Gauntlet's strange echoes: "Wizard, as an ironist, you alone receive some sense of subjective freedom."


From Ross Sutherland's Eco-esque review of Atari's 1985 arcade game, Gauntlet:

Wizard, as an ironist, you alone receive some sense of subjective freedom. Your outré dress sense deprives your surroundings of a finite degree of cognitive reality. In this manner, the dungeon can never truly hold you.

I love it when people read between the lines of old video games, imagining a backstory and motivation for the likes of Pong or Asteroids. But those early titles are so abstract that a certain kind of humor seems intrinsic to the project. So it's delightful to see someone with the same fetish I have: extrapolating literary pretensions from later games that offer more to work with, but whose hardware nonetheless imposed a ruthless minimalism onto the design.

Of those, Atari's Gauntlet always seemed most pregnant with possibility. The doomed, infinite quest is filled with pathos–if the protagonists are not dead, they are certainly already in hell. Most references, however, lean toward pop culture citation. For example, check out Five Iron Frenzy's song, "Wizard Needs Food Badly," a phrase from the game whose variations have earned a place in broader culture. There is even a Cafepress site devoted to it.)

Here's my contribution to this very tiny genre: Such Bravery, a short story which places Gauntlet as a strange, myth-addled event from the Baltic crusades, itself hazily remembered by Thyra, the 'Valkyrie.' Twenty years on, our aging heroes are uneasily reunited at the old man's funeral, only to find he still has some tricks up his sleeve. Fans may get a kick out of the cute references to the game.

It's such a shame that after Gauntlet II, most of the sequels have been mediocre. An iffy-looking DS remake is apparently complete, but seems to be stuck in a dungeon.