Game Reviews
The Grue’s Gruel
By: A Grue

TITLE: SkiFree

When I was a kid, I played anything I could get my hands on. I drooled over the arcade beat-‘em-ups in gas stations, and I could only stare in slack-jawed awe at the majesty of 64-bit graphics. Yeah, remember when that meant something?

When I was two years old, I learned the alphabet from Donald Duck. He came stretched out on the rack—two of those huge floppy disks. I vaguely remember the crap my dad went through to get the program to run. Taking the disk out, putting it back in, getting the blue screen of death, rebooting… I recall these things because of my earnest desire not to learn the alphabet, but to play video games, even then.

It wasn’t until we got a new computer that I played the subject matter—SkiFree. This wasn’t a game that we paid money for, as anyone who’s played this knows. No, this came as part of the entertainment software package. Packed neatly in file with classics such as Solitaire, Minesweeper, Chess, etc. lurked a terror previously unknown to me—a gruesome death. I hadn’t experienced much diversity in terms of video games at the time, but I was definitely unfamiliar with those that invoked fear. I’ve heard rumors that you can outrun (or outski) your swift demise, but I’ve never been able to do it myself.

Let’s take a brief journey in our imaginations, shall we? In SkiFree, you play as a skier at the top of a mountain, ready for a fun, exhilarating vacation. Odds are you work in a cubicle back home, and your boss rides your case all the time. Your wife nags you, your kids won’t stop crying, and just last week, you came back to the parking lot to find your car four hub caps short. As a whole, your life sucks.

But you know what? That’s okay! Today’s the day you get to live your dream. You’ve been saving up money on your terrible wages for the past seven years, and now you find yourself on the precipice of freedom (even though these aren’t exactly the finest slopes in the Yukon). You just finished spending a couple days learning how to ski with a pro, and now you’re on your own.

As you begin your descent into the last two minutes of your life, you feel the burdens of your time on earth begin to peel off your shoulders and fly away in the wind. Money… family… your boss… none of those things matter anymore as you ski over ramps, avoid trees and dangerous rocks, and try not to run into the occasional snowboarder.

Today is the day you turn your life around—or it would have been, had you not just been eaten by the Abominable Snow Monster. … I’m not joking. I recall the first time I finished a game of SkiFree, and it scared me senseless. The Monster doesn’t just eat you. When the job is done, he picks his teeth clean of your flesh with one of your ski poles.

So I figured that maybe I’d done something wrong. Maybe there’s a certain way to go to avoid him. Two minutes later, I died again at the same place. I eventually managed to escape the Monster, but then another came and ate me anyway. Though for some reason I kept skiing, knowing full well that I’d die before I got to the bottom of the hill.

I’d like to tell you that it was due to some preternatural drive to survive or a stubborn refusal to accept defeat, but I think I really just wanted to know what happened when I got to the bottom of the mountain. I’d also like to tell you that an older, more mature me has found some deep metaphor for life somewhere in this short, little game, but I’d make a fool of myself trying to lie about it.

Instead, all I can offer is a perspective. I can’t even promise that it’s unique; I can promise only that it’s personal. SkiFree is one of my earliest memories of video games, and I think it means something different to everyone who played it at an impressionable age. For me, it’s a harsh reminder that the Snow Monster is the bottom of the hill, so try not to be so obsessed with getting there, huh?

Chris Pirih’s SkiFree website, where the game is available for download and compatible with nearly every OS ever made, can be found here.

About the Columnist

A Grue was raised playing games most have never heard of. And now he wants you to suffer just like he did. Suffer... like G did?
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