just avoided getting AIDS by having second thoughts at the tattoo parlor... this is ridiculous
posted by nathancaswell at 12:58 PM on December 31, 2010


Needs more voice of Leonard Nimoy.
posted by box at 1:10 PM on December 31, 2010


It's nearly a quarter-century old, nathancaswell, there's going to be some level of outdatedness around the margins, especially for topics like drugs and AIDS that were more stigmatized at the time.
posted by Rhaomi at 1:12 PM on December 31, 2010


I think y'all broke it. I was swimming along, refusing to go to bed or help with chores, and suddenly I'm getting "This Google App Is Temporarily Over Serving Quota".
posted by Sara C. at 1:18 PM on December 31, 2010


I had just made $500k by coming up with the brilliant idea to add onions to a hamburger
posted by nathancaswell at 1:25 PM on December 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


Give crazy old ladies and your weirdly-dressed semi-friends kindness and money. It always ends in you getting rich.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:25 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


I prefer Choice of Broadsides, for its Sapphic swashbuckling and gender nonconformity.

Funny you should say that:
...A multiple choice adventure game, sort of, where you choose your own life. It's hundreds upon hundreds of multiple choice questions, begining at birth and ending at death, hours later. And it is probably the greatest game I've ever played. And I said to myself, ‘What a great game, and there's nothing else like it in the entire world! That has to change!
That's Dan Fabulich, who worked on the port of Alter Ego and is now the design lead at Choice of Games. Next time you're playing Dragon or Broadsides, take note of the whole-life narrative, the wry commentary on the player's choices, and particularly the vignette structure that paces the game. There's a big debt to Favaro there, and Fabulich's not ashamed to admit it.

I'm as glad you, though, that the Choice of... games moved away from Alter Ego's normativity. The new Choice of the Vampire is another step in that direction, opening up a variety of possible backgrounds and ethnicities. The game begins in 1812 New Orleans, so you can do the Lestat thing if you like; but it's a lot more fun to start off as an illiterate Irish washerwoman, or a Creole artisan, or the blockheaded descendant of Hessian mercenaries.
posted by Iridic at 3:08 PM on December 31, 2010 [9 favorites]


I not only got molested, I got murdered AND molested. And life started off so promising...
posted by chainlinkspiral at 3:11 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Over Quota

This Google App Engine application is temporarily over its serving quota. Please try again later.
Just like my real life.
posted by blue_beetle at 4:27 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


I remember when I was young and reading a story in a Junior Classics comic book. It said that Alexander the Great had to make Achilles' Choice: a long dull life or a short, glorious one.

I thought about that for many, many years. At some point I realized that not choosing is still a choice. So I chose a long, glorious life. Up Achilles!
posted by Twang at 6:29 PM on December 31, 2010


Sara C.: "I think y'all broke it. I was swimming along, refusing to go to bed or help with chores, and suddenly I'm getting "This Google App Is Temporarily Over Serving Quota"."

Huh, I didn't expect the site to be that fragile. It should be back to normal eventually, but if you want to give the game a try in the meantime without buying the mobile app, this solution should work for all operating systems:
1. Download and install D-Box, a user-friendly version of DOSBox for Windows/Mac/Linux

2. Download an old copy of Alter Ego from Abandonia

3. Extract the version (male or female) that you'd like to play

4. Start D-Box, press the middle (new game) button in the toolbar, and click "new game"

5. Type in a game name ("Alter Ego"), then click the folder icon next to "Executable" and navigate to the file "alterego.bat" that is located in the extracted Alter Ego folder

6. Click "OK," then select Alter Ego from the game list and press enter
This version isn't perfect -- it has a few glitches, and I don't think saving works. But it should do until the PlayAlterEgo.com site is back up. Happy New Year!
posted by Rhaomi at 6:50 PM on December 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


Rhaomi, I "fixed" it by using the iTunes gift card I got in my stocking last week. Which means I can play this game indefinitely while standing in line at the DMV, slogging through pre-boarding procedures at the airport, etc etc. But thank you!

This game scratches all the itches that made me love The Game Of Life when I was a kid. Except you don't have to convince anyone to else to play.
posted by Sara C. at 7:01 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've been waiting for someone to write about this!
posted by oneironaut at 10:21 PM on December 31, 2010


I had forgotten the name of this game, but not the game. We played it on the Commodore 64, and I remember there being dire consequences for choosing to run in front of your parents' dinner guests naked.
posted by mecran01 at 10:21 PM on December 31, 2010


I not only got molested, I got murdered AND molested. And life started off so promising...

If you're lucky, Peter Jackson will make a movie out of it!
posted by hippybear at 10:43 PM on December 31, 2010


nathancaswell: "I had just made $500k by coming up with the brilliant idea to add onions to a hamburger"

Me too, except I blew it all somehow by the time I was 40. I don't even have a kid...
posted by Gordafarin at 4:16 AM on January 1, 2011


Thank you for playing Alter Ego. You have died.
posted by Gordafarin at 4:19 AM on January 1, 2011


The site should be back up and running now -- the quota limit only applies for a 24 hour period starting at midnight Pacific. Be gentle!
posted by Rhaomi at 9:00 AM on January 1, 2011


Apparently, I'm all kinds of difficult player, as I keep having my choices refused. And then the damn thing insults me because I like brussels sprouts. I have always like them, even as a little kid. The only vegetable that I was ever impossible (not 'difficult'!) about was the crap that passed for spinach in those days (canned green muck). And to her credit, my mother was understanding, since I wasn't a fussy eater.
posted by Goofyy at 7:19 AM on January 2, 2011


This is fantastic. Thank you so much for posting!
posted by sdn at 12:36 PM on January 2, 2011


I just got a Bad Reputation by French-kissing that hunk Mark in the ninth grade. Talk about your deja vu.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:10 PM on January 2, 2011


For the record, this was been posted to MeFi many years ago, not once but twice. Still, it's pretty cool; thanks for reminding me of it.

The second MeFi thread even has the exact same page title as this one. Eerie.
posted by Johnny Assay at 5:13 PM on January 5, 2011


Johnny Assay, I came across those posts before submitting this one; they pointed to now-broken versions of the game, so I figured a repost focusing on the new site was about due. (And the title isn't a spooky coincidence -- it's just the headline on the game page, which I assume was carried over from the older, defunct port at theblackforge.net.)
posted by Rhaomi at 6:17 PM on January 5, 2011


Upon re-reading my post, I didn't mean to come across quite so critically; I just found it interesting to see the discussion in the links from eight (!) years ago.
posted by Johnny Assay at 8:20 PM on January 5, 2011


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