Haight Ashbury in the Sixties
CD-ROM game by Rockument
by Chuck Olson
Last Christmas, my brother... who went to Vietnam, gave me... who had been in Haight Ashbury, the CD-ROM game Haight Ashbury in the Sixties. He said, "I always wondered what it was like there, then."
I suppose it is a bit like my wondering what Vietnam was like for him. I could watch Platoon and Saigon and read Chickenhawk but it would never be quite like watching/reading the same and remembering/being there. The same can probably be said about this psychedelic CD-ROM game/documentary. Somebody who wasn't there can get the feeling of the time from it but unless you had stood on the sidewalk and watched the parade go by, unless you had done certain other things, you probably wouldn't get the same chill down your spine when in one of the video clips Kesey says with a laugh to a bunch of reporters "Well, why don't you guys come by (to the acid test)."
The publisher's name is Rockument and I suppose that means that they intend to document all the over-hyped eras of "The Rock Age" that each of us in part of our teenagerhood was cloned out of. This one shows both the difficulty and some of the possibilities of trying to do that.
In a very nice and careful touch, when it installed itself it told me explicitly that it was upgrading my MS CD interface adding a directory, changing one line only in the Autoexec, and telling me where it was saving the old Autoexec. Much more politely than most software that just says something like "Your software/driver/boot file have been updated" and allowing you to pray your machine will start up again. Such friendliness was the side of the Haight which made life simple for the heads and gave birth to the Whole Earth Catalog.
Another nice touch is how the screen can be Windows based and still eliminate the dreary gray (choose your color) stripes and sliding boxes at the side and bottom of the standard Windows format. Color is definitely in evidence. When you want to go forward or back a realistic moving hand responds to your mouse. So simple you don't need pull down menus. And a Quit function is always available In the right bottom corner like a tab of Thorazine in your pocket.
The colors and graphics from that time are nice even if you have largely outgrown that sort of thing. One path of choice is just to run the videos, music and poster art as it takes you through a tour of the CD-ROM to the background music of what sounds mostly like the Dead.
The other way to go through the CD (actually two CDs) -is the game "Drop out." A nice mindless board game on a psychedelic background with four concentric circles marked as "Food and Shelter," "Hipness," "Love" and "Spirituality" surrounding a realistic blinking eye. You touch the eye to spin a number, which either moves you along or gives you a card to draw. You move with some corny whooshing sounds and several classic guitar riffs which bring you to either a slide show with music or the Haight's version of Chance/Community Chest cards. These help you pick up points for food and shelter, hipness, love, etc.
As much of the material was taken from the archives of the:underground newspaper The Oracle, the slices of life shown in the videos may concentrate more on "historical" figures like Kesey, Leary, Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder than the rock figures, maybe because rock musician video images are owned by corporations- But it is interesting to be reminded of groups like the Diggers that handed out free food in the park. The video of the Free Clinic straight-looking doctor talking to the press reminds you that most of the world had short hair back then. Much of the music, in bits or in long winding songs that may or may not cycle back on themselves, seems Dead-like, although there are bits by Joplin, Slick and others, that will make you feel right at home with light shows. (Remember the quit button is always nearby. Unfortunately, there seems to be no SAVE button, so you can never "SAVE your PROGRESS," but maybe that is the point.)
The most incongruous effect is several bars that sound like the theme from Rocky when you gather enough points to move onward to the next circle, from Food and Shelter to Hipness, or from Hipness to Love. There is some random repetition of the videos and you can click on the ones you have seen to hurry things up a bit. But as you get deeper in the game, this seems to work less, and you get stuck listening to some of these long formless songs with the light shows or bad trips flashing at you. And while I kept picking up spiritual "points" on the next to last row, I never seemed to be able to get enough "love points" to graduate from that circle to the spiritual circle. The game just seemed to go on and on, gaining points then losing them with no advancement and not quite enough love. Gee, just like the real thing.
Now there may be a deep philosophical statement to that kind of end of a game. Maybe the only way you can WIN is to turn it off and go back to real life. That's what most of us did. If anybody comes to a different ending with this game, I would like to hear about it - At least I think I would. If it was rational. Or at least the description was short. Oh, never mind.
Is the game worth it? I don't know. Maybe you had to have been there. I wouldn't pay for it, but I am glad my brother sent me on the trip.
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