I’ve been a big fan of the work of William Gibson for a long time, but it was only recently I found out that his first novel, Neuromancer, was turned into a video game back in 1988. I found this especially interesting because Neuromancer (and its short-story prequel of sorts, Burning Chrome) essentially predicted the World Wide Web by having hackers navigate “cyberspace”, a phrase that Gibson coined and that would later become a synonym for the internet.
So, essentially, there was a game about the internet before there was an internet (well, before the World Wide Web at least). One of the first things you do in the game is download money from your online bank – a feat that wouldn’t be possible on a real-life computer for many years to come.
But the story is more interesting than that because Gibson’s vision of cyberspace is more like virtual reality than anything else – so perhaps he did more than predict the World Wide Web, perhaps the real cyberspace will only come about once VR has reached its full potential. If that ever happens…
Then there’s the connection between Neuromancer the game and Timothy Leary, the notorious LSD researcher who spent the 1960s evangelising the effects of psychedelic drugs. Leary’s idea of how the novel should have been turned into a game is far more interesting and bizarre than the product that eventually came out, featuring artwork by Keith Haring and appearances by Grace Jones and David Byrne, but sadly only scraps of artwork and notes remain.
I wrote up the full story for Kotaku UK, and it was a particularly interesting one since when I began I had no idea of the Timothy Leary connection. My plan had been simply to write about the 1988 Neuromancer game, so it was fascinating to find out about the game it could have been, Grace Jones and all. I also played through some of the game while researching the article, and I have to say it’s incredibly frustrating by today’s standards – thank god there was a guide on Gamefaqs to save me getting constantly stuck. But it’s also packed full of great ideas – I particularly liked the Nolan Bushnell reference in the “House of Pong”.
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