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My Secret Identity

by Matt Bell

bonus features:
alternate ending to Barry Graham's "Bad Beat" by Blake Butler

"Owen Morris's Other Creativity Games (to date)" by Dave Madden

In middle school, I bought a computer game called Eye of the Beholder II: The Legend of Darkmoon from a company called SSI, which made mostly role-playing and hardcore war games.  Inside the box was a catalog for upcoming titles, including another D&D game called Dark Sun: Shattered Lands that looked amazing.  I can remember lying in bed and reading the ad over and over.  It had a couple paragraphs of text and maybe four postage-stamp sized screenshots, but I just couldn't stop thinking about it.  It was supposed to come out in the fall of 1992, then got delayed until late in the next year.  I finally got it for Christmas, but when I opened the box and went to install it my disks were corrupted. 

I can remember – far more vividly than I would like to – crying until I finally got to go to the store and exchange it.  I was thirteen years old, crying because a computer game didn't work. 

This is not something I'm proud of. 

I eventually realized that if I was going to survive – much less ever have a girlfriend – I needed to hide who I was and become someone who was, if not exactly cool, at least socially acceptable.  What I needed was a secret identity, a way to blend in with everyone else around me. 

Luckily, high school is an excellent place to learn to blend into a crowd.

This is how I stopped wearing sweat pants to school.  This is how I got shoes that weren't held on with Velcro.  This is how I refused to let my mom cut my hair anymore.  This is how I gave up taking fantasy novels and D&D rule books to school and started reading my dad's Sports Illustrated instead.

I got lucky and got better at sports myself, and as high school started I became a decent football player and wrestler, forcing me to be more social than I might have otherwise.  Then, after high school was over, there was drinking and drugs and music and lots of other things to do that kept me away from who I used to be.

It was around then – when I was twenty or twenty-one – that I decided I wanted to be a writer, and that was just one more reason to stay away from video games and fantasy novels.  I thought that if I wanted to be an intellectual – an idea as laughable to me now as it should have been then – I'd better stay away from all of that stuff.

And so I did, at least for a while.  I became someone I wasn't, at least not deep down inside.  But the thing about having a secret identity is that sooner or later you start to become your own secret, to lose track of who you really are. 

One day, Superman wakes up and thinks he really is Clark Kent – and worse, he thinks maybe he'd rather be that person. 

It was the same with me.  Suddenly, I hadn't played a new video game in years.  I was at least a whole edition of Dungeons & Dragons behind.  I'd never even tried Magic: the Gathering, and thinking about that made me think about how drug addicts feel after they go to rehab and a new, cooler drug comes out.  Burnouts from the seventies sitting around wondering what ecstasy is like, well… let's just say I know how they feel.

Fuck that.  No one really wants to be Clark Kent.

And so I went back.  Over the next couple years, I bought an Xbox and Halo and learned how to hack a Nintendo DS so I could play Japanese imports.  I got surround sound and a big screen television and found out that I was a pretty great Guitar Hero player.  I had a lot of fun, at least partly because now everyone was into video games, and being great at Madden or Call of Duty made you popular instead of a pariah.

And then, when I was all caught up on what was new, I went back to my roots.

It wasn't easy.  Modern computers are too fast to play old DOS games, and I had to use special software to even get the games up and running.  Plus I had to track down new pirate copies of the games I wanted – they weren't for sale anymore, and my new computer didn't even have a floppy drive that could play my own copies – but eventually I found the games I wanted and started playing.

Space Quest.  Curse of the Azure Bonds.  Gabriel Knight.  Jagged Alliance.  SimCity.  All these great stories and even better worlds that I'd spent my childhood in.  I wanted to go back, and I did, for hours on end.  Some of these games aren't really that good anymore, having been eclipsed by future iterations of their basic game play.  Others are true classics, games as amazing as anything coming out today. 

And some of these games, some of them mean a lot more to me than they would as mere pieces of gaming history. The way some people feel about certain books or movies or albums, I feel that way about video games.  These are the landmark experiences that define whole eras of my life.

Leisure Suit Larry – the game my essay in this issue is based on – is one of those games to me.

deleted scene from Mary Miller's "Pearl"

behind the scenes:
an "origins" essay behind his Leisure Suit Larry essay by Matt Bell

an old essay about Magic: the Gathering, with new footnotes, by Mike Alber

an essay on noodles, with recipe, by E.P. Chiew

short supplemental stories:
"Picture I Stole from My Lover" by Stefan Kiesbye

"Adam, Jacob, John, Paul" (with baseball card) by Jennifer Pieroni

"Crossing Borders" by Grant Perry

short interviews with the cover artists:
Ryan Molloy

Steven Seighman

David Kramer

more bonus features:
a short story by Fart Party comic artist Julia Wertz

Gene Morgan and Matthew Simmons Discuss Dino Run

Gene Morgan and Matthew Simmons Discuss Ninja Hunter

Gene Morgan and Matthew Simmons Discuss Rose & Camellia