An Embarrassingly Bad And Somewhat Disappointing Play Through of The Prisoner Video Game

By Dylan • 19 February 2021

Hello all and welcome back to my three part series on the Prisoner video game. If you missed the first part where I outline what the video game is and tackle some of the apocrypha surrounding it, be sure to check it out here. To give a brief recap, The Prisoner was released in 1980 for the Apple II by Edu-Ware. The first version of the game (the one that I played) is a top down text adventure, whereas the second edition was a full color first person version.

In this part I will outline some of the things you might expect were you to boot up the game yourself. Obviously I won’t spoil everything, I wasn’t even able to finish the game in the time I dedicated to it over the past two weeks, and this blog post serves largely to outline my first play through of the game. Two weeks from now in the third part I’ll give a retrospective on my time in game, doing a deeper dive into the metafictional aspects of the game and how they relate to the series as a whole, so stay tuned for that.

The game loads, my ears bleed from the chiptune emulated soundtrack, and for this run through the reason I’ve been given for my resignation is [redacted]. You didn’t think that I would just give that to you, did I? What if this blog is part of the video game? No way man, I won’t risk it. Just know that it was a three digit number. That’s all you need to know. The first challenge is a maze, with the least intuitive controls ever. You might think “well WASD isn’t so unintuitive, it’s just up down left right but in the middle of the keyboard,” and you wouldn’t be wrong. But the control scheme was actually UDLR, for up down left right. Makes perfect sense, but is also incredibly inconvenient to use on the keyboard. Like really inconvenient. At the end of the maze is your first possible failure point. The game inquires as to your name and gives you 5 options. The first 4 are random symbols, the 5th is your reason for resigning. As I said in my first blog post, your name in the game is #, and you must correctly self identify here to proceed. Accidentally giving your name as your reason for resigning fails you instantly!

Once you pass this challenge you’re informed that the caretaker wishes to see you. The control scheme now switches to, well, NSEW. Each key corresponds to a cardinal direction, North, South, East and West. Easy right? Intuitive, three of the keys are right next to each other, it’s generally an “alright” control scheme.

From here you can go where you please, do what you want, you just have to try and fulfill the two primary goals of the game:

  1. Escape.
  2. Don’t reveal why you resigned.

By the way it should be noted here that I’m not kidding when I say that the soundtrack is ear bleed inducing. The failure noise is an ungodly mess of high pitched tones that form a sort of aural cacophony that just absolutely annihilates your ear drums. If #6 had been subject to this noise on the show I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that he would have given in Day 1. Not to mention the loading noise, which is just a random tone at a random point in the scale played at each half a second interval as the game loads. How did people play games in the 80s? I would never have survived.

I explored the first few little houses, encountering the news stand, the library and the bank. The library did not allow me entrance unless I had something to contribute. The newsstand only sold The Islander (remember that in the game The Village is replaced by The Island) and the bank didn’t allow me to deposit or withdraw anything without my bank code. I had a suspicion that if I input my reason for resigning here into the bank, I would fail, and the same at the news stand when they asked what paper I would like. I did find out that the bank would accept a black tie as a loan. Weird. I went off east to another screen of four identical houses and this was about the time I realized that it would be really helpful if I had a damn map. I would find a map later, only to discover it looked like this:


After some wandering I came to the hospital, where there’s a particularly ruthless test of memory and patience. You are presented with a continuous sequence of letters, numbers and symbols, and you are asked to… actually you’re not asked to do anything. This is a running theme throughout the game; absolutely no directions are ever given to you at any point. You’re left to discover how each minigame works through your own methods and experimentation. Through some experimentation I found that pushing the first symbol in each sequence progressed me to a new frame, before nearly getting tricked halfway through the game. For three consecutive frames the first three symbols were numbers that had I complied would have given away my reason for resigning! Later I discovered that in actuality you wanted to push the key of one of the symbols that had changes between frames, and not always just the first one. It just happens that the first symbol almost always changes.

I found the caretaker in house 2 (a sly reference to the show) where you are able to have a conversation with him. Responding to “I am the caretaker for the master” with “Who is the master?” receives the response “You are #.” It’s like I was playing out the intro to the show for myself! Thrilling! Asking him for help or giving him a response he does not understand leads to him booting you from the house. Oops.

In the center of each map was a white square which upon interaction turned into an information board. Here I discovered that my bank account number was 71521 and that I had 499 credits to my name. I used 5 credits to purchase a black tie and was met with the response that “I could bank on that selection.” The game is funny and smart! What more could you want!

I eventually discovered that the map is looping, so going too high north or too far west for example just looped around to the other end. One day while roaming I returned to the library having since purchased a book at the general store, which lead to the library administering me a personality test in which I had to select between two different books repeatedly. After that it knocked me out, returning me to my home where the next day I discovered that every door on the Island was locked.

I was distressed, disturbed even. Had I broken the game? Evidently not, as I eventually stumbled upon an infinite field of 2-dimensional flowers. I roamed there for an hour. Literally, an hour, before going to bed and returning the next day, at which point I stumbled upon a train station that took me to the city. It was here that I made my way to the company, where the general asked me to tell them why I resigned. I refused, the events of Many Happy Returns playing themselves over in my mind. He threw me behind bars. In much the same way Patrick McGoohan ended each episode behind bars, so too was I know behind bars. Sure my bars were embedded in the computer screen, and whoever was on the other side was really just a rudimentary AI coded in 1981, but the feeling was the same. If I pushed a key I would be taken back to the general, where I would refuse to give up my reasons. I was stuck in another devious loop puzzle, much like the endless fields of flowers, designed to drive me mad and give in. But there had to be way out…

…and that was where I got stuck. I had no idea how to proceed and didn’t want to tell them why I resigned. Not now, not yet, I was still so green behind the ears in my experience! But… I gave up eventually. The Prisoner had beaten me, for now. My playthrough had been going quite well until that point. I had received a gold watch from managing the Island in my turn at Free For All. I’d purchased a clone suit and was going to make my way to the Gemini Diner for my turn at Schizoid Man. Alas though, the Island had to resort to none too clever schemes. No, it was Chimes of Big Ben that took me down in the end. For now. I conceded and told “The Company” why I resigned. And then I lost and was treated to a headache inducing chorus of disapproving chiptune chimes. Ouch.

My final score was 33. Rest assured though that I did not stop there. I’m in the midst of a decidedly more successful playthrough where I have endeavored to avoid the company of The Company as long as possible. Perhaps we’ll meet again, perhaps not. Stay tuned to see how this exciting adventure ends in part 3, where if everything goes right I’ll have passed the game and escaped The Island successfully.

Were you disappointed in my play through of The Prisoner? Do you have faith that I’ll find my way off The Island before the third installment of this series? Pick up the red phone and send us a message on Twitter or Facebook to let us know.

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