For such a dominant political topic, however, few games chose to address the topic head-on. Ground Zero was one of the few.
A text adventure game for the Sinclair Spectrum, Ground Zero was the seventh and last in Arctic Computing’s Adventure G series of games, all of which shipped on cassette tapes.
Built using a commercially-available adventure game creation suite, Ground Zero tasked the player with making adequate preparations to survive an impending nuclear attack on Britain. Beginning shortly before the missiles are launched, you could either attempt to build a shelter in your backyard (as instructed by authorities) or, for more elaborate solutions, you could heat outside and try and bluff your way into a government fallout shelter.
The game is time-limited, so you only have so long to get things done before the missiles fall and it’s determined if you survived or not.
Beginning in your living room, a TV set commands you to build a shelter using household objects. So you maybe play the game for the first time doing this, and…when the missiles rain down, you’re killed. It wasn’t up to the job. Thus begins a protracted series of playthroughs, each used as an experiment in determining just what you can gather, and who you can talk to, to make sure you’re still breathing once the first bombs go off.
Perhaps it’s primitive design, perhaps it’s a statement, but it’s tough going. Only a very limited set of circumstances can take place which enable you to survive, juggling the right amount of stuff in your inventory with the right amount of movement. I like to think this is a statement on how difficult it would have been to actually survive a nuclear attack; in the real world you would have only got one shot, so having to play through 20 times until you cracked it showed how few people could actually survive such a scenario.
Do that and you’re greeted with the “congratulations” screen, but it’s hardly cause for celebration. While you’ll live another day, you’re greeted with a dead world, “fires still burning in the distance” while you can “hear nothing but the wind”. It’s Fallout without the humour, and Fallout without the humour is very depressing indeed.
The game was just part of the ultra-realistic, no-holds-barred anti-nuclear commentary found in Britain in the 1980’s, and has many similarities with 1984 mockumentary Threads, which may be the most depressing film I have ever seen (and paints a far bleaker picture than its American counterpart, 1983’s The Day After).
If you feel like your week has been a little too happy, and you need something to bum you out, you can grab a copy of the Spectrum version of the game (it was also released on the Commodore 64) here.
Adventure G: Ground Zero [World of Spectrum]
Adventure of the Week: Adventure G – Ground Zero (1984) [Gaming After 40]