Jon Gracey's

Games That Rocked…Jonny Garrett’s World – #44: The Secret Of Monkey Island

In Amiga, iOS, Mac, PC, PSN, Xbox 360 on July 19, 2013 at 10:36 am

Today’s post is by Jonny Garrett…

Title: The Secret Of Monkey Island

Format: Amiga, Mac, Mega CD, iOS, PC, PSN, Xbox 360

Released: October, 1900

Monkey Island Box Art

A great man once said “Always be yourself. Unless you can be a pirate. Then always be a pirate.” I don’t remember who said that, but they are wise and, presumably, a pirate.

Sadly, when I first heard that saying I couldn’t be a pirate. I was 7 and lived in Oxford, a city so far from the sea we thought punts were an efficient way to navigate water. My ambitions were landlocked and somehow scuppered at the same time.

Then everything changed. My dad brought home a copy of The Secret of Monkey Island, installed on about 12 floppy discs and with a glossy stapled manual. From over my elder brother’s shoulder I watched Guybrush Threepwood shuffle onto my screen, dressed like a Jane Austen character pixelated out to protect his identity.


That moment I met a man who, in all seriousness, became a friend. For years he was the closest thing I ever had to that cliché of an imaginary friend. It took me so long to complete the game that he pretty much grew up with me. I watched him fall in love, laughed as he was catapulted from a cannon with only a saucepan for a helmet, panicked as he was thrown from a jetty weighed down by a brass idol, screamed at a monkey as it refused to do my bidding however many bananas I gave him, booed every scene with his arch nemesis Captain LeChuck, and finally believed in romance as he got the girl.

But it all started, unusually for a seven-year-old, in a bar, when Guybrush went up to three drunk bearded men in bar and confided in them that he wanted to be a mighty pirate. And they laughed.

 From then on I was on a two-man mission, Threepwood and me, to prove them wrong. To prove to three grog-swilling constellations of pixels that we could be a pirate. So I stopped watching my brother play it, pushed him off the weird seventies sitting/kneeling chair my dad inexplicably still used and settled in.

I want to be a pirate

Hours turned into days, days into endless summer afternoons, and evenings into late nights, while I sat at my dad’s PC in the dining room. When someone turned on the light it was just the neon bulbs of Stan’s Previously Owned Vessels, when the wind got up outside it was filling the sails of our boat, the Sea Monkey, and when the sun peaked through our eighties blinds it was the heat pouring through the canopy of Monkey Island’s rainforest.

I spent a whole school summer holiday adventuring with Threepwood, and I learnt much more than I would have at school. Games like Monkey Island have characters so rich they come to life. They actually teach you things. Not useful things, of course, but things nonetheless. I know what to do with rubber chickens with pulleys (so did everyone in Monkey Island for some reason), I’ve learnt how to carry grog so strong it melts through metal cups (and prison locks) and, most helpfully, I learnt how not to talk to women. Of course, when they aren’t pixelated I still fall to pieces, and if I ever met Elaine Marley, surely the sexiest woman on a PC pre-HD porn, I too would only be able to muster a lame “Gee…”.

talking to elaine

But there was one lesson I took away from The Secret of Monkey Island that I use every single day – a lesson perhaps unique to computer games. In fact I’ve used it several times in this article. It’s the love of wordplay, an art form the writers were so talented at that replaying it now still makes me green with envy.

At no time was this more apparent than the sword fighting scenes where, instead of the winner being measured on their skills with their massive long swords (heyo!), they won on the merit of their witticisms. Hence why my favourite non sequitur during an argument is “first you’d better stop waving it around like a feather duster” – whatever the context. Not only were these interchanges often laugh out loud funny (“My handkerchief will wipe up your blood”/”So you got that job as a janitor after all”), brilliantly they we’re all training for a showdown with the Swordmaster (another pixelly young crush) where you have to match all the comebacks you have learnt with her new insults (“My name is feared in every dirty corner of this island”/”So you got that job as a janitor after all.”) When you defeat her, you are justly rewarded with a T-shirt saying “I defeated the Swordmaster and all I got was this lousy T-shirt”.

Another time you need to cross a bridge, but are stopped by a suspiciously small but conspicuously armed troll, who demands you find him something “something that is distracting but of no real purpose to anyone”. So you go to the local inn’s kitchen and fight a seagull for a red herring – of course the answer to the riddle. The brilliance of this is the banality and seemingly pointless nature of the puzzle, which bemuses you for hours and helps the plot in no way. The very scene is, of itself, a red herring.


It’s not all genius or above toilet humour – at one point Threepwood is mocked for having the “stupidest name ever heard”, but by a man called Mancomb Seepgood. Think about it – or don’t. But at my tender age the moments of brilliance didn’t pass me by. I learnt what a red herring was, I learnt how to barter from Stan, how to pun, and how to fill in those gaps that books, films, computer games and – hell – even real life throw at us.

So Guybrush Threepwood, a fearsome pirate and loyal friend, taught me to think laterally and be patient. He gave me the power of imagination – to read character’s words and give them voices. As much as Biff and Chip taught me to read, Guybrush taught me to enjoy it. He taught me to love words and stories, and to never look a gift chicken in the pulley.

oh sure walk-to-the-sun

We didn’t always get on, my imaginary friend and me. The Secret Monkey Island, at the age of seven and in the time before website walkthroughs, was a devilishly tricky game. But two things kept me going. It wasn’t just that Guybrush wanted to be a pirate, it was that I wanted to be a pirate. And by becoming one, I went one better than that wise man, and also found a way to be myself.

I think we're having a real moment here

Jonny Garrett is a freelance journalist and food writer. Follow him on Twitter. You can read about him getting equally over-sentimental about food here.


  1. […] of vacuous parentchat, the worlds of Theme Park, Lemmings, Rise of the Triad, Fuzzy’s Golf, Monkey Island and Cannon Fodder were all waiting for us to unlock them with a simple “cd..”. Lost at the […]

  2. This is amazing!! It brought back a lot of the feelings I got from this game, too. It was so darn funny and clever. Thanks for a great post.

  3. Thanks for reading! Really glad you enjoyed it 🙂


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