I am back in Riverside, CA at my parents’ home this weekend for my 10-year high school reunion. Tonight, I decided to dig through old papers in the remains of my childhood bedroom. I found old homework assignments from middle schools, comics I drew in elementary school, and a sketchbook of world maps and level designs for a Japanese-style RPG that I designed in 7th grade.
On a dusty bookshelf, wedged between some Narnia books, I found an old manila envelope. Inside, I discovered a letter and a packet of xeroxed pages from an issue of Tips & Tricks magazine. Holding this artifact in my hands, I started to remember what it was like to be a gamer in the mid-90s.
In 1996, my 12-year-old self was hopelessly obsessed with a horror-adventure game called The 7th Guest. I became hopelessly stuck on one of the puzzles and could not progress any further.
In those days, there was no Google, no GameFAQs, no Facebook, and no Quora. My family didn’t even have a modem because we had only one phone line and my mom wanted to make phone calls.
Back then, maybe 10% of kids in school played games. Of that segment, maybe only 5-10% played PC games. The rest had Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis. In any case, you learned game secrets from older, savvier friends at lunch time and recess. Sadly, my friends were console gamers, not PC gamers. They had no concept of what a PC game was. “What’s DMA and IRQ? What’s Soundblaster 16? Will my old DOS games work on Windows 95?”
I took out a pen and wrote a letter to Virgin Interactive, hoping to get some answers. “How do I find the next puzzle? Also, what’s up with the video of the making of The 7th Guest that the manual mentioned? I don’t have it in my box.”
This next part is pretty badass. And the more I deal with modern customer service (mostly Comcast), the more awesome this incident becomes.
A week after I mailed my letter, I received a response from a customer service representative named Kellie Ziel on Virgin Interactive letterhead. Not only did she take the time to write a detailed letter to an annoying kid, she personally xeroxed 20 pages from a strategy guide and gave me her phone number in case I had further questions. This was not a form letter.
Don’t get me wrong. I love being able to search for a game title on Google and instantly get 9 million links to walkthrough guides and “Let’s Play” videos. But sometimes I miss the human element of the 90s.
Kellie Ziel, if you’re still working in the games industry and happen to come across this blog, please be aware that you made a kid really happy. And to let you know, I did figure out the puzzle and I did complete the game.