If you’ve spent any time around video games in your lifetime, you know where I’m coming from. You start to carry around a mental list of incompletes, stories that you have a strong sense about but no finality. Years pass, new consoles live and die, VR becomes actual reality... but nothing really changes. You try to ignore your inner monologue nagging that you should see these older games to their natural conclusion, but maybe a few more rounds of Hearthstone first.
Why do we put down games? A million reasons. Fallout 4 calls me to experience the ‘new’, but here I am thinking about Indiana Jones. It’s easy to postpone these old experiences in lieu of something shinier and fancier. Unlike most older games in my backlog, I know exactly why I left this behind.
When thinking about my history with video games, my fondest early memories were of the ‘point and click’ genre, and 1990s LucasArts was the altar to worship at. I don’t think I had even watched an Indiana Jones movie when this was released in 1992, but that little golden guy standing on an L was a beacon to me. The basic premise is that Indy is tasked with finding Atlantis via Plato’s lost dialogue before the Nazis use its power for something nefarious. This seemed like the ultimate manifestation of Choose Your Own Adventure books for me. It’s the sort of game you want to experience more than once just to see how characters react to different lines of dialogue and actions.
I was talking about video games with my partner, what my earliest experiences were, and why they out of all media carry so much meaning for me. This game in particular doesn’t exactly carry the fondest memories for me, which is probably a reason why I’ve put it down a few times. When we experience pain in our lives, we often seek refuge to deal with it. The most probable place for my adolescent self to escape was with Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. It was easier for me to lose myself in an Algerian marketplace, talking to a shopkeeper about Rudyard Kipling’s red wagon, than to actually confront the pain. Certain trauma can make you remember the most mundane of details, even if the association is made with a bunch of pixels. The same hiding places that we use as defence mechanisms can still remind us of distant scars.
So here I am, once again bumbling through the Barnett College around 20 years later. On the Steam re-release it even has the full-on voiced dialogue, something I never experienced when I originally played through the game. Fate of Atlantis operates a little differently than most LucasArts titles, giving you the option to complete the game by following three separate paths: ‘Wits’, ‘Fists’, and ‘Team’. My initial foray into the game involved beating up bouncers and Nazis, and anyone else who would get in my way. Seemed like a perfectly normal way to release that childhood angst. Unfortunately, the fighting route is probably the least fun way to play this game. Hitting buttons to throw high and low punches just feels like a lesser version of what the game is. You need to follow the ‘Team’ path to experience the chemistry between Indy and ex-archaeologist turned psychic Sophia Hapgood.
It’s a love story, not a love-story situation. There are hints that there was a romantic past between Sophia and Indy, but for the most part it seems that there is a lot of reluctance between the two. The romance that does occur seems like a moment of weakness. It just felt like things weren’t going to work out for the two after it was all over. Sophia does show up eight years later in Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine to tie up loose ends. Unfortunately, this is a game I don’t have much experience with beyond my computer not being able to meet the minimum system requirements in 1999.
I stopped at this screenshot above when I was a kid. A stupid, simple puzzle that involves placing Atlantean stones on a spindle in the correct order. The concept of a walkthrough wasn’t something that was easily accessible in the 1990s. It was easy to hit a wall with this stuff as a kid. I wanted to see what happened here, but couldn’t figure it out. Was Atlantis on the other side of that stone door? I was so damn close to finding out. I suppose in retrospect I could have called the 1-900 LucasArts helpline, but my attention span got the best of me and I moved on to some other instant gratification. Not like I would have ever gotten permission to call a 1-900 number anyway.
But the game pulls me back years later as a teenager, and I finally do get beyond that stone door. It isn’t Atlantis. A submarine puzzle that I still have incredible frustrations with today. Why is my rudder locked? Why is it so difficult to reach the friggin’ airlock? What am I doing wrong here, and why is this perspective so finicky? I start to question my spatial abilities, and I wonder if I’m the only person in the world that has found this frustratingly difficult. After what seems like hours reloading and (shamefully) resorting to watching a Youtube video (or three), I’ve done it. I have finally landed my submarine in the airlock. This is another distinct point where I’ve put this game down. Literally on the precipice of Atlantis. I’m not stopping this time.
I don’t know how many times I’ve started and stopped playing Fate of Atlantis, and why I can’t just let it go. There is a rush of feelings revisiting this one, and it’s much more than the sum of painful memories, frustrating puzzles, or Indiana Jones. The game has beauty to me, and I don’t especially mean that in the pixel-art sense. I’m not advocating for escapism as a way of dealing with life’s problems, but while acting as a shelter Fate of Atlantis also instilled in me a blueprint for leaving behind the DOS prompt. Controlling a pixellated character travelling to exotic locales, meeting new people, and problem-solving in turn made me want to live a more enriched life instead of withdrawing. There comes a time when you move past the pain instead of being defined by it.
It took a long time to get here. I felt pretty good watching Atlantis sink to the bottom of the ocean for the first time ever. That’s a small spoiler, but Indiana Jones and Sophia never get to share the discovery of Atlantis with anyone else. The majesty of the lost civilization is only beholden to the two of them for a fleeting moment before its burial at sea. I’m at my conclusion, finally getting an ending after years of failure and giving up. Jones kisses Sophia.
“What’s that for?”
“To ease the pain.”