Our world is so much less magical than I wanted it to be. Like many teenage weirdos, I spent my adolescence grasping at the usual straws in hopes of uncovering one last portal to an adventurous, hidden, cooler world: tarot cards, auras, Wiccan girlfriends. All to no avail.
I want to tell you about a game called 3 in Three. It’s a puzzle game, not in the Free-To-Play, Bejewelled sense, or the Wander-And-Wonder, Myst sense, but the Mind-Wracking Eleventh Hour sense. That’s the book by Graeme Base, by the way, not the CD-ROM. 3 in Three was set in a world inside a computer, and follows the exploits of an adventurous digit, 3, and her efforts to explore and restore a virus-laden Macintosh.
Released in 1989, the development of 3 in Three would have been in parallel with the Cyberpunk movement in science fiction literature (Bruce Sterling’s influential short story collection, Mirrorshades, arrived in 1986, while Neal Stephenson’s novel Snow Crash debuted in 1992). Despite predating Cyberpunk’s transition to film, 3 in Three’s visuals were full of the black and neon, geometric landscapes that would form early “cyberspace.”
Cyberpunk provided my teenage self with one last vector for arcane mysticism: computers. Sexy boxes of daemons and light, operated by console cowboy-wizards, tools for both self-enlightenment and world domination.
Can there be a less Cyberpunk-toned game about the world inside a computer than 3 in Three? Our heroine, 3, is cast as the only sane woman in a world gone mad. In working to restore the system via a series of logic puzzles, hints are provided via running commentary from 3, who displays the put upon straight-man wit of Adam Scott’s character Ben Wyatt on Parks & Recreation. Gone are noir’s shadow, and the techno-shaman’s fetish.
3 in Three tames the wilds of cyberspace with the order of a spreadsheet. It reminds us that every sorcerous dragonslayer eventually winds up a practical magician, whether that means controlling the elements to avert village droughts, or exploiting fundamental physical forces in a controlled reaction to power a closet light bulb.
I eventually gave up my doomed rebellion against mundane reality. Perhaps I finally started to see that there were things about the world that dedicated weirdos could change without magic. Or I discovered that there was no Wiccan girlfriend who could transform my world better than I could transform myself?
3 in Three is free these days, but you’ll need either a working computer from the 90’s, or an emulator. The designer, Cliff Johnson, has instructions for getting it running on Mac and Windows.