Word Of The Week: October 17th, 2009

My first computer had 640K and a monochrome monitor and I thought it was so cool. And for its time it was a pretty good computer. I even had a modem and could download things at the staggering rate of 1200 baud. (I’m not sure, but I believe at that rate it would take 297 years to download a single post from this blog.) Naturally I went looking for games, and somehow found a game called Rogue. I realize now how rudimentary Rogue was, as it used ASCII characters. The hero I moved through the dungeons was an @ sign, exclamation points were potions, parentheses were weapons, and so on. The monsters I encountered in the dungeons were represented by letters. Moving up next to the letter B, for instance, I’d see “you hit the bat” flash up on the screen.

Many of the monsters were real-life animals: R was a rattlesnake, E was an emu, F was a venus flytrap. Technically that last one isn’t an animal, but it is a real organism. And there were mythical beasts as well: H was a hobgoblin, V was a vampire, Y was a yeti, and so on.

Then there was Q, the quagga. I’m ashamed to admit this, but I’d never heard of a quagga. It wasn’t until a trip to the Nashville Zoo where, reading the information plaque about zebras, that I first learned the quagga was a real, albeit extinct, animal. Sadly the quagga was overhunted in South Africa where it lived. It became extinct in the late 19th century.

The game Rogue was somewhat tongue in cheek. (If you read a scroll called “scare monster”, for instance, you’d hear “maniacal laughter in the distance”.) And yet there was a certain poignance in the inclusion of the quagga. And this was not the only case of Rogue expanding my vocabulary. Since my first computer did not have a mouse the commands were all keyboard-based. The letter ‘d’ was the command for “drop item”. So when I found a potion, rather than drink it I’d press ‘q’, for quaff.