The Secret of Monkey Island, Monkey Island, video game, box art, pirates, monkey, Guybrush, Elaine, skull

The real secret of Monkey Island

At the end of last month, the lovely Ian over at Adventure Rules ran the first Charming and Open event. For an entire week he invited readers to ask him questions in connection with video games, tabletop games and blogging but there was one catch: in return, he could ask them a question of his choosing and both parties had to answer honestly! It was such a great idea and a number of us jumped on board. Mossaica asked how him felt games should handle falling off ledges while Luke from Hundstrasse asked him to reveal his gaming guilty pleasure; head over to the Adventure Rules website to check out more of the great posts published as a result of the event.

The quandary I put to Ian was: if you could visit any would within in video game, where would you go? He chose to take a vacation to the city of Rogueport and surrounding areas from Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. Who wouldn’t want to play some games at Don Pianta’s Pianta Parlor in Rogueport Proper, catch a fight at the Glitz Pit in Glitzville and watch the waves at the Keelhaul Key beach? Of course, you’d have to deal with occasional malevolent spirit and a bunch of undead pirates, but a stay at Poshley Heights would more than make up for it.

The question I was asked in return was this: what is The Secret of Monkey Island, and what are your memories with it? It’s a lovely one to answer. This post (and all the nostalgia contained within it) is dedicated to Adventure Rules.

What is The Secret of Monkey Island?

Let’s start at the beginning: the original The Secret of Monkey Island was a point-and-click adventure developed and published in 1990 by LucasArts. It takes place in the Caribbean and is set in the age of piracy, centering around a naive young man who dreams of becoming a pirate. Guybrush Threepwood’s ‘razor-sharp wit’ gets him out of some risky situations and his unique ability of being able to hold his breath for 10 minutes saves him from watery death.

The first game in the series begins when Guybrush arrives on Mêlée Island and is told he needs to seek out the pirate leaders at the Scumm Bar. They give him three trials to complete – Sword-Fighting, Thievery and Treasure Huntery – but when returns to claim his rightful place as a bucaneer, he discovers that everyone has vanished. The evil ghost pirate Le-Chuck has raided the island and kidnapped the beautiful governor Elaine Marley while he was busy! It’s left up to our hero to save the day so he heads to the fabled Monkey Island to track down his nemesis’ secret hideout.

The Secret of Monkey Island spawned four sequels, three of which were the work of LucasArts and the latest which was released in 2009 by Telltale. There’s one character who pops up throughout the series who’s worth a mention in his own right. Murray the skull may have had his skeletal-body blown to pieces by a cannon but instead of letting this tragic accident hold him back, he turned it into the opportunity he’d been waiting for: to become a demonic overlord and conquer the land of the living. We could all learn a few valuable life lessons from Murray.

What are my memories of it?

When I was a kid, my dad wanted my younger brother to get into coding and bought a Commodore 64 to encourage him. He really wasn’t drawn however; it was beating up the baddies in Double Dragon and rescuing Tina in Wonder Boy that caught his attention more than lines of code. For me though, there was something fascinating about all those words and numbers that seemed like jibberish but could do magical things, and eventually the Commodore fell into my hands.

My dad then decided he wanted to upgrade to an Amiga 500 when I was nine-years old and the only way to get mum’s seal of approval was to say that the purchase was for me, to further my interest in computers. That saw me excitedly unwrapping it on Christmas day and us spending most of the morning hooking the new machine up to the television. Being asked what I wanted to try out first was obviously a big decision for a little kid so I carefully looked through all of floppy discs before making my selection: it was a box with a a mysterious skull in the centre, surrounded by a ghostly ship, fierce-looking pirates and a young swashbuckling hero that caught my eye.

We’d never heard of The Secret of Monkey Island before but after slipping the floppy into the Amiga, my young life changed. My nine-year-old mind was entirely blown after realising that worlds I thought only existed inside of books could be brought to life through a video game. My dad and I spent the rest of the day going up against dangerous-looking yaks in the governor’s mansion and insulting pirates by telling them they fought like cows; we even managed to rope my granddad into playing with us when we came up against the grog-mug puzzle.

Bonus question: what’s the real secret of Monkey Island?

That day begun a lifelong love of gaming and a childhood crush on Guybrush Threepwood. I’d played other games previously on the Commodore 64 and NES but it was The Secret of Monkey Island that I first played for myself – I mean, all the way through to the end and without a lot of help – and the adventure that made me a fan of video games. At one point as a kid I even wanted to work for LucasArts and get into animation; that was until I realised that I have no artistic talent whatsoever, but the dream was alive for a few years.

Even to this day my go-to genre is adventure. Every now and again I’ll try out something different with a little more action and lately, the charms of the robotic monsters in Horizon Zero Dawn have caused me to spend almost 50 hours in Aloy’s gorgeous-looking world so far. But it’s the point-and-clicks I always return to and hold a special place in my heart. The Gaming Teacher recently asked whether the games we played as children define what you play today and I think that’s definitely true in my case.

The Secret of Monkey Island, video game, Guybrush Threepwood, pirate, man, surprised

During last year’s GameBlast event with the Gamely Giving team I actually played The Secret of Monkey Island and my stepson Ethan joined me half-way through. I’d never shown it to him before, thinking he wouldn’t be interested due to the lack of weapons and explosions, but surprisingly he was captivated – and ended up taking over my part of the stream.

I think that’s the real secret of Monkey Island: it can show a nine-year old girl that magical worlds exist and enable a dad to spend time with his daughter. It can convince a granddad to get involved with something he wouldn’t usually be interested in and play a game. It can explain to a ten-year old stepson that video games don’t have to be all about guns and violence, and can contain an element of humour. And it proves that all you really need to defeat an evil zombie pirate is a bottle of root beer.

10 thoughts on “The real secret of Monkey Island

  1. Games that bring parent and child together are truly the best ones. It’s awesome to hear the backstory behind this game and how it impacted you. That to me is what makes the medium truly special – we can all have unique experiences with specific games that takes them beyond the mundane into the realm of the magical.
    Thanks again for participating in the event – it has been a blast answering your question and reading your answer to mine!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This was a great write-up 🙂 I’m pretty sure I never played Secret of Monkey Island but it was those old point and clicks from that era that created a genre of story telling through video games.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aah you can’t say something like that and then not give it a go! You’ll have to let us know what you think of it. 😉

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  3. Great retrospective, and your experience of Monkey Island is similar to mine! We got the first game on Atari ST back in the early ’90s. There was definitely something about those old LucasArts point-and-click adventures – since they were all about adventuring and puzzling, they were games you could play with your dad, your brother, and your friends.

    I replayed the original Monkey Island a few years ago, and it is genuinely brilliant – the story and the humor really make the game, and more than that you actually feel like you’re in that world, exploring this Caribbean island, on a pirate-y adventure.

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    1. I’d give anything for Ron Gilbert to get hold of the rights for Monkey Island and make another one… come on Disney, make our dreams come true!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Nice write up. I love hearing stories how multiple people can gather around and fun with a single player game. I’ve had a few experiences like this in the past, and it’s quite a blast.

    I played the first game more recently on steam, in some form of real nice looking HD remake. At some point I will take on the 2nd of the two games.

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    1. The original will always hold the most memories for me, but I think the second game might be my favourite in the series. Hopefully Ron Gilbert will get the rights back from Disney and we’ll see another instalment one day.

      Liked by 1 person

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