A Cave in Kentucky

A Passage from Luminous Airplanes, or Things As They Were: A Hyperromance

I.e., Flint Ridge Cave, about two hours southeast of Louisville KY. Adventure’s author, a talented programmer named Will Crowther, visited Flint Ridge with his wife Patricia starting around 1969. The game Crowther wrote in 1975-76 was not entirely documentary (so far as anyone knows, there are no axe-throwing dwarves in Flint Ridge), but it was a surprisingly faithful representation of the cave’s topology.

Adventure was rewritten in 1977 by a Stanford student named Don Woods, who doubled the size of the cave, and stocked it with puzzles and magic items, elves and trolls. Then came Zork (1977-79), which took place in a Great Underground Empire furnished with everything from a flood control dam to the gates of Hell. Other versions of the game followed, and with each one the fantastic elements were accentuated and the realistic elements diminished. By the time I typed Adventure into Kerem’s computer, in the summer of 1983, nothing remained of Flint Ridge but a “dark and gloomy cave”—why dark and gloomy? I can only think that the tautology was the sign of the process by which the game had come to be: my little Adventure was an echo.

And yet somehow enough of the cave-feeling survived that, when I went into Nethaway’s Cave, I felt like I’d been there before. Maybe there was more cave in my game than I remember. Or maybe caves are the one place, or anyway one of the places, where fantasy and reality touch: the one thing we imagine to be the way it actually is.

© 2008-2023 Paul La Farge. All rights reserved.