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February 22, 2012 / jwaxo

Lemmings (Frustration)

Cue the sound of millions of groans.

I was but a wee lad when I first learned about the classic puzzler Lemmings. At the time, I had no idea what a “real” lemming even was: I purely learned the phrase “dying like lemmings” from this game, where, well, all of the lemmings almost assuredly die. Instead I merely saw my brother’s best friend’s younger brother playing a game at their computer and my interest was immediately piqued.

It wasn’t even the real Lemmings he was playing at that time, either. Instead he was playing the much-less-frustrating Lemmings Paintball, a puzzler that was almost completely different from the normal Lemmings gameplay. It was this cute and colorful game that caught my attention, and the unique name stuck in my head as only a computer game could. I latched onto it and promised to find the real one.

Several weeks/months/years later, I finally found a disc of the real Lemmings in the usual spot: the bargain bin. I had no money at the time, and it didn’t look like the game I had seen my friend-of-a-friend playing, but it did, indeed exist.

But there was this funny warning on the back of the game, one which claimed the makers of the game were not responsible for several things, including hair loss.

Hair loss? How could a game cause hair loss, I wondered. How interesting.

Advertisements don’t lie. That’s illegal, right?

Maybe a year later I at last found a free download of the game, or at least a shareware version, and it came to reside on my harddrive, where I learned several very important life lessons.

First of all, let’s go over gameplay. If you never played Lemmings, seriously. This was one of the the important games of the early 90s. The only reason that I can say I didn’t play it before the mid-late 90s was most likely because my parents were protecting me. But, in case you haven’t, let’s ask what you probably know about lemmings, the animals. Sure, they probably aren’t pink with green hair and blue robes, but you do know one thing: they commit mass suicide.

Actually a myth perpetrated by Disney, of all people, but you know that. Well, that’s an important part of Lemmings. Because those little guys, which you are supposed to assign various jobs to in order to get them all to a doorway halfway across the level, love to die. They love to die in hundreds of different ways. They might be chopped up, ground up, explode, implode, impale, or, if you’re bored, just fall off of the bottom of the screen.

And they will do this over. And over. Again. You can’t stop it. In many cases, you will be forced to do it to a lot of them. In tons of cases, you will do it willingly because you will be so gosh-darned frustrated at those stupid little green-haired jerks. With one button-click, all of them explode.


I laughed at that warning, still. Even though I had a friend that swore it was a legal requirement, that people had actually tried to sue DMA (which would eventually become Rockstar, creators of Grand Theft Auto, who would soon be well-versed in video game-related lawsuits) about the suffering they had endured from playing this game. I laughed at the warning while I played, and then I cried. I cried because it was the single-most frustrating game I had ever played.

Sure, it started off easy enough. You have the exit door a level below the entrance trapdoor, and you have the ability to make some Lemmings diggers. Easy enough to solve. But then, ten levels later, you have a wide variety of abilities and a small pool of Lemmings and only so many you can lose to keep the win condition met. Do you build the staircase, and pray you’re accurate enough to click on the right Lemming so that you don’t have to waste a blocker at the top? Do you try digging sideways, only to realize you don’t have enough diggers to make it? How do you get down?

I never spent money on Lemmings. It would have been a loss. Instead, I played the game for two straight hours, then only for fifteen minute batches for the next twelve years. Tearing chunks out of my perfect hair just isn’t worth it, nor is being that angry at stupid games.

No, Mom, wearing a hat all the time didn’t make me bald!


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