Zork!

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.