Alter Ego is a great game full of humor and insight, and is a revival of a much older game and genre. It’s a text adventure built on the idea of guiding another ‘you’ through his or her entire lifetime.
The complexities of a human lifetime is a daunting task to take on for a simulation but Alter Ego makes a valiant attempt at it.
The website for Alter Ego says the concept and idea is difficult to explain. In fact, they declare that it is easier to play the game than to attempt an explanation, so I thought I would give it a try. Here is my explanation and review of the game:
At first, when I started playing Alter Ego, I began to feel a slow disappointment build, as it appeared to be nothing more than a text adventure, with the occasional picture thrown in. I have been known to enjoy a text adventure or two in my day, but I wasn’t going to be impressed by one, I felt sure. I was relieved, therefore, when I got a bit more into the game and discovered a whole new world, built on the concept and title of “Alter Ego” This is a text adventure, but with a twist.
The beginning is text, as is most of the game. It tells about your birth, includes a short survey of your personality, and sets up the whole game from there on. Once you get past those early bits, you’re presented with a tall, ‘timeline’ style chart or map. There is an hourglass icon to the top right, for selecting different stages, as well. Each icon on the map represents a different category of life such as social, emotional, or intellectual. Clicking on one of them will open a window of a moment in your Alter Ego’s lifetime. It presents a series of text adventure style story, told in the second person, much like a ‘choose your own adventure’ style book. You’re given various choices and you can guide your Alter Ego through a whole lifetime.
One of the interesting things about this game, that makes it stand out a bit more, is the concept that it brings you through a lifetime of your character, from the very beginning. The first choices you will make as the player are things like “Cry for attention” or “Look around” and “Sleep” all the typical things that a baby can do. You’ll find yourself led through being an infant and a toddler then a teen, etc. In addition to selecting actions, you’ll often be offered the option to choose what mood you’re in for that moment. This can affect the overall outcome of the moment in time. Each moment in time is a part of the overall timeline, which will lead you through your whole life, including the end of it.
As you go through the choices for each moment, its icon will disappear from the available choices on the map of your life. Some of these moments are poignant, some are humorous, and some will really make you think. Each of them will affect what happens in the events after it, and each of them develops certain portions of your alter ego’s life, as labeled on the icon. This means you have the option to concentrate on specific areas of your character’s life at one time. You could, for example, spend much of your early life concentrating on emotional moments. This will have an effect on the moments and choices presented to your A.E. later in his or her life.
There are seven stages of life in Alter Ego, and when you are done with one stage, you press the hourglass icon at the top of the timeline to move on to the next. You can spend as little or as much time as you want in each stage, limited only by the number of icons available on your timeline for that stage. When you decide to move on to the next stage, you’ll be given a wrap-up story that tells what the results of your efforts in the previous stage are, and how they affect the stage you’re moving on to. Each stage of life has its own timeline of ‘moments’ as icons, as well. The amount of choices and available results is simply staggering, when looked at from a purely numerical point of view. As you may begin to see, the game’s concept really is simple but the gameplay holds a lot more in the way of complexity than would first appear to be the case.
The really interesting thing with this game is that it takes the story of an entire life and turns it into a series of choices, a puzzle, even. You can look at it with a number of different intentions as your goal. You can think of an eventual outcome for your alter ego’s life, like being a rock star or a garbage man, and try to make the right choices to lead to that goal. Alternatively, you can just make choices based on your own ideals and see where they lead, ultimately. In either case, the game offers a compelling way to look into possible futures and explore thoughts of “what if”. The amount of work that must have gone into bringing the game to its current state had to have been pretty monumental. The sheer volume of text for the available choices in each moment of life, not to mention the core programming, is impressive alone for a project of this type. There’s a list, as well, of things that they plan on adding to the game in the future, here.
The game is also available for Android and iOS devices. It was originally written by Peter Favaro, Ph.D. It was published in 1986 for the Commodore 64, MS-DOS, Apple II, and Macintosh. These types of campy throwbacks to days gone by can be a lot of fun, for those of us in a nostalgic mood. Many times, people who wind up working on really great commercial games have started out in the freeware world, publishing games like this. Whether it is done as a hobby or as an attempt to educate, or just for the sheer fun of it, games like Alter Ego are always a nice alternative to the click-fest games we’re used to playing these days. It’s a nice way to downshift, slow your pace, and take a few minutes to appreciate real life. It’s also a good way to waste some time while waiting for the bus. Give Alter Ego a try, and see where your other life might lead.
[Thanks go to reader Panzer for the tip about this game].