Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Archiving

Mystery Science Theater 3000 did a service to film. Maybe we can do the same for PC gaming.

Maybe we can aspire to accomplish with games what Mystery Science Theater 3000 accomplished with films.One of my favorite shows is Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K). It was at its height of popularity when I was in high school and started to slide when I was in college. At the time, it was a goofy show that featured (and made fun of) really bad movies. As I have gotten older, I have started to appreciate another aspect of that show. Perhaps unknowingly, Joel Hodgson and the others who worked on the show were performing an archival service for unknown films.

Manos: The Hands of FateOne of the most famous episodes featured a movie called “Manos: the Hands of Fate (1966).” The movie was one of the worst they had ever shown; they even apologized for it during the show, and it seemed somewhat sincere. If you haven’t seen it, make some time to sit down and truly appreciate how horrible it is.

There was always a sense of respect on MST3K. Sure, they made fun of movies, but at the same time you get the sense that they really love these films. That’s part of the reason why the show worked, and it’s also a reason why it can’t be replicated by anyone else. Manos was a horrible movie being made by people who genuinely wanted to make a good movie, and they weren’t going to let a lack of talent keep them from finishing their work. They did finish; you have to respect anyone who manages to finish a feature film.

Manos, and subsequently the story of it’s making, would have been lost forever without making so much as a blip in film history. Luckily, the folks at MST3K found it and broadcast it. Now it’s an absolute smash hit film which has been seen by millions of people. In 2011 the original film was found and a high definition Blu-Ray was released in 2015. This is something that would have never, ever happened without MST3K.

On January 17, 2016 we decided to play a text adventure game live on our bi-weekly video-cast. The pitch was that we were going to pick a horrible text adventure and suffer through it together hoping that hilarity would ensue. It was fun, and it was funny (to us anyway). Halfway through the adventure, the gravity of what we were actually doing sunk in.

The game we played was called “Alien Version 2B.” It was released(?) in 1982 by an anonymous source. Stuart, our plucky text adventure expert, had picked it out. We managed to finish the game in an hour (bugs not-with-standing). In our after-show chat, we all felt compelled to wonder where this game had come from and who made it.

In a much smaller way, we have done for Alien 2B what Mystery Science Theater 3000 did for Manos. Here is a game that, by all rights, would have been forgotten in the archaeological record of PC gaming history. By playing it on live on YouTube, we have inadvertently made a searchable record of this game which will likely persist for however long YouTube is a thing (read: a long time). By popping jokes during the play-through, we (hopefully) made it entertaining enough that someone would actually persist through the whole game. We made an MST3K “episode” about a forgotten computer game.

Alien 2B will never be a cultural phenomenon like Manos the Hands of Fate became, but maybe anonymous’s work will be respected by a few people, as it should. After all, this person made a computer game and, dammit, we enjoyed it.

John Reynolds played the now loved character “Torgo” in the Manos film. John committed suicide at the age of 25 after the film had wrapped. You can read about him in Jackey Raye Neyman-Jones blog; she was also in the movie and played the character “Debbie”. It is sad that John Reynolds will never know, in this dimension, just how big of a star he eventually became.

We would love to find the creator of Alien 2B and make sure he is credited for his work.

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