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The Logical Choice

Title: The Prisoner Publisher: Edu-Ware
Type: Game Author: David Mullich

Year of release:

Copies sold: Low thousands

David Mullich's seminal work (later followed by a revised and improved version, Prisoner 2), loosely based on Patrick McGoohan's TV series of the same name, which explores the themes of personal freedom and individuality. The player assumes the role of a presumed intelligence agent who has resigned his job for reasons known only to himself and then is abducted to an isolated island community that seems designed to be his own personal prison. The island's authorities will go to any means to learn why their prisoner has resigned, and every character, location and supposed escape route appears to be part of a grand deception to get players off their guard and reveal the three-digit code that represents the prisoner's reason for resigning.

Asked about what influenced the game, David Mullich states: "I actually first saw the TV series in 1968 when it was broadcast in the United States. I remember that, as a ten-year-old, I liked it but didn't quite understand it. When I saw the series again as a college student, I was very attracted to its libertarian themes of the individual resisting authority, which was a theme that also appealed to Edu-Ware's founders, for whom I had been programming games as a freelance game developer.

However, I didn't intend to make a direct adaptation of the TV series; I just wanted to make a game that explored some of the same themes. But Edu-Ware thought that they needed to at least loosely tie the game to the TV series to sell it. So, I wrote a game about the player being imprisoned on a place called The Island (instead of The Village), which is run by an authority figure called The Caretaker (instead of Number 2). As with the TV series, the game's goal was to find a way to escape without revealing why you had resigned from your former job.

Another influence on the game was a psychology experiment I learned about in college. In the experiment, people were put into a room and asked to tie together two pieces of rope, each of which were attached at one end to opposite walls, but were only long enough to barely touch each other. The solution was to take the only object in the room, a pair of scissors, and to use it as a clamp -- the opposite of what you would normally use a pair of scissors for.

After hearing about this experiment, I wanted to make a game in which you needed to do the opposite of everything that games were at the time. So, I made The Prisoner using abstract graphics, disharmonious sound effects, and rules and user interfaces that constantly changed. In particular, I wanted to create a game that you could, in theory, win immediately, since the game's main theme is that we are imprisoned by authority because we choose to be imprisoned, and that we could escape imprisonment merely by realizing that we imprison ourselves by following convention. In the case of the game, we are imprisoned by the game because we are choosing to be imprisoned by it, but by declaring that it is only a game, we can leave it and are free to go.

A third influence on me was Eliza, a computer program that mimicked a psychoanalyst. Users communicated with the program by typing in full sentences, and the program would respond with phrases that suggested that it understood what you were saying. After playing with a version of Eliza distributed by Rainbow Computing, I wanted to make a game that went beyond the two-word command parser (e.g., "GO NORTH", "TAKE GOLD," "USE SWORD") relied upon by other adventure games of the time. So I created my own command parser that allowed players to seem to have conversations with the Caretaker and other characters in the game. What made the experience seem life-like was that I used a vocabulary that allowed players to talk about philosophical issues and used responses that were cryptic, and that worked well with the intellectual tone of the other elements of the game."


Apple II

Apple II

Apple II

Apple II


Plastic bag


the_prisoner.nib (Apple II)
The Prisoner original disk - v1.0/1.1 (13 sector)

the_prisoner_16.nib (Apple II)
The Prisoner original disk - v1.9.1 (16 sector)

The Prisoner

Prisoner 2 design document

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