DOS Games Are My Madeleines

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This week, The Internet Archive (same folks responsible for the Way Back Machine), released over 2,000 classic DOS games that we can all now play for free on the internet. Cue everyone’s productivity coming to a screeching halt. And cue us all getting into a Way Back Machine of our own as we all transport ourselves to, what, fourth grade? For me it’s forth grade, and let me tell you — I am having flashbacks so hard right now that you can practically hear the harp and see the image go all wibbly. Here are the most Proustian DOS games and the memories they hurtle into my brain matter. Why not bake some of the classic memory lane treats and treat yourself to a lazy Saturday morning revisiting the annals of computer game history?

To play any of these, I suggest using Firefox or Chrome — the in-browser DOS emulator is in beta and works best in those two browsers. I also don’t personally have sound on any of these and don’t think anyone does, but feel free to say I’m wrong if you do!


 

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Oregon Trail Deluxe

Today I got all of us to Willamette valley in good health, which was a combination of luck, skill and the fourth grader in me who knows that you always choose to be a doctor at the very beginning because duh, they get $1,200 dollars and their team members are less likely to bite the dust from a snake bite. This game takes me back very specifically to fourth grade — we had a really old computer and during the winter when indoor recess was frequent, we could each sign up for slots on the computer. This was one of the games we could play — that and this other weird ecology game where you were a fish in a pond that, believe me, I tried to find in this database but failed because I can’t remember the title. The carpet was gray. The desk was a little off kilter. And my fourth grade teacher also taught me to juggle with one hand that year. He was cool.

Play Oregon Trail.


 

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Mario Teaches Typing

This was a game we had at home — we had Macintosh computers, and this is one of the few that my friends played that I also played. On our computer, this was surrounded by Mathblaster and Kid Pix. And I don’t think I knew how to select Princess Peach because I remember always being Mario, but evidence suggests I would have selected the pink one based on color alone. I suppose I was not always good at computers. Having played this today, I can tell you THIS GAME IS REALLY HARD FOR AN ADULT! Like, you’re used to typing the way you type — and you’re used to typing your own ideas, not “fgfgfgfjhjfjfjfhfhfhfhhjhj” or “sad sad lad lad had had dad dad.” I am a person who uses a computer for a living, who teaches other people how to use them — and whoo boy, this was rough. I also learned that I apparently type the letter “b” and the number “6” with unauthorized, unapproved fingers.

Give Mario Teaches Typing a go.


 

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Aladdin

I actually didn’t play this on the computer as a child — I would ride my bike down and over a street and play this with my friend on her SEGA Genesis. We didn’t have a console until Nintendo 64 came out, and it was a rare treat to play on her console. She was really good at it — she could do the flying carpet level and everything. I, however, sucked Abu butt on that one. And you know what? I am even worse at this game trying to use the keyboard because everything in my body is screaming for the controller that I once held in Dani’s basement. And don’t worry — I didn’t take advantage of Dani’s console kindness. We sometimes took her to elementary school with us, which meant Dani, my brother and I all played Super Mario 64 before school in the morning.

This game requires you type a word from your manual — I think you can type any word and it will let you through, but I keep typing “the” and that seems to be working. PS, this game makes me sad all over again about Robin Williams.

See how badly you still suck at Aladdin.


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Dangerous Dave

Ah, this one. I grew up playing PC games with my friend Laura, and Laura’s older brother’s name was Dave and he played this game and we just thought THAT WAS THE COOLEST THING IN THE WHOLE DAMN WORLD. So we played it too. Poorly, obviously, because this game is v. v. difficult and doesn’t have a save function. We played this in her basement, which had a pole in the middle of it and also had a tank of scary fish with teeth. We would walk down to CJ’s Sweets and Treats, spend our collective allowance on candy, and then commence gaming and rotting our teeth out with wax bottles and other candies which are, in hindsight, totally disgusting. Now I can’t find the first in the Dangerous Dave series, which is what we played — but the others are there. I also can’t seem to make this work on any browsers on my computer, but I’m hoping you can.

See if Dangerous Dave works for you!


 

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Ms. Pac Man

This is another one I didn’t play on a computer — I played it on an arcade console in the lobby of a restaurant that was either called Rattlesnake or Ground Round (which I used to call Ground Hound, for some inexplicable reason as I had no problem with my “r” sound). This was in the same era where I would basically only eat chicken nuggets. My father would pop tokens into it even though I was, as with most games, really effing bad at it — but hey, for this one I was very very little. I could barely see the buttons and I’m pretty sure I started out pushing the buttons mostly based on color. Probably I just pressed a pink one over and over again.

You must press F1 to start this game — if that’s not working for you, click in the window and try F1 or fn+F1.

See how you fair at Ms. Pac Man.

So what puts you in your time machine? Is it Prince of Persia? Donkey Kong? Please reminisce with me in comments below, or I will definitely feel like I’ve wasted a whole day playing DOS games and we wouldn’t want that, now would we?


This has been the one-hundred-twelfth installment of  Queer Your Tech with Fun, Autostraddle’s nerdy tech column. Not everything we cover is queer per se, but we talk about customizing this awesome technology you’ve got. Having it our way, expressing our appy selves just like we do with our identities. Here we can talk about anything from app recommendations to choosing a wireless printer to web sites you have to favorite to any other fun shit we can do with technology. Header by Rory Midhani. 


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A.E. Osworth

A.E. Osworth is part-time Faculty at The New School, where they teach undergraduates the art of digital storytelling. Their novel, We Are Watching Eliza Bright, about a game developer dealing with harassment (and narrated collectively by a fictional subreddit), is forthcoming from Grand Central Publishing (April 2021) and is available for pre-order now. They have an eight-year freelancing career and you can find their work on Autostraddle (where they used to be the Geekery Editor), Guernica, Quartz, Electric Lit, Paper Darts, Mashable, and drDoctor, among others.

A.E. has written 543 articles for us.

41 Comments

  1. Oregon trail! I love oregon trail. I made it to the end but by myself because i was selfsh and wouldnt stop. Lol. We also had this trucking game where you went all over CA and later on the whole USA picking up and delivering veggies or fruits etc. Needless to say being the bossy person i am my classmate/teammate and i won two years in a row. Boom.

  2. I tended to venture to arcades a lot more as a kid and played a lot of Street Fighter, Golden Axe, Metal Slug and Strikers 1945, but the games that really make me feel nostalgic are the retro handheld games, especially the Nintendo Game and Watch series.

    I spent hours on Beer Tapper, Donkey Kong, later Tetris and those fishing games and now periodically go on Ebay to look at copies being hawked longingly.

    Also, the first DOS game I ever played on a computer was one in which you had to bounce babies being tossed out of a burning building (using a stretcher) into an ambulance to safety. I never found out what it was called, but everytime I mention this to friends during our retro gaming discussions, they look at me strangely.

  3. I guess for me it would also be Oregon trail as I played that a lot as a kid. There was also this dinosaur game(Nanosaurs?) that came with the color iMacs that I use to also play in middle school all the time. I also think most people had play Mario and Mavis Beacon teaches typing just to learn how to type better during those days.

    I have been using emulators(on various systems and devices) to play class games for years; & have a PSP just to play N64 games(well that and a few PSP games).

  4. I was always all about Commander Keen and some of the other Apogee games (Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventure, Crystal Caves). A few years ago my dad gave me a DOS emulator so I can still play when I’m feeling nostalgic or just need to really de-stress by shooting alien slugs with a neural-stunning ray gun. Fun article!

    • 10 minutes later…
      I didn’t realize I played so much as a kid!
      And I’m really underprepared for the emotional weight these games carry, which is shockingly much.
      I remember my brother and I playing stuff for hours on end and being excited and in tune, when today we really struggle for a relationship and have trouble holding a conversation for more than five minutes, even though we both mean well.

  5. Oregon Trail is my personal proof of the afterlife. Since I wouldn’t be here otherwise, having died many horrible deaths incurred during Manifest Destiny and/or fighting for a turn on the classroom’s one computer.

    I will now compose seven volumes on the subject: In Search of Lost Time (Namely, My Misspent Youth).

  6. I spent my evening last night playing Oregon Trail and sending snapchats of my misfortunes to my friends. All of my people died every time. One of my people got bitten by a snake 4 times before he died (RIP, Dillhole), and another died at the same river crossing every time. One of these days, I’ll actually make it to Oregon.

    • I beat Oregon Trail with a different emulator last year and I was like OMG because I had NEVER beaten that game in my life. And my whole party (named after the Baby-sitters Club) lived except Mary-Anne, which really seemed so appropriate. My strategy was to bring no food and hunt basically every freaking day. It took me 15 months, BUT I MADE IT AND THAT’S ALL THAT MATTERS.

      Also, I live in the Willamette Valley IRL so the “you made it to the Willamette Valley!” screen you get at the end was weird and hilarious.

  7. My brother and I used to play Leisure Suite Larry. We knew we shouldn’t be playing it but thought it was hilarious because we didn’t understand. Pixelated cartoon penises were hilarious as were casinos and hitting on cartoon ladies. I must have been 5 at the time.

    It made you prove you were 18 or over by giving you multiple choice questions before you answered. If you didn’t get three right you could try again, so we just kept guessing until we got in.

    In general, the games follow the escapades of Larry Laffer as he attempts to convince a variety of nubile women to sleep with him. A common link between the games are Larry’s explorations of luxurious and cosmopolitan hotels, ships, beaches, resorts, and casinos (thanks, Wikipedia. *bro fist*)

    IN HINDSIGHT, WE SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN PLAYING THIS GAME. NO ONE SHOULD HAVE BEEN PLAYING THIS GAME. DON’T TELL MUM.

  8. Has anyone ever played Amazon Trail? It’s apparently made by the same people who did Oregon Trail, but you catch fish and identify birds in the Amazon.

    Also I was the dork that spent hours with Harvard Graphics and Microsoft Works tutorials.

  9. There is something about hearing the music to Oregon Trail that immediately sends joy down my spine. I think it was the fact that Oregon Trail Computer lab days were always the best. Also, decided to try Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego. I remember always getting mad at it because I could never figure out all the clues. I love the internet. I feel so smart.

  10. Aladdin was easy if you knew the cheat code to skip ahead to the next level, all the way to the end! For Sega Genesis you’d pause the game, and then hit A-B-B-A-A-B-B-A. Dunno if there was a code for the other consoles, though. My old dentist had the arcade version of Sega’s Aladdin in her office, and I remember this one kid being absolutely blown away by my mad skillz.

  11. As for the music, at least on Aladdin (only one I tried so far because childhood ((cue glittery flashbacks))), you just gotta press unmute.

    And they have Lemmings 2! I remember that being on the school computers. Everybody would crowd around, and there would be around 10 backseat gamers to the one actually playing each time. Fun times.

  12. Oh my, DOS games…. So, yea, what makes me go back in time?

    The beginnings:

    River Raid
    Zaxxon
    Montezuma’s Revenge
    Alley Cat
    Commander Blood – i sometimes so miss talking to giant centipede aliens in crazy unintuitive pictograms, under the looped soundtrack of early JM Jarre in 8-bit.
    first Prince of Persia

    The formative experience:
    Star Control 2
    Dune (the first, the lovely, romantic adventure with sunsets unbelievable for the very beginning of 90s. Also the only three days in my life with unclear gender identity because of the projection of myself into Paul Atreides, with save/load screen being me looking at him reflected in a mirror)
    Elite Frontier.
    Eye of sodding Beholder – which i was afraid of because the sounds in part 2 basement catacombs felt like someone’s breathing behind my back – and i played post midnight.

  13. The ones that really were a nostalgia trip fro me were the “Gold Box” D&D Games (Pool of Radiance, Curse of the Azure Bonds, Secret of the Silver Blades, etc.) I spent a ton of time on my mom’s old 386 trying to beat these super hard old school CRPGs.

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