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The Prisoner

by David Mullich


(based on 2 ratings)
1 review

About the Story

Inspired by the highly acclaimed television series, your Apple puts you in a nightmare 1984 world whose rulers seek to break you down by an extensive array of brainwashing techniques, while you are armed only with your intelligence and sense of individuality. Can you escape to freedom or will you remain forever THE PRISONER?

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Poetry has a social value, August 10, 2023

The Prisoner (1967) is an enigmatic British television series that refuses to be pigeonholed into any genre. Led by Patrick McGoohan -- an actor who's made his name in spy dramas but was sick by how pornographic and violent the genre has become -- the TV show is reacting to the counterculture movement of the 60s, the absurd drama of the Cold War, and the false feeling of progress technology has given us. In the foreword to Alan Stevens's Fall Out: The Unofficial and Unauthorized Guide to the Prisoner, episode writer Ian Rakoff claims if McGoohan was more an artist like Orson Welles that the show would be nearer to high art and not affect as many people. This tension between amusement and expression remains compelling to audiences today.

The Prisoner (1980) is an Apple II game that takes the spirit of the show and refracts it into our postmodern times. In this revealing interview, David Mullich (the creator) said that he "wanted to make a game in which you needed to do the opposite of everything that games were at the time." What he could never have imagined is how subversive, baffling, and exciting it will still be to 2023 eyes.

Just like the TV show, the game begins with a spy agent resigning from their superiors. They are given a code that they must never reveal at any cost. As the player character happily chooses where to fly, they are gassed and taken to a mysterious room called THE CASTLE. The player is supposed to guide their character out of this crudely designed maze and hopefully avoid the traps that put them back in the starting point, but there's one problem: the controls are peculiar, to say the least - [U]p, [D]own, [L]eft, and [R]ight don't seem so intuitive when the keyboard has arrow keys. At the end of the room, a voice greets them and you can only respond in numbers. Type any random number and they'll grumble and tell the player that the Caretaker wants to see them.

The player can finally step out of the castle and freely explore the Island -- except that the controls are [N]orth, [W]est, [E]ast, and [S]outh, the buildings are somewhat randomized and only numbered, and everyone and everything wants the player's resignation code.

And that is just the beginning of how weird and surreal this game is going to be.

The Prisoner is designed to be the player's ultimate enemy: to force the resignation code out of them, by hook or by crook. Each numbered building is a different minigame, with different rules, obstacles and goals: they flash subliminal messages and numbers, (Spoiler - click to show)cause an error page where the player can debug and accidentally reveal the code, or put you into a long scenario inspired by the TV show in order to psychologically deflate the player's motivation to play any more. It is in keeping with the ethos laid out in the manual: "just as in real life, the rules are not laid out before hand but must be discovered as you go along." Yet, even with this precaution, the title has always surprised me in my playthroughs because I've never seen a game so willing to gaslight me, just for those three digits that define my life. Its hostility unnerves me in every single way.

It's this esoterically frustrating experience that I found to be rather meaningful and even liberating. Here is a game that doesn't want to be fun. In fact, it hates you for even trying it. The game is more than happy to exempt itself from the arbitrary rules of Good Game Design because it wants to fight the player. The Prisoner is a menace. You cannot escape it. Only until the player learns to resist it will they be free from the game.

I don't expect people to flock to this game. It's hard enough recommending what I think is a stellar TV show to people, let alone a buggy abandonware title.

But for those who are interested in how a game can challenge you not with elaborate puzzles or dexterity but with enmity, this is a game worth experiencing in one form or another. The most obvious choice is to play the game itself, but I think people who aren't inclined to old computer games can read this detailed GameFAQs walkthrough.

The players who take up this challenge are guaranteed to find something worthwhile in this abrasive mess. To cop from another review, the player must "game out of the box". It is a game that asks itself in earnest, "How exactly do you make a computer game about social resistance?", and that answer is going to differ from player to player.

The five stars are therefore not an indicator of how well made or fun the game is. Rather, they refer to how provocative the game is to me. The Prisoner is an inspiring title that opens up a new horizon of what games could be and I want to make games as thought-provoking as this.

Be seeing you.

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This is version 1 of this page, edited by Kastel on 10 August 2023 at 12:32am. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item - Delete This Page