Quest for Glory

October 16, 2018 by Jonathan Gouge

I wrote my first novel over 20 years ago, when I was 14. It was a heavily plagiarized fantasy work that I had intended to work into a trilogy. When I was young, my family moved around a lot and it was difficult for me to make friends, so I learned to use my writing as a way of exploring my interests and coping with the world around me. It was a mash-up, a work of integrated fan fiction, and it was never intended for any kind of distribution. In fact, in more than two decades, no one other than me has ever seen it. I just wanted to take a moment here and talk about the things I remember about writing it and explain what some of my influences for it were.

The book is practically a love story to the works of art that had influenced me up to that point. When I say ‘art’ here, I don’t mean the typical sort of art that may come to mind, like Picasso or Rembrandt. Art could never be restrained in such a way, never so narrowly defined. For me, art can be so many things – tv shows, movies, music, books—it just needs to make a strong emotional impression on me. I grew up playing video games and interactive narrative stories that had lasting impressions on me. Video games were a major passion, and good video games were the highest form of art I had experienced – visually stunning, musically compelling, drawing me into a world vastly different from my own where I could assume a new identity and have an adventure. The most influential games from my early childhood were a series of computer games titled Quest for Glory.

Video games at that time seem drastically basic compared to contemporary examples. I remember in the 90s when Nintendo and Sega were having console wars, there was a big discussion about “bits”. Nintendo’s NES dominated the market with ‘8-bit’ graphics, then Sega came along and boasted of their ’16-bit’ graphics, and they went back and forth like that for a few years. Well, compared to those, Quest for Glory could probably safely be described as having 1 or 2 ‘bit’ graphic resolution. The games resembled those “paint by numbers” sheets you do as a child, only much more pixelated.

The unnamed hero (whose only backstory was that he had just graduated from Hero School and was trying to prove himself) was easy for me to project myself onto. The distance between us was minimized, and if it hadn’t been for constant reminder from the text entry interface design that I was playing a game, I may have completely lost myself in it and never returned. The story had a framework, but the player was allowed to customize their experience through the use of a basic class system that drastically effected how the story would unfold. Each class approached challenges in a different way (e.g. a wizard casts a spell to open a door and a thief picks the lock in the middle of the night), and it was enough of a difference to really make each playthrough a new adventure. For those of you who might be fans of the retro-adventure game genre, the Quest for Glory series is one of the absolute best. More than 20 years later, I still consider it one of my biggest artistic influences.