The game: An elderly man is mercilessly persecuted by successive generations of leather-clad, bondage-fixated upstarts who hate him and all of his kind. They break into his house and smash his things, and sometimes they burn crosses on his property. Obviously, you play as one of those upstarts.
The lesson: Don't pick up watches that you find lying around old peoples' houses. They'll do you no good and you might get in trouble. Unless you're in one of the rooms where disembodied heads fly at you, obviously, in which case it's steal-that-watch o'clock.
The games: The eponymous hero, a cave-dwelling chrome-dome with teeth apparently made of adamantium, battles dinosaurs in a series of prehistorically spurious escapades. No mushrooms for Bonk: his powerups are slabs of indeterminate meat.
The lesson: Before Oprah brought compulsive overeating to public awareness, Bonk was providing a sobering example of the disorder. Disregarding folk wisdom and eating chunks of meat bigger than his head will boost Bonk's power – but he'll roam the land in a fury, unable to forgive himself for the binge-eating he can't help but commit. Learn from Bonk: Food addiction is a tragic affliction.
Final Fantasy/Dragon Warrior
The games: So there was once Dungeons and Dragons, or “Ren Faire daydreaming with more rules”. Game designers tried to streamline D&D by giving all the dice-rolling and enemy-moving jobs to a computer, freeing humans up to focus on creativity and shared storytelling; “That's nice,” answered Japan, “but wouldn't you rather hunt slime-blobs in a dodgy Tolkien pastiche?”
The lesson: Blah blah hard work and honest graft make you a better person, yadda yadda elbow grease, blah blah blah up by your bootstraps. Yes, it's nice to learn that by putting in hours of slog, you too can save the kingdom; it would be a while longer before RPGs would append that maxim with “or you could just play something less mind-numbing.”
Bubble Bobble/Snow Bros/Tumblepop
Above: Don't eat the yellow snow
The games: Bubble Bobble pioneered the “catch and release” subgenre of platformer, pitting snot-blowing dinosaurs against cutesy reapers and whales. This firm grounding in incomprehensibility inspired the pudding-goblin heroes of Snow Bros, as well as Tumblepop's off-brand Ghostbusters.
Above: When there's something strange in your local borough, who are you going to contact? Tumblepop!
The lesson: The shared message of these games is merciless cruelty. Captured enemies who go too long without being snuffed will come back, twice as angry as before – so unlike milquetoast Commando or Mercs fans, the proficient Bubble Bobbler will discard mercy and fill his heart with hate.
The game: No one would have believed, in the last years of the twentieth century, that an alien force could develop the technology to reach and invade Earth, then use that technology to hover uselessly while an idiot with a pea-shooter hid in a bunker and slowly shot them down one, by one, by one...
The lesson: Space Invaders is a resource management game masquerading as the world's first shoot-em-up. The key lies in knowing when to use the provided bunkers as cover, and when to shoot them out for a clear line of fire. From this, we learn that sometimes to survive, it's necessary to destroy your own-- oh, sod it, just play Galaga instead.
What unconventional wisdom have you found in old (or newer) games? Let us know in the comments.
Dec 1, 2010
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