#19: Pepper’s Adventures in Time
"What a drag, spiritual man. The bell is having a crack in it."
Yes, I know...that sound you hear is one thousand readers simultaneously giving up on the countdown. But hear me out before pronouncing my credibility DOA.
The balance between entertainment and eduboredom has always been an extremely fine line. It has been, historically, nearly impossible to create an adventure game in which actual learning is intended to take place without simultaneously curing insomnia and providing no reason for Joe Adventure Gamer to actually become interested in what is happening onscreen.
In a sea of failures, though, there is one adventure game that successfully struck the perfect balance between learning and fun: Sierra's Pepper's Adventures in Time. I suppose it is your typical crazy-attic-uncle-sends-curious-niece-back-in-time story to start with, but the journey taken by our heroine and her dog is both fun, and unbelievably educational.
See, crazy Uncle Fred sent a little dose of 70's lameism (my word, not theirs) ahead of you to colonial times. The result is the Liberty Bell being transported around by Hare Krishnas, and Ben Franklin telling you to mellow out while the British governor (this is pre-Revolution, of course) taxes the people silly. And now that I've described it that way, how can I say this game is educational? Am I advocating that you should teach your kids the power of love beads in colonial times?
Pepper's Adventures in Time implemented what is simply one of the most brilliant devices in modern adventure gaming: the Truth bubble. History has been twisted by the mellowness, to be sure, but clicking the Truth bubble on something tells you whether something really did exist in colonial times, and the amount of information contained in those responses is phenomenal. Click on the post office to learn that there were, in fact, post offices in colonial times, not to mention learn who started them and the story behind it. Click on the Hare Krishnas to find that, no, these people did not exist back then. I don't see how someone with even a remote interest in American history could possibly not want to click the Truth bubble on everything onscreen.
All the while that the game is teaching, though, it never stops being an engaging adventure with consistent story development. It's certainly not difficult by any stretch of the imagination, but there are plenty of puzzles. The colonists you will interact with are all very amusing, serving to bring life to the landscape. And of course, how can you not laugh at the spectacle of Ben Franklin telling you to "chill out" (until you manage to send lightning through his body, of course)?
None of this would work, as education or entertainment, if it wasn't well-written, and that job is handled by none other than Lorelei Shannon. Yes, the mind behind the revoltingly twisted Phantasmagoria 2 brings us the best elementary school adventure game ever. Lorelei writes every line of dialogue, every item description, and most importantly every Truth bubble response. This involved an enormous amount of research, I'm sure, and her dedication to creating a high-quality learning experience is commendable. This game is nothing without her, and every negative impression I had of her from Phant 2 (a game that, trust me, you won't see on this countdown) was erased and replaced by admiration as a result of Pepper.
I don't expect everyone to consider this game a classic. I especially don't expect our international audience to go nuts over an American history game. But I hope you can appreciate the unbelievable admiration I have for this game. I have played through it four times now, and learned a wealth of new information about colonial times every time through. I have taken three separate years of American history in my educational life, and still was not taught many of the foundational concepts that are made so simple and accessible with a simple computer adventure game. There is simply no better way to educate elementary school children then with an enjoyable adventure.
The real trick, of course, is that I never felt like I was sitting through another boring lecture; I felt like I was playing an adventure game. That perfect balance will most likely never be attained again in an adventure game. For that, I take my coonskin cap off to Pepper's Adventures in Time, and have no qualms calling it the #19 adventure game of all-time. You're free to disagree, of course, but I hope you won't do so too vehemently if you haven't played the game. Indulge me this one day, and I promise the countdown will only get more traditional from here on out.
Last time: Pepper did not figure into the last countdown.