Gaming - In General
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April 19, 2008, 2:49 am

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Grue - An Explanation


It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a grue.

This is part of your gaming heritage, something you as a computer using gamer should know.

"It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a grue."

At one time, these were the most famous words in computer gaming. Hard to believe we have come this far. For those that don’t know what I am babbling about, let me get Mr. Peabody to set the WAYBAC.

The Year is 1977

A Grue is a fictional predator from the Zork series of interactive fiction games by Infocom. That is the usage that most people know.

We set the Waybac to 1966… and ...
The word grue was first used in modern times as a fictional predator from Jack Vance’s Dying Earth universe.

We could set the Waybac again, but lets just narrate:
Vance probably took the name from an archaic/dialectal English verb derived from a Scandinavian word meaning to feel horror or shudder. This is the root behind the word "gruesome".

So while someone might mention a Jack Vance Grue, most people only know the Zork Grue.

So Back to the Future, from 1966, to 1977

Dave Lebling introduced The Grue into the interactive fiction computer game Zork. Zork’s grues fear light and are ravenous devourers of adventurers, making it impossible to explore the game’s dark areas without a light source.

Due to Zork’s prominent position in hacker history and lore, its grues have served as models for monsters in many subsequent games, such as roguelike games and MUDs.

If, in Zork, you ask. "what is a grue?" The answer you get is:

The grue is a sinister, lurking presence in the dark places of the earth. Its favorite diet is adventurers, but its insatiable appetite is tempered by its fear of light. No grue has ever been seen by the light of day, and few have survived its fearsome jaws to tell the tale.

This warning is not to be taken lightly. If the player attempts to continue moving through a dark place rather than returning to a lit area or activating a light source, there is a high probability he will be caught and eaten by a grue.

In a Zork, or zork like game, you could enter a dark area;  but if you moved anywhere, except back where you came, you would get the line:
"You have been eaten by a Grue"

Game Over. Time to either restart or go to your last saved game.

Now later games gave you a chance to run through dark areas and not be instantly eaten. They also fixed a glitch that if you just stood in the dark, waiting for a trap to clear where you came from, the monster would not eat you. Grue got smart, and got you if you stood in the dark too long. Found this out on a bathroom break.

I personally died hundreds of times due to these darn monsters and stumbling into a dark area.

Grues were invented to limit players’ options when faced with unlit areas. Without them, a player might attempt to blunder about in the darkness, perhaps (for example) to reach a lighted area beyond a dark passage. The presence of grues ensures that such tactics will fail, and forces players to solve any light-related puzzles first. They are a simple plot device for simple games. However, what do you want?; these are from one of the Very First Computer Games.

Other Mentions
Grues have been featured in each of the Zork games (with the possible exception of Enchanter) and many other of Infocom’s games, becoming a company trademark or in-joke, often referred to with the stock phrases of "slavering fangs", "razor-sharp claws" and "horrible gurgling noises". The science fiction title Starcross reuses both the "You are likely to be eaten by a grue" line and the grue’s description, replacing the word "adventurer" with the current job title of the protagonist. Additionally, Planetfall makes reference to grues having been unwittingly taken from their home planet (which is implied to be the world on which Zork takes place) and introduced to Earth by the alien ship in Starcross, then subsequently spread around the galaxy alongside man and become a universal pest for human civilizations.

You get mentions of Grue in other games as in jokes. The Journeyman Project (a good game) when a maintance transport kills a character, the death message reads, "Well at least you weren’t eaten by a Grue!".  In the modern day murder game "Suspect", "Lurking Grue" in the name of a race horse. The nerdier the netcomic, the more likely there is a grue reference. They have been mentioned in music (nerdcore rapper MC Frontalot’s Pitch Dark, and others) and on TV (Recently on NBC’s Chuck). Grue are a craze on Uncyclopedia. If you go there, a Grue is nearly the unofficial mascot of the project.

They were also present in early editions of D&D, so they are part of our shared gaming heritage.

Now on Strolen’s, Grues are prehistoric Gremils. We also have Grue - The New Take.

I am sure, given the geek quotient on the site, that there will be more references.

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Comments ( 5 )
Commenters gain extra XP from Author votes.

April 18, 2008, 20:27
I kind of like it, in the way of Wikipedia articles, though I have a hard time finding the right vote on it. It draws things together, and that is fine... when the number of grues grows, it will be a good background article.
Voted Siren no Orakio
April 19, 2008, 9:30
Dealing with one of these is always a gruesome affair.

We tend to forget the things that go bump in the night. This is a good reminder of that, and a useful place to start for our own unseen things that go nom nom nom.
Voted valadaar
April 22, 2008, 11:15
Not bad at detailing a piece of classic nerddom.
Voted Murometz
April 27, 2008, 12:56
I love grues, but otherwise agree with manfred.
Voted Moonlake
May 30, 2013, 4:10
Had never heard of the other ref to grues (that is, besides the one on this site) before I read this article. A good article.

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