What I remember most clearly about The Dig is my associated feelings of disappointment. The 2D point-and-click adventure game—released in 1995, soon after Myst—had beautiful, painterly, 1992-era graphics. That is to say, upon its release, The Dig was already dated as hell.
I was 13 when I played it—The Dig had been in development since I was 7—and it was the first time I’d played an adventure game so “on rails,” so “cinematic,” so a series of narrative moments and cutscenes, each one waiting for your trigger. I remember consciously thinking, “This game doesn’t even need me! It can just play itself if it wants to!” I’d felt, at the time, that the game was, somehow, overly directed, somehow too controlling and too, too linear, and I’d wondered if that wasn’t maybe because Steven Spielberg (!!!) was too protective of The Dig’s storyline. I was frustrated.
What’s interesting, though, is how well the too-dated parts of the game have aged: the 2009 eye can’t tell the difference, I guess, between 1992 and 1995. And contrarily, as John Walker notes in his excellent Dig retrospective for Eurogamer, the 1995-era stuff—those little moments of then-impressive CGI—look comparatively cheesy next to the game’s painted backdrops and setpieces.
Perhaps other aspects of the game have withstood time, too. Maybe the game’s painstakingly planned moments of revelation, and all its meticulous exchanges of dialogue—which, in 1995, were irritating and aggravating for an old pro with her very set ideas of how an adventure game should play and feel—can be accepted and amended by a 2009 eye and ear as simply part-and-parcel of “the way adventure games were back then.” In his article, John Walker even applauds those moments for their capability at pushing a story forward.
It isn’t that I feel at odds with John Walker’s retrospective—I really don’t—but I do wish I hadn’t played The Dig in 1995. If I hadn’t, perhaps I could play it now with Mr. Walker’s fresh, wide eyes.
John Walker writes,
But [that’s] not what I’ve taken away. What I’m left with is the feeling of isolation, the ambient loneliness, and most of all, of a sense of the potential for gaming to slowly, carefully tell a story.
I will say this: I do remember that feeling of alienation, some intrinsic melancholy, in playing The Dig. I’m relieved that Mr. Walker felt that, too, because for years after, I had—perhaps narcissistically—misattributed those feelings to simply being a 13-year old girl, and to being the sort of 13-year old girl who sits all cooped up, hours at a time, with a CD-ROM spinning and spinning in front of her.
Edit: Chris “Papapishu” Person left a really incredible, illuminating post about The Dig in the comments. I’ve never done this before, and I apologize: I edited his comment, albeit only slightly, and I’m linking to it here.