Sometime in the mid eighties my Dad acquired a Commodore 64 and a bag of tapes with games on them. He set it up in the sleep out and connected it up to an enormous CRT television. It had a cassette drive of moulded off-white plastic that felt a little like Bakelite. I was particularly fond of two games: Beach Head and River Raid, games that involved shooting things and blowing things up. The cassettes would take a while to load; they had to play before you could play. Games like Beach Head and River Raid would take about ten, maybe fifteen minutes to load. They were single sided; other (less interesting) material was on the other side, stuff I can’t remember at all. Some games were double sided and took maybe an hour, or more, to load. One of these was The Hobbit.
It was basically Tolkien’s story, and the correct sequence of commands would get you the Ring, lots of gold and safely back home. But only the right sequence of commands at the right time. Probably the coolest thing about The Hobbit was real time. It took hours to execute those commands and to be at the right place at the right time for those commands to take you to the next point. And it often didn’t work. If you got the sequence of WEST, DOWN and SAY TO ELROND “GIVE ME MAP” wrong you were completely stuffed. You couldn’t move, you couldn’t do very much except hope that maybe the Warg entered the room and changed things up, giving you got the opportunity to RUN QUICKLY.
So often on a Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning having invested an hour in getting it ready, plus another hour or so in gameplay, you’d find yourself (as Bilbo Baggins) in a room unable to leave, by either advance or retreat. Now having put two hours (and probably more because the C64 got slower and slower as the years went by) into the game you’d be loathe to exit as this would mean going through that awesomely dull loading process again. Plus if my sister was around she was likely to say that I’d had my go and it was her turn. The best chance of making the best of being stuck in some tunnel unable to do anything was to do nothing.
In these circumstances you’d give the command WAIT and the game would respond YOU WAIT, TIME PASSES. This could go on indefinitely. If you left the keyboard and let the time pass the game itself would take over and automatically cycle through the command and response. If you abandoned Bilbo at eleven in the morning in a particularly you could return at five in the afternoon to find that nothing much had happened. Maybe day dawned or night fell or the warg ate you, or simply nothing happened. Later it occurred to me that I could have followed the narrative of the book to determine my course, rather than cruising through Middle Earth like a worm through an apple. One afternoon much later, in the 1990s, I did so.
The winning of the game didn’t mean much by that time, if anything at all. But sometimes when I’m at work, busying away at something or other, I flick my glance toward my screen and I’m sure it says: YOU WAIT, TIME PASSES.