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Six DOS Games That Changed Gaming

My days of gaming on PC go back to the BBS days – the protean internet known as Bulletin Boards which were effectively private servers hosted on 486 computers and accessed with modems at a data rate of 7.2 kilobytes per second on a good day. I was a veteran gamer in arcades and had spent countless hours on my friend’s Sega Master System but gaming had yet to take root on the PC.

The PC was considered a ‘business’ platform running a command-based operating system called DOS. Windows was a program running in the DOS environment that an average user would go into if they wanted to do pretty much anything on a PC and when you exited Windows it would return to this flashing DOS prompt – a prompt similar to the Japanese number zero with it’s flashing, infinite possibility. Unlike Windows, DOS was inscrutable and aloof, reminding you constantly how little you know. Communication with DOS was completely on it’s terms without visual cues or any intuitive signposts to lead you to wherever DOS goes. For me it was more or less useless.


Until the day a friend of mine came around with three floppy disks and installed Doom, an experience that completed upgraded my life as a gamer forever and I’ve been a PC gamer ever since. Three floppy disks – 4.2 megabytes of digital amoeba that would split and continue to keep endlessly splitting until it became the juggernaut that is today’s gaming industry.

In the pantheon of gaming, DOS is comprised of the gods of the old world. DOS games were compiled in garages – sometimes by a single person. They spread by word of mouth and whispers in BBS chat rooms and they were often filled with bugs. In truth we were so awed as consumers to have to power to move an object on a TV screen or monitor that the true challenge developers was expanding from that DOS prompt. Building something from the number zero without any role models or examples. The future was filled with infinite possibilities for developers and for us as consumers.

Virologists talk about drift & shift – a term that describes the evolution of a virus. Drift represents marginal changes in a virus – a variation on a trait or the introduction of another minor property. A shift signifies major change in a virus, a change so unexpected and so significant that it makes a significant impact and resets the game. This article introduces six games that represented a shift in the gaming industry through genius or notoriety – games that would provide the raw DNA that would grow the games of today, the terminology we as gamers use or would lay the highway that we as gamers travel.

This list is of course personal and endeavours to look beyond Doom, Monkey Island or even Leisure Suit Larry. These are games that held me bleary eyed at the edge of my seat in the small hours of the morning. Titles that ended relationships or made being alone in the night more bearable. Games that enriched friendships or served as fuel for discussion. These are six DOS games that changed gaming and left me with a sense of a future filled with possibility.


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