Many moons ago, my late wife Patti and I started playing a simple, text-based video game on our first generation Apple IIc. ‘Zork’ was an adventure into an underground world where we had to solve puzzles and battle evil forces in a quest for some thing or other. Imagine Lord of the Rings, only in glowing green letters on a small black screen.

We became pretty obsessed by this, our very first video game, and many a night, one of us would wake up at 2 am and say to the other, ‘What if we took the left hand tunnel, climbed the rope, and used the rusty screwdriver to open the golden cask?’ and we would pop up, throw on our dressing gowns, and scurry off to to try this new strategy — usually ending up groaning with failure and collapsing back in bed hours later.

Every night, we would try and die. Try and die. Try and…

The next year, we continued to find ourselves popping up at 2 am — but now it was because Jack had been born and he needed something in the night. What was it? A bottle? A fresh diaper? A blanket? A song? A cuddle? We would work through different combinations of strategies (first the bottle, then read ‘Goodnight Moon’, then bounce him up and down. No, try it in reverse, etc.) until we found something that worked and we all went back to bed.

Jack’s first nickname: Baby Zork.

When Jack was seven, he got his first skateboard. He would run to the park with it each morning, practicing Ollies, trying to hop up and down steps, grinding, bailing, tripping, slamming and wiping out. Day after day, he would work and work and bring home bruises and scrapes. But Jack was determined and, slowly he went from a complete lummox to a reasonably rad rider.

When Jack got new video games, he thought nothing of investing weekends, evenings, holidays, hunkered down alone or with friends, working through level after level, trying and dying. Ask him why he put so much work in to it, and he would look at you aghast. That was the point, to try and die and try and die, until eventually you mastered the game.If you didn’t die, you couldn’t fly.

Neither Patti not I were athletic in any way. And yet we had this boy who pushed to overcome his genetic disadvantage to ride a skateboard, play soccer, basketball, football, whatever his buddies were into it. He never achieved the highest heights but he never really cared. It was fun.

Similarly, despite the obvious fact that nobody in our family could even carry a tune, Jack learned to play the guitar, then the drums, played in bands, had fun making music with his pals. Did it come naturally? Not at all. Was he planning on music as profession? Fortunately, not. Did he seem in any way ‘talented’? Uh, no.

Sure, Jack had friends who went on to record albums, play in clubs, achieve the heights, but Jack was just happy for them. He felt in no way like his time behind the drum kit was wasted. Playing music was just a new set of problems to crack, another fun thing to do. As was soccer, Call of Duty, cooking lasagna, and writing computer code.

Life is Zork. Your job is Zork. Your relationship is Zork. And learning to draw is Zork. You’ll make horrible blunders, create ugly things, waste paper, take wrong turns, cringe at your mistakes. Maybe you have a ‘talent’ for it, probably you don’t. Whatevs.

What matters is the journey, exploring the wrong paths, going on misadventures, tripping upon discoveries, learning from mistakes just so you can make fresh ones. Trying and dying and flying — and dying again.

That’s the game we are all here to play. Please enjoy it.



17 thoughts on “Zork!”

  1. Well said!*

    Incidentally, I’ve tried to play text based games with a number of younger kids and I’ve always failed. Just too dang slow and confusing. Still, I’m convinced there’s something there. It’s like the difference between watching the movie and reading the book. Sure, the movie is awfully entertaining, but the book takes place in your head, where you get to fill in all the details.

    *Note: why is that whatever compliment I write ends up looking like automated SPAM? How sad is that?


  2. In other words, Zork is living your life. I love how you explained this as living life is what everything is about. I caught my 10 yo son cheating at a card game while playing with his friend. I didn’t say anything to him until his friend left but watched as they played. My son kept cheating and losing. Once the friend left I remarked that it hadn’t helped a bit to cheat and he replied, “sorry Mom, but he won’t play unless he wins”. I learned about the world of Zork and was so proud of him.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Exactly! Some of them, as soon as I accomplish the level of expertise l desire, I stop -lace, socks, sonnets, fresh pasta, etc… Other zorkian activities have no end for me – writing, drawing, photography, working with youth. Sometimes my dear fella looks at me and raises his bushy eyebrows. I know that he is asking me, in his quiet Labradorian man way, what’s with all the making? I smile and say “I’m not snorting coke, let me be.”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. That’s exactly it Danny G.!!! You have written the story of our lives! Many of us have been ‘Zorking’ but we just didn’t know what it was. Now I get it…I get what has been happenning (to me at leadt) for months now…I take the paper and pen and colors….and having no ‘natural talent’ for the tasks at hand, I try and die…over and over. i have the proof in the filled up sketchbooks that are stashed in my basement. Recently I have been thinking ‘why bother’ when ‘the there are sketching stars’ out there? Bu you just told me why….it’s fun and I may never be a Hockney or a Picasso but it doesn’t matter …I am making my own life art and someday, someone who is clearing out my basement when I’m gone will have a legacy of images that came from my soul they never knew existed! When is it sign up time for the next SBS? i’m ready!


  5. This is perfect. I will have to remember this quote when things don’t turn out quite like I’d hoped that they would…”Life is Zork.” I love it! Life IS Zork. All of it. Especially things that we CAN’t quite capture in a sketch. 🙂


  6. I love you Danny. I had forgotten all about Zork, and now, to have you bring it back and apply it to life and art….well…thank you, thank you, thank you. I remember, at one point I got so frustrated with Zork that I finally typed in “f**k that troll”. I had tried everything to get past that thing, I was frustrated. The game’s reply to me was to call me some kind of pervert, thank me on behalf of the troll, and tell me that my effort had not been successful. “Thank you, try again! ” And now, I’m off to Zork my day away with art. Thank you.


  7. Thanks for quoting my favourite motto: “What matters is the journey.” It has gotten me over many failures, and left me with countless memories.


  8. Oh, I do! I do! So very much. And yes, I’m obsessed with drawing now as you and Patti were with Zork! Fortunately I don’t get up at 2 am to do it. I’m happy waiting till morning and trekking off to Starbucks, or Barnes and Noble, one Tacos Jalisco where my “people”are to draw. ‘Except on the days I have to work/3 part days a week now I’m down to) then I draw at noon and night at home in my recliner, what ever the “prompt” of the day is, or the thing in front of me object, husband, cat … I don’t know what I’d do without it. I don’t care that I’m not as good as so and so, the best on the block, I am just so enjoying the journey. Thanks for leading me there, it’s such a fun ride!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I loved zork. Played it any hour of the day, and into the wee hours of the night. It was not only amusing, and delightfully challenging, it was also a fun mental escape.
    Many years later, during a very dark and troubled period in my life, I created a zork scenario in my journal as an attempt to lighten my mood and add a cynical but humorous twist to a very bleak situation. It was simply entitled Zork…

    29 April 2010, Thursday morning. Nearly an inch of snow on the ground, snowing and dark. Very dark till 10am.
    You are in a small airplane, flying in a blinding snowstorm. There is no one on board but you (where the hell is the crew??). Visibility is zip. No landmarks are visible. You study the instrument panel. Switches, gages, dials. The plane appears to be flying level at a steady speed. In the cockpit is a manual, an ice tea spoon & a couple of stuffed zebras. A small watercolor kit and a book-‘Putting People in Your Paintings’-is on the seat. You have a restroom key, and 1/2 of a tuna sandwich. One gnat is flying around. It’s snowing harder now…
    Loopty Loop.
    Loopy Loop. You thought you got a glimpse of a mountain peak.
    There’s an empty parachute rack in the back of the plane & a suicide note from the captain apologizing for taking the parachute…

    That was my journal entry. Yes, I see life and zork as one in the same. And I still love zork. And life…

    Thanks Danny for your wonderful blog.


  10. Exactly what I wanted to see this a.m. Thank you! I am a reasonably proficient sketcher, but perspective is where I try and die, over and over and over and over again. Zork. It’s perfect. Also, you have just explained for me why my son spent hours playing computer games. It now makes more sense. At home he wasn’t allowed to play “video games”, but was allowed to play a game called “Civil War Generals.” He didn’t like it at first, but then became really good at determining different outcomes for the Civil War based on his countless different strategies. Those gaming strategy making skills helped him when he played soccer, as a semi-prfessional cyclist, in college, and throughout law school. He’s now zorking his way through corporate law and having fun! PS I know he would go to his friends’ houses and play video games, but I never let on:)

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thanks for all your inspiring posts Danny. I love being part of Sketchbook Skool which definitely cemented my habit of drawing. Looking forward to the new semester and also your new book which is preordered!


  12. That’s nice. I’m wired differently and while I might enjoy a process, I’d much prefer to reach a level of skill that I find satisfying. I want to love what I create and I want to create beauty. I have loftier hopes and goals than simply making a lot of bad drawings, although that might be part of the part process. It can be a downer, when the progress is slow. And of course this happens, whenever I stop sketching and painting and get rusty.


    1. I believe I have reached a level I find satisfying. I had to make a lot of bad drawings to get there. My point was that it will be less of a downer if you enjoy the whole process of learning of discovery rather than being derailed by failure. So maybe you aren’t wired differently after all, S.


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