Welcome to The Obscuritory, a blog about lesser-known, odder games and software.

Icon from Rich's Misc. Icons by Rich Dellinger

Through the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s, rapid technological changes – like the availability of home computers, the CD-ROM, multimedia tools, and online distribution via Usenet or shareware websites – led to a boom in creative, unusual games and software, big and small, created by whole production teams or sometimes just one person.

They were games that played around with strange ideas, homespun versions of more popular titles, elaborate home productivity programs, interactive movies, ambitious experiments and misfires, personal goof-arounds, and other misfits.

Most of these were overshadowed by bigger names like Nintendo and Sega even at the time they were released. Now, they’re less than footnotes. Many are unplayable on modern devices without technical workarounds or emulation, if not totally unavailable. They’ve been paved over in service of a cleaner, less truthful version of gaming and computer history. In the worst cases, they’re targets of unneeded mockery.

Revisiting the history we’ve thrown out makes gaming more curious and accepting. These games can still surprise, excite, entertain, and inspire. They open us up to ideas and stories we didn’t know existed. They deserve another chance to thrive.

Icon from Microsoft Works 3.0

This blog is a living account of my experiences digging into this lost period. Posts cover my impressions of the games, their genres, and the era, plus broader questions about preservation and what we decide to include in history. Maybe we’ll learn something along the way!

The goal of The Obscuritory is reappreciation. There’s more to old games than nostalgia or ridicule! Every game and program is worth considering, which means approaching them sincerely and accepting their out-of-date parts in context.

Programs typically considered separate from (or tangential to) gaming are up for discussion too. Educational software, multimedia art, and reference CD-ROMs are products informed by the same era and are equally valid forms of interactive media. And they present a different, forgotten perspective on the direction of that format.

Icon from Foul Play: Mystery at Awkward Manor

I want to uncover games that are:

  • Relatively unknown. For every game like Diablo, there’s a few more like Cybermercs.
  • Different. What original concepts were left behind? What perspectives have been written out? What weirdness doesn’t fit into a neat slot? What unique game was (and still is) misunderstood?
  • For computers. Windows, DOS, Macintosh, Amiga, and so forth are the platforms where the margin-doodling happened. Game consoles also tend to have ardent followings of completionists and nostalgists, and I don’t want to retread that ground. That said, some systems from the 90s like the PlayStation and Atari Jaguar cater to the same scope as the rest of this blog and might be featured occasionally.
  • Awesome. Forgotten gems need attention.

When possible, I want to look at their developers. Their stories offer insight into the history of game production, especially from those who took non-traditional paths into software or have since moved elsewhere. See the “developer commentary” post tag for articles with input from the designers themselves!

I’ll also write essays about these games and the period. Subject matter, length, and so forth will vary.

Want to play old obscurities yourself? Check out the Resources page for advice on finding games and running them on modern devices.

I’m Phil Salvador. I usually go by Shadsy online. I’m a librarian in the Washington, DC area with an interest in games, their history, and their role in culture.

This blog is my weird little hobby / obsession. I love playing and sharing strange, unknown games, and I love connecting with people who enjoy them too. Please drop me a line if you enjoy the stuff featured here!

One of the greatest powers of bygone video games and software lies in their ability to inspire the next generation of dreamers. So, keeping old games in a drawer is not enough; they must be dusted off, booted up, played, enjoyed, discussed, and, importantly, remembered.

—Rachel Simone Weil, in Theresa Duncan’s Girl-Centric CD-ROMs Are Reissued for a New Generation

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