Thursday, July 19, 2012

Adventures in Narnia: Hybrid serious gaming from 1984

Poking around my old box of C64 artifacts, I came across Adventures in Narnia: Narnia, a game that—for a little while—I wasn't sure really existed. There's precious little information on the Web about this game, but hopefully this post will change that!

Adventures in Narnia was released in 1984 for Commodore 64 and Apple computers. It's based on The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis' first book in the Chronicles of Narnia. In fact, opening up the fancy plastic case, you can see that the game comes with a copy of the novel.

The floppy disk was not in the box, but we do see the book, a manual, ... and a deck of cards. Adventures in Narnia came with a deck of cards and a pair of dice that were used during game play. This makes it the oldest example of hybrid game design of which I am aware. (The original dice are nowhere to be found; I'm fairly certain we took them for use in other games ages ago. While I don't fully remember them, my memory tells me they were classic white with black pips.)

I have looked for a disk image for this game on and off for years; as I mentioned, I began to wonder if I the memory was the product of my subconscious! Turns out you can find one at gamebase64, if you have a working C64 emulator. I'm using photos from the manual, which include sample screenshots and provide a bit of context.

 The game plays in two acts, and here's a shot that shows the first one, where you try to gather flowers, avoid dwarfs, and keep Edmund from going to the White Queen.

If you bump into a dwarf, you have to roll the pair of dice and try to beat the given number. Succeed, and the game carries on; fail, and you lose a heart and return to the wardrobe.

At certain points in the game, you would be prompted to flip over a card from the deck.

There are nine different cards. As you can see, each one has the name of a character or location from the book, an illustration, and instructions to press a particular key on the keyboard.

Here's a closer look at those cards.

Pressing the corresponding key brings you into a minigame, many of which involve rolling the dice. Some are just plain bad: Zap makes you lose a heart. Here's another manual pic showing a few of the minigame screens.

At this point, you may be wondering: what's to stop a player from simply entering Aslan's code every time, or typing "12" every time a high roll is needed? Nothing. Well, nothing in the game mechanics anyway. It's up to the player to decide if it is worth playing honestly or if it's more important to win. Check out the first page from the rulebook:

There's a lot of interesting stuff going on here. They distinguish their game from all the others by pointing out that in addition to being fun, it teaches positive values. These days, we call this "serious games." What's fascinating to me is that they're not talking about teaching facts and information, as a lot of poor edutainment tries to do; this game claims to be teaching values. Also, like a lot of modern serious games work, there's no evidence that it does actually teach these values, but it makes a lot of positive-sounding claims.

They call this an "interface(tm) game". Note the trademark. Adventures in Narnia predates modern use of interface to refer to the space between man and machine! Certainly there was some research happening on human-computer interaction, but the concept of interface had not entered the mainstream.

Three pages of the manual are dedicated to the adult reader in sections titled "For Parents and Teachers" (complete with discussion questions from each part of the game), "After Reading the Book," and "Enrichment Activities."

This is a fascinating piece of computing, HCI, and serious games history. There was a second game also produced, based on Voyage of the Dawn Treader, but I've never seen it in the wild. 


  1. Very cool, might have to load it up over here :)

  2. Replies
    1. I have no idea. Ebay shows no record of it, nor Amazon. It doesn't even show up on Lemon64, so I have to wonder how many people have any idea this even exists. It may have the most value to someone who is into digital archiving, given the scant information available about it.