View attachment 35579 When Timothy Leary died in 1996, he was eulogized as the godfather of the drug-fueled Sixties counterculture.
But now, material unearthed in Leary’s archive at the New York Public Library may earn him respect as an early adventurer in another arena: video games.
Last week, at a reception celebrating the opening of the archive to researchers, the library displayed a monitor showing a continual loop of samples from the dozen or so games Leary developed in the 1980s, alongside cases containing paper documents relating to his famous LSD experiments. The games were recovered from the roughly 375 computer disks included in the Leary archive, and will be viewable — and in some cases, playable — on a specially equipped computer in the library’s rare books and manuscripts division.
“The games were still in development, so they’re buggy,” warned Donald Mennerich, the digital archivist who led the project.
But Leary’s games, Mr. Mennerich added, are also right in line with some of the ideas about interactivity that prevail in digital culture today.
“Leary brought an angle of psychological interaction to this idea of interactive gaming, this idea of reprogramming your brain,” he said. “It didn’t catch on then, but he was pretty far ahead of the curve.”
Most of Leary’s software projects had a strong self-help bent, and aimed at helping users understand and improve their personalities through digital rather than pharmaceutical means. “Isn’t precise thinking about yourself the most basic tool for managing your life successfully?” players are asked at the beginning of “Mind Mirror” (1985), Leary’s one commercially released product, which allowed players to create, evaluate and role-play different personalities based on psychometric ideas from his 1950 Ph.D. thesis, “The Social Dimensions of Personality.”
In the two years following its release by Electronic Arts, 65,000 “Mind Mirror” games were sold.
View attachment 35580 But apparently not everyone was impressed. After one player expressed dissatisfaction, Leary promised a follow-up that would touch on “such dimensions as psychic sensitivity, telepathy, psychedelic excellence, mastery of your own brain, the ability to jump levels, inter-neurological gymnast skills, and oh yeah, the erotic.”
His later efforts may not have quite gotten there. But “Mind Mirror,” however primitive-seeming now, contained seeds of ideas that have yet to be fully developed even in today’s vastly more sophisticated games, some experts say.
“The idea of using someone else’s personality to learn about your own is very interesting and hasn’t really been fully explored,” Joichi Ito, the director of the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a godson of Leary, said in an e-mail. The Bartle Test of Gamer Psychology, introduced in the late 1990s to sort players of multiplayer online games into different types, Mr. Ito added, “also reflects some of the thinking that Leary explored in ‘Mind Mirror.’”
“Mind Mirror” has had an afterlife on the Internet, thanks to a version adapted for Facebook. Other software projects mentioned by Leary over the years — bearing names like Head Coach, Game of Lists, Inter-Com, FlashBack and Mental Performances — were believed to have been lost, or never really undertaken at all.
Leary’s games, brought back to life thanks to an emulator that reproduces the environment of a mid-1980s computer on the library’s modern machine, hardly look trippy by today’s standards. But in Leary’s floppy disks and paper documents, the archivists also found traces of more ambitious forgotten projects, including a choose-your-own-adventure-style “mind movie” based on William Gibson’s novel “Neuromancer,” which was to have included graphics by Keith Haring, music by Devo, photographs by Helmut Newton and writing by William S. Burroughs.
That game, which at one point was to be called “Keith Haring’s ‘Neuromancer’ ” (Haring agreed to a character based on his likeness, as long as he was given top billing, according to documents in the archive), doesn’t seem to have gotten very far. Leary’s disks contain only small piece of working software from the project, Mr. Mennerich said. And one surviving image, showing a character based on David Byrne, shows background graphics by the digital artist Brummbaer, not Haring.
The Leary archive, however, does contain another Haring-related surprise: several disks inscribed with hand-written messages from the artist (“Drink Me,” reads one), as well as five digital Haring drawings made with MacPaint software.
Ben Fino-Radin, a digital conservator at the Museum of Modern Art whose office is down the street from the library’s digital archives lab in Queens, said that when he saw the drawings his jaw “dropped.”
“Computer art isn’t something you associate with Haring,” Mr. Fino-Radin said. “That’s just part of his story that hasn’t been told at all.”
September 27, 2013
New York Times
Timothy Leary Video Games Unearthed in Archive (Warning: Graphic Intensive)