SkiFree, a game from the past, has a message for the future

Posted by on Jul 30, 2014

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The 1990s game SkiFree was simple, until the yeti started chasing you.

The 1990s game SkiFree was simple, until the yeti started chasing you.

If you used a PC at any point in the ‘90s, you probably encountered the game SkiFree. To jog your memory, the 16-bit windows game featured a lone skier tirelessly trying to gain “style points” and avoid obstacles such as rocks, trees, snow bunnies and a man-eating yeti.

SkiFree, created by Microsoft programmer Chris Pirih in his free time, was recently revamped to reflect present-day concerns. Instead of a snow monster chasing you down the alpine slopes, you and the monster end up at the bottom of the mountain, submerged in water below the bottom of a melting glacier.

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Countless hours could be spent in any of the original game’s three modes of play: slalom, tree slalom, and free-style. Skiing down the mountain you would lose points by running into trees, rock or yellow snow (yes, the crude humor reflects correctly on the overall tone of the game). Points could be gained by jumping over trees and rock, knocking over snow bunnies, and running over snowboarders. There were also moguls and snow banks for the very skilled virtual skier to catch some air on–all of this controlled from your keyboard number pad. The goal was to accumulate as many style points as possible before the abominable snow monster (or monsters if you were very good) caught up and gobbled you up!

Skifreeonline.com hosts a version of the game that you don’t have to download. This retro favorite was released in March of earlier this year. After clicking the link, you are immediately taken to a familiar screen in your browser window. Just after you have remembered how to maneuver and begin to pick up momentum the white slopes are interrupted with a gray cliff and then blue water. Next thing you know, you have joined the yeti bobbing up and down in the ocean.

Unlike the original, the version on SkiFreeOnline.com features a more sobering ending than being eaten by a yeti.

Unlike the original, the version on SkiFreeOnline.com features a more sobering ending than being eaten by a yeti.

The presence of glaciers has been seen in the virtual sphere before. The online world Second Life has an island with calving glaciers, and we previously mentioned the addictive phone app Glacier Rush [link here when published]. The new version of SkiFree blatantly offers a bit of a reality check to the nostalgic 20 to 50 year olds who popularized the game in the 1990s: “The snow monster is not a real thing. Climate change is.” The abrupt end of play and demonstration of how familiar landscapes we take for granted are changing was effective and direct.

Play the original here or check out the revised version reflecting our changing climate here. There is also a free version for the iPhone and iPad on Apple’s App Store.

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