This is a story I wrote for Salon early on in my writing career (2000), when I was just beginning to shape my thoughts on gaming, Internet culture, and user-created content online. Hope you enjoy this long weekend read - Hamlet
Nethack has been around for nearly 15 years [now 23! - ed] and doesn't require a soundcard, a 3D graphics card or even a VGA monitor. Indeed, the entire game is usually played with graphics no more ambitious than ASCII text. But as any hacker worth the title will tell you, Nethack is still one of the best games ever made. What's more, it's one of the best open-source games ever made -- meaning anyone who cares can grab ahold of the game's source code and make changes and improvements. The player's guide is even authored by none other than open-source ontologist Eric S. Raymond, perhaps best known for his essay, "The Cathedral and the Bazaar," in which he argues that the open-source software methodology produces technically superior software.
Does that suggest that Nethack is a technically superior computer game, despite its lack of graphic zap? Depends what you are looking for. Still beloved and played by many, Nethack embodies all that is obsessive, brilliant and geekishly lovable about hackerdom. And while open-source advocates are more likely to vaunt the movement's ability to transform desktop and network computing, this endearingly pokey dungeon adventure is perhaps its most accessible exemplar, demonstrating how its core virtues seem to work even in the unlikely realm of computer gaming: