PlayThings: Lemmings Adventure Gamebooks
Early precursor to Skyrim, or just a fun read?
Bringing you the latest instalment in our Playthings news series, examining the fascinating stories behind the objects from our Playthings exhibition.
The Lemmings Adventure Gamebooks illustrate that there are plenty of interesting physical objects within videogame history that straddle different mediums.
Lemmings is a computer game developed by Dundee’s DMA Design for the Amiga in 1991. The player must guide a horde of mindless creatures safely through obstacle-heavy courses. Left without player commands, Lemmings will throw themselves off cliffs or walk head-first into spinning saws. This is a darkly comic game borne from the popular myth that Lemmings exhibit life-reducing tendencies.
The game was a colossal success for its developers. Across the early years of the 1990s, Lemmings was immensely popular in the UK. The game’s legacy in British gaming is so strong that it was immortalised by a first class stamp in 2020.
But what if you did not own an Amiga and wanted to play Lemmings? Step in the Lemmings Adventure Gamebook. Written by Nigel Gross and Jon Sutherland, they are forms of interactive fiction with an attached game system. The player (or reader) makes decisions and rolls dice to proceed through the narrative. So instead of using a screen to imagine the plight of the Lemmings, only imagination was required!
The Lemmings Adventure Gamebooks are clever works of interactive fiction. But they were not novel (I’m so sorry). Branching interactive fiction became widely popular during the 1980s. The Lemmings Adventure Gamebooks are greatly influenced by works such as the Fighting Fantasy book series. The first title of the series, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, written by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, was published in 1982. It was the first narrative work with a game system attached. Through the combination of paper and dice rolls a reader could navigate an immersive game world of monsters and magic without a console or computer.
The Lemmings Adventure Gamebooks, and the Fighting Fantasy series before them, are unique precursors to the sophisticated virtual RPG role-playing experiences we see today. The fantasy worlds of Skyrim where the player can make decisions that influence the world around them and the variety of narratives they can conjure.