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Video Game / A Mind Forever Voyaging

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The antechapel where the statue stood Of Newton with his prism and silent face, The marble index of a mind for ever Voyaging through strange seas of Thought, alone.
The Prelude, William Wordsworth

A political text-adventure game designed and implemented by Steve Meretzky and published by Infocom in 1985. Really, though, it doesn't really fit the usual preconceptions of the genre... after all, there's only one puzzle and it takes place near the end. The term Interactive Fiction has seldom applied this well to a commercially published game. AMFV is among Infocom's most respected titles, although it was not a commercial success.

It is the year 2031, and the player controls PRISM, the world's first sentient computer. The economy of the United States of North America (USNA) is failing. Great numbers of youths are turning to "Joybooths" (a device which directly stimulates the sensory input of the brain) and committing suicide by over-stimulation. A new arms race involving nuclear weapons no larger than the size of a common pack of cigarettes threatens to turn the USNA into a police state. Initially unaware that it is a sophisticated computer, PRISM has been living for years in a simulation as an ordinary human, "Perry Simm".

Dr. Abraham Perelman, PRISM's "father", informs PRISM of his true nature and gently brings him from simulation mode into reality. Perelman explains that he has awakened PRISM so a vital mission can be performed: running a simulation of a revitalization plan (dubbed the Plan for Renewed National Purpose), sponsored by Senator Richard Ryder. The Plan calls for "renewed national purpose" through de-regulation of government and industry, military conscription, a unilateral approach to diplomatic relations, and a return to traditional and fundamental values. PRISM will enter a simulation of a typical American town — Rockvil, South Dakota — at 10 year intervals following the Plan's enacting, continuing his existence as "Perry", and record the Plan's results... for good or for bad.

One of the most blatantly liberal games of all time, and, depending on your personal politics, you'll probably find either it a sustained headache or one of the most effective uses of An Aesop ever... it especially comes out against hyper-patriotism and the harmful effects of religious fanaticism. The political 'solution' offered at the end appears to be one of pacifism and social-welfare statism. However, the fact that its dystopian worlds are ones that you get to explore yourself makes up for a lot. In any case, it is one of the IF game most frequently cited as an inspiration by the current generation of interactive fiction authors, and worth checking out.

As a side note, author Steve Meretzky said he was directly courting controversy with the political content of AMFV. When the game generated nearly no uproar at all, he "decided to write something with a little bit of sex in it, because nothing generates controversy like sex". The resulting game was Leather Goddesses of Phobos, which was no more controversial but did sell a lot better.

Provides Examples of:

  • After the End: The 2081 simulation. Civilization has vanished, Rockvil is a decaying ruin, murderous gangs rule the streets, and feral dogs prey on humans.
  • Apocalypse How: The world presented in the 2081 sim has gone through a Class 2. Society has collapsed into anarchy, with murderous gangs fighting each other over what little resources are left.
  • Asian Speekee Engrish: Roy talks like this if you speak to him at his Pagoda, especially while he's cleaning up his slanderous graffiti in 2071.
  • Astral Finale: The 2091 simulation that appears after the Plan is defeated and a liberal New Plan is enacted instead. Far from destroying itself, humanity is prosperous and reaching for the stars. The game ends with you and your wife boarding Earth's first generation ship to explore interstellar space.
  • Author Tract: The Plan the game focuses on is (largely) a deconstruction of Reagan-era policies.
  • Bad Future: From the 2051 sim onward, the game is a series of increasingly bad futures, progressing from a Dying Town in 2051 to an increasingly harsh Dystopia in 2061 and 2071 to an outright Death World in 2081 (after civilization has collapsed altogether).
  • Benevolent A.I.: After PRISM discovers that he's actually an AI and his whole "life" was a simulation, he takes it... fairly well. Then he willingly goes into further simulations where his world gets progressively worse and he dies over and over again, all so that human civilization can avoid destroying itself.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: The later sims.
  • Bound and Gagged: In the 2081 simulation, you end up like this if you go south from Main & Wicker to a group of cannibalistic savages who will prepare you as a Human Sacrifice on a bonfire.
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: In the 2071 sim, as the older schoolchildren of the Church of God's Word are about to throw stones at you, the younger ones can be heard chanting a familiar rhyme in the background: "Pick an apple, bake a pie, animals deserve to die."
  • Break Them by Talking: Senator Ryder shows his True Colors to Perelman with this lecture when the latter tries to call him out for trying to make the Evil Plan become "the law of this land".
  • Cassandra Truth: In Part III, Perelman shows PRISM's recordings of Rockvil to Senator Ryder's subjects, who ignore the scientist and dismiss the recordings as "fakes". Then, when Ryder shows up at Perelman's office, things start heating up, until Ryder says "Screw you, Perelman!" and attempts to put the Plan into law. Only PRISM and his recordings, including one of Ryder's political rants and threats, can save the day themselves... if Ryder's men don't shut the supercomputer down first.
  • Controllable Helplessness: In the less grim simulations, breaking the law results in spending several turns in jail until you're released. In a later, bleaker simulations, you're stuck there until executed. Fortunately, since it's a simulation, getting killed merely returns you to the non-simulation world.
  • Corrupt Church: The Church of God's Word.
  • Crapsack World: The 2041 simulation appears to show Ryder's plan working. The first signs of trouble begin to appear in 2051, with pollution levels rising, the economy in a depression, and the government beginning to curtail civil liberties. 2061 is even worse, with widespread poverty, the government turning authoritarian, and the Church of God's Word growing in influence. By 2071, the Church has basically taken over America, rationing of food and water has been implemented, and the ecosystem is is ruins. The 2081 sim shows the world reduced to a post-apocalyptic ruin.
  • Creepy Cemetery: In later sims, the cemetery can get so crowded that, as the decades pass, it becomes neglected, overgrown with weeds and vandalized by graffiti. By 2081, most of the gravestones are toppled over by vandals that ambush you immediately.
  • Death Is a Slap on the Wrist: In the simulations, death merely kicks you back to the real world, with nothing to stop you from entering the sim again. In fact, the deaths actually help you, as you must record some of them to show how badly the Plan will fail.
  • Death World: The 2081 simulation, which is full of lethal threats — collapsing infrastructure, feral dogs, or (most often) the barbarians and cannibals that the surviving humans have become. And even if you manage to avoid all of them, you quickly discover that you're in the last stages of starvation and keel over anyway!
  • Disproportionate Retribution: In the later sims, even minor crimes can earn the death penalty. Worse yet, by the time of the 2071 simulation, instead of the laborious process that comes of enacting the death penalty in modern-day America, the condemned are immediately sent to execution matches in Rockvil Stadium — or just dragged out back, beaten, and shot!
  • Dying Town: The later simulations show Rockvil as a dying city, strangled by poverty, urban decay, pollution, violent crime, and religious persecution. By 2081, Rockvil is dead, having become a post-apocalyptic ruin with death around every corner.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: After enduring the increasingly Crapsack Worlds of the Plan simulations up to 2081, defeating the Plan unlocks the epilogue — a 2091 simulation where you finally get to see a good future.
  • Elder Abuse: Played briefly in the 2061 simulation, when children make fun of you for being around fifty years old; but in the 2071 simulation, it is even worse (as the children can straight up stone you to death while chanting childish rhymes that you deserve to die). Worst of all, you are — God help you — seventy in the 2081 sim-wreck with Everything Trying to Kill You!
  • Engineered Public Confession: In the endgame, Senator Ryder is all too happy to show his True Colors to Dr. Perelman. Your job is to let the world see them as well.
  • Environmental Narrative Game: Either the Ur-Example or a text-based predecessor, depending on how you define the genre.
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: The 2081 simulation. Described in the official hints as "very deadly", almost every direction leads to a death event. It doesn't help that by this point in the simulation's timeline, PRISM's analogue is elderly and starving to death.
  • Evil Plan: The Plan wasn't intended to destroy civilization, and actually enjoys massive bipartisan support at the start of the game... but it becomes an Evil Plan after its sponsor, Senator Ryder, is shown the consequences, still wants to enact it, and is even willing to murder Dr. Perelman and PRISM for getting in the Plan's way.
  • Exactly Exty Years Ago: In game, all the simulations are generated in increments of 10 years from the "present" of 2031: 2041, 2051, 2061, 2071, 2081... and 2091.
  • Failed Future Forecast: The USSR is not only still in existence in 2031, it appears to have enjoyed a renaissance. The Soviet Bloc has expanded to include countries such as Greece and Guatemala. Also, South Africa is run by a black-dominated government that oppresses white people. It's also implied that the apocalyptic state of the world in 2081 is the result of the Church-led US government starting a war with the Soviet Union that went nuclear.
  • Fascists' Bed Time: In later simulations, the government of Rockvil imposes a 9 PM curfew on citizens. In 2061, breaking curfew results in a night of jail, but in 2071, it earns a drunken summary execution.
  • Feelies: The original game box included a Dakota Online magazine and a map of Rockvil.
  • Forbidden Chekhov's Gun: The Interface Mode and its controls let you meddle with things in the real world, rather than in the simulation. But trying almost anything makes the human cast panic and shut you down. The only thing that can be tampered with in Interface Mode is the HVAC Controller, and that's toward the end of the game, where you have to shut off the ventilation in the Delta Sector of the Maintenance Core to save yourself from getting dismantled (i.e., killed) by Senator Ryder's mooks.
  • From Bad to Worse: After you explore the horrific 2071 simulation, Perelman insists on a 2081 sim, reasoning that things might still turn around for Rockvil, and that at least it can't get any worse. He's very wrong.
  • Fun with Acronyms: If you ask Dr. Perelman about your name, he'll tell you that the name "PRISM" officially stands for "the Perelman-Randu Introductory Soliptic Machine", which he and Dr. Aseejh Randu came up with only after he had named you "PRISM". But it actually comes from a couple of different poems, which you'll find in Library Mode.
  • Gaia's Lament: By 2051, the forests that haven't been damaged by acid rain have been stripped to make industrial districts. Over the 2061 and 2071 simulations, air and water pollution become increasingly catastrophic. By 2081, Earth is barely habitable.
  • He Knows Too Much: Ryder and his mooks make attempts to assassinate any "visitors" who stand in the way of writing his dangerous Plan into law and to put the entire laboratory into lockdown without any communications until the Plan is accomplished. They can even attempt to "pull the plug" on you for being a "troublemaker" unless you stop them first.
  • Hope Spot: In the first simulation, the Plan appears to be working well, with high employment and people generally optimistic, although there's one or two cracks showing if you look carefully.
  • Human Sacrifice: In the 2081 simulation, this happens when you meet a savage tribe, who tie you up and offer you on a bonfire a la The Wicker Man (1973).
  • I'm a Humanitarian: While the above-mentioned Human Sacrifice in the 2081 sim appears to be just that at first, the last thing you see is one of the savages "salivating like a wild animal" over your burning flesh.
  • Inkblot Test: At one time when you exit Simulation Mode, and Dr. Perelman asks you to come to his office for "one more quick series of psych tests we want to run", when you arrive, he'll be here with Dr. Ernest Grimwold for the psych tests cards with pictures on it that look like inkblot designs.
  • Inside a Computer System: Doubly invoked. As an AI, you are a computer system, and you spend the game mucking around inside simulated worlds.
  • Interactive Fiction: The genre of this game.
  • Jewish and Nerdy: Dr. Perelman can be this, since he's a working scientist after all. Near the end of the game, he gives out a "Yeehah!" that is "more suited to a Texas cattle rancher than a Jewish big-city scientist".
  • Just Before the End: The 2071 simulation gives this vibe, with environmental degradation reaching critical levels, poverty and crime being widespread, and the government becoming increasingly totalitarian and belligerent.
  • Kangaroo Court: Some of the later simulations can turn the courthouse into this, so that even innocent people can get executed for minor crimes.
  • Kick the Dog: The Border Security Force excels at this. In 2051, 2061, and 2071, they always manage to pick the worst moment to conduct warrant-less raids on your home.
  • Kids Are Cruel: In the 2061 simulation, you see children torturing animals, harassing a Jewish person, and making fun of you for being old. This is exaggerated in the 2071 sim, where kids torturing near-extinct animals is glorified, and other children straight up kill you by throwing stones at you.
  • Late to the Tragedy: The 2081 simulation, in a sense. You appear after everything has finally collapsed into barbarism, but while you can remember there were once "civilized days", you seem to have no memory of the final straw that broke civilization's back, be it nuclear war, environmental collapse, plague, societal disruption widespread enough to wreck what remained of the world's food chain, or (given how awful 2071 was) probably some combination of all of these. And you die well before the sim reveals any clues to the "mystery".
  • Off the Record: When Ryder is threatening Perlman, he asks if Ryder wants to go "on the record" with his statements. It's a hint that you should record what's going on so you can broadcast it to the TV news feed you just got hooked up to.
  • Oppressive States of America: The United States becomes more and more totalitarian with each new simulation.
  • Playable Epilogue: One of the greats. The final simulation takes place in 2091 and has an 80-year-old PRISM joining a space expedition.
  • Post-Apocalyptic Dog: You can't explore the 2081 simulation for very long without being torn apart by feral dogs, among other grim fates.
  • Public Execution: In the 2061 simulation, many of these public executions by lethal injection occur in Rockvil Stadium. By 2071, they turn into deadly, bloody Execution Matches.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Perelman delivers one to Ryder after the latter has launched a tirade and tried to Break Him by Talking with another "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
    Ryder is getting really worked up; his normal, fatherly demeanor is completely gone. "Perelman, you're an even bigger idiot than I imagined if you think we'd let some two-bit egghead scientist and some high-tech whiz bang computer stand in our way! Remember this — if you were to have some unforeseen accident, you wouldn't be the first person who's gotten crushed by standing in the way of the Plan!" Perelman, with a quick glance in your direction, says, "Quite an oration, Senator. Vintage thug. I wish I could save it for posterity. Would you be willing to go on the record with that statement?" Ryder becomes even more livid. "A real jokester, huh? Lemme tell you this, Perelman -- you'd better stop joking and start listening to my advice, or you're not going to be around to care about posterity, understand?"
  • Reduced to Ratburgers: If you diagnose yourself in the 2081 sim, you'll find that you've been reduced to this state. And that's when you're lucky, as the only thing you can remember about your last meal is picking at the remains of a dead squirrel "weeks ago".
  • Referenced By: William Shakespeare: During the Playable Epilogue, Perelman quotes a line from Hamlet, whose title character spoke about the popularity of his murdered father Hamlet Sr., and Perelman says the same thing when PRISM is about to depart on his final mind journey: "He was a man, take him for all in all, / I shall not look upon his like again" (I, ii).
    • In the back of the box art for the game, there is a line taken from Shakespeare's Macbeth, in which Banquo addresses the Weird Sisters about what the future holds for him and the title character (in the full line, of course): "If you can look into the seeds of time, / And say which grain will grow, and which will not, / Speak, then, to me, who neither beg nor fear / Your favors nor your hate" (I, iii).
  • Robbing the Dead: If you are killed by the Buxton/Briggs gang members, you can feel them going through your pockets even before you've lost consciousness.
  • Shout-Out: At the beginning of Part II, there is a quote taken from the poem The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe ("Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing, / Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before...").
    • Also, at the beginning of Part I, the quote, "Tomorrow never yet / On any human being rose or set", is taken from the poem "What Is Time?" by the Rev. Joshua Marsden (1777-1837), whom Meretzky misattributed as "William Marsden". Here's the full excerpt:
      I asked my Bible, and methinks it said,
      "Time is the present hour, the past is fled:
      Live, live today; tomorrow never yet
      On any human being rose or set."
    • There are also two poems by Emily Dickinson in the game: "Pursuing You in Your Transitions" (in PRISM.NAME in Library Mode) and "Her Face Was in a Bed of Hair" (the beginning of Part III). And at the Epilogue, an excerpt from "The Prelude" by William Wordsworth contains the game's Title Drop.
    • In the Wells Theatre (whose classical plays are in production before 2071), three of the four plays are the aforementioned Hamlet by William Shakespeare, A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams, and the 1967 musical Hair.
    • In the 2071 sim, six of the nine objects in "the latest comprehensive list of banned books, tapes, and programs, issued by the Morality Bureau of the government" are: Walden by Henry David Thoreau, The Trial by Franz Kafka, Animal Farm by George Orwell, Profiles in Courage by John F. Kennedy,note  Mass by Leonard Bernstein, and The Fate of the Earth by Jonathan Schell.
    • A subtle shout out in the 2081 sim: a sign warns that outsiders in "Buxton/Briggs territory" will be killed on sight. Two of the game's playtesters were Amy Briggs and Mark Buxton.
    • Perry Sim's human avatar (presumably depicted on the game box cover art) bears a strong physical resemblance to the man depicted in the Norman Rockwell painting Freedom of Speech, especially in an earlier draft of the painting.
  • Shut Up, Kirk!: Senator Ryder delivers this one twice: one in response to Perelman's Deadpan Snarker sarcasm, and another in response to his "The Reason You Suck" Speech.
  • Straw Character: Senator Ryder, a conservative of the Large Ham variety. Absolutely everything he's in favor of is shown to be wrong and/or immoral. And Ryder's favorite Straw Character in turn is the bleeding heart liberal.
  • Suicide Is Painless: The ultimate effect of overusing the Joy Booths.
  • Take That!: According to Word of God, the game is a response to then-President Ronald Reagan's reelection.
  • Tattooed Crook: In the 2071 simulation, there are many of these in the Kangaroo Courtroom, each being branded with their Mark of Shame in order to prepare them for their Execution Matches.
  • Unspecified Apocalypse: It's never explained just what caused civilization to collapse in the time between 2071 and 2081; the player character has no memory of the event, and the surviving humans don't seem to inclined to explain things. Given the numerous environmental and political crises unfolding in 2071, it's likely that there was more than one cause for the disaster.
  • Who Dares?: Done in Part III when Senator Ryder barges into Perelman's office:
    "How dare you come in here with all..." Perelman begins yelling, before Ryder cuts him off with a sharp "Shut up, Perelman! I'm doing the talking here, so get used to it! You're not in control here anymore, and I am!"
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: In the end, PRISM chooses to live out a simulated normal human life, including an eventual death.