Well, I signed on to do five of these Nethack diaries, and this is the fifth, which is good, because in order to find new things to complain about I’d have to keep playing the game.
I’m kidding, of course. There are a lot of things I like about Nethack. It’s fun to imagine how thrilling it must have been to college students in 1987, clandestinely passed around on floppy disks or played on a library terminal. The immaturity of the Internet and absence of Google would have made knowledge of the game’s countless spoilers a rare commodity, to be drunkenly shouted by one engineering student to another in crowded small-town bars with lenient carding policies. Gorgeous coeds would get into yowling, hair-pulling catfights over who deserved to fellate the most proficient Nethack player.
I could be romanticizing things a bit. My own first exposure to roguelikes was Nethack’s predecessor, Hack, which I acquired on a Fred Fish disk for my Amiga in high school, long before I discovered beer or coeds. I played it endlessly, dying in more ridiculous ways each time, never really getting the tiniest grasp on how anyone would actually go about winning the game. But then I had an excuse: I knew one other guy who played it, he was as clueless as me, and we had no way to learn about the game other than trial and error. In 2011, all the secrets of Nethack are at my fingertips online, but I still don’t know how to win. I’ve played without spoilers for so long not out of some kind of hyper-morality, but just because Nethack spoilers put me to sleep. I’m certain that interest in playing a game and interest in learning a vast range of counter-intuitive facts that are, for all intents and purposes, separate from the game itself, are two different interests. While some people may have both of those interests, I don’t. And thus, I will never win Nethack.
While that was fine for me in high school, in my old age, I’m less patient with this random, mysterious, goofy game that will kill you on a whim. Maybe I’m distracted by all these coeds and beer.