Insurance Labyrinth Adventure


My first computer was a TRS-80.  While it could display blocky graphics in black and white, many of the games I played were text based, like Zork.  They usually began with a paragraph or two that described the background of the game scenario.

YOU STEP INTO THE TELEPORTER WITH YOUR CARRY ON BAG.  YOU’VE WORKED HARD ALL YEAR AND CAN’T WAIT TO BEGIN YOUR VACATION ON MARS, TWO WEEKS OF LOW GRAVITY FUN ON RED BEACHES THAT NEVER END. THE FLASH OF THE MATTER / ENERGY CONVERSION BEAM DAZZLES YOU MOMENTARILY.

“MARINER VALLEY HILTON, HERE I AM!”  YOU BLINK AND REALIZE YOU’RE NOT IN THE SUMPTUOUS LOBBY OF THE BIGGEST HOTEL ON MARS, BUT RATHER ALONE IN A FOREST OF ALIEN TREES.

“STRANGE,” YOU SAY TO YOURSELF.  “I MUST HAVE TAKEN A WRONG TURN AT ALBUQUERQUE…”

There would be a couple of paragraphs describing your immediate surroundings to give you a clue as to what to do next.

TO THE EAST, THE TREES GROW SO THICK YOU CANNOT SEE THE FOREST THROUGH THEM.
TO THE NORTH, A FALLEN TREE TRUNK – FIVE FEET THICK – IS BLOCKING YOUR WAY.
A LIGHT IS SHINING THROUGH A CLEARING TO THE WEST.
A PATH IS VISIBLE IN THE SOUTH.

Finally, you would get a quick list of what you were carrying at that moment in your “inventory”.

CARRY ON BAG, ROUND TRIP TELEPORT TICKET.

From there, you were pretty much on your own, limited only by your imagination… and the retarded and crippled interface you were forced to work with in the game.  Most text adventures had the same commands: GO, GET, KILL, etc.  Some games had “special” verbs.  I remember one when you typed in F#$%, it would respond with WHEE!  However, in an age where instructions were less than helpful, figuring out the right commands was mostly a matter of trial and error… and frustration.

THE GOLDEN FLEECE IS IN THE TREE.

>GET FLEECE.

YOU CANNOT REACH THE FLEECE.  IT IS TOO HIGH.  THE GOLDEN FLEECE IS IN THE TREE.

>CLIMB TREE.

SORRY, I DO NOT KNOW HOW TO – CLIMB.  THE GOLDEN FLEECE IS IN THE TREE.

>GET LADDER.

SORRY, I DO NOT KNOW WHAT A – LADDER – IS.  THE GOLDEN FLEECE IS IN THE TREE.

>JUMP.

SORRY, I DO NOT KNOW HOW TO – JUMP.  THE GOLDEN FLEECE IS IN THE TREE.

>F#$% TREE.

WHEE!  THE GOLDEN FLEECE IS IN THE TREE.

There was nothing worse than to bang your keyboard in frustration after the game interface patiently explained – again – SORRY, I DO NOT KNOW HOW TO – DIE YOU STUPID PIECE OF CRAP!

I was reminded of this when I called my insurance provider the other day.  There’s no better way to put me in a foul mood.  Recently, they’ve “updated” their phone system to accept voice commands rather than using the touch tone keys.

YOUR WIFE IS READY TO BEGIN HER QUEST AT NIU.  YOU HAVE BRAVED MANY TASKS TOGETHER: THE FILLING OUT OF FORMS, THE QUEST FOR IMMUNIZATION RECORDS.  ALONG THE WAY, YOU HAVE LOST MUCH THAT WAS DEAR TO YOU IN THE BATTLE TO PAY TUITION.  AS SHE IS READY TO MAKE THE FINAL TREK TO DEKALB, YOU UNROLL A SCROLL MYSTERIOUSLY DELIVERED IN THE NIGHT.

THERE IS ONE MORE TASK TO BE PERFORMED.  YOU MUST PROCURE PROOF OF COVERAGE.  YOU HOLD UP YOUR INSURANCE CARD.  A BOLT OF LIGHTNING MELTS IT TO GOO IN YOUR HAND.  INSUFFICIENT.  FOR TRUE PROOF, YOU MUST BATTLE THE PHONE SYSTEM LABYRINTH AND FIND THE INFORMATION ORACLE.

So, I called the provider number and was greeted by their automated system.

WELCOME TO THE AUTOMATED SYSTEM!  I CAN HELP YOU FIND A DOCTOR, HELP WITH BILLING INFORMATION OR PROVIDE DOCUMENTS.  JUST TELL ME WHAT YOU WANT TO DO.

>PROVIDE DOCUMENTS.

I’M SORRY.  I DIDN’T UNDERSTAND THAT.

>PROVIDE DOCUMENTS!

I STILL DIDN’T UNDERSTAND YOU.  I CAN HELP YOU FIND A DOCTOR.  IF YOU WANT TO FIND A DOCTOR, SAY ‘FIND A DOCTOR’.  IF YOU NEED MORE INFORMATION ON A BILL, SAY ‘BILLING INFORMATION’.  IF YOU NEED A DOCUMENT SUCH AS PROOF OF INSURANCE, SAY ‘DOCUMENT’.

>DOCUMENT.

I’M SORRY.  I DIDN’T UNDERSTAND THAT.

>DOC-U-MENT!!!

I STILL DIDN’T UNDERSTAND YOU.  I CAN HELP YOU FIND A DOCTOR.  IF YOU WANT TO FIND A DOCTOR, SAY ‘FIND A DOCTOR’.  IF YOU NEED MORE INFORMATION ON A BILL, SAY ‘BILLING INFORMATION’.  IF YOU NEED A DOCUMENT SUCH AS PROOF OF INSURANCE, SAY ‘DOCUMENT’.  OR YOU CAN PRESS ‘1′ TO BEGIN AGAIN.

>AARGH!!!

I’M SORRY.  I DIDN’T UNDERSTAND THAT.

Pressing zero didn’t work.  Punching zero really hard didn’t work either.  When I refused to answer the prompts any longer, it just hung up on me.

THE LAST OF YOUR TORCHES GOES OUT, LEAVING YOU IN THE STYGIAN DARKNESS OF THE TRAP.  THERE’S A NOISE BEHIND YOU; THE SOUND OF LARGE CLAWS SCRAPING ON ROCK.  YOU CAN’T SEE ANYTHING IN THE BLACKNESS AND IT’S PROBABLY BEST THAT WAY.  THE LAST THING YOU FEEL IS A BLAST OF WARM FETID AIR RIP ACROSS YOUR BODY AS GIANT TEETH BEAR DOWN, GRINDING YOU INTO POWDER.

YOU HAVE DIED.

I can almost understand why the insurance company switched to this kind of voice response system; if your potential patients die of massive coronaries while yelling at the automated responses, you pay out much less in benefits.  Still, I’m nothing if not stubborn.  I did – eventually – figure out in the text based version of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the correct thing to do was WAIT fourteen turns in a row in order to survive.  Compared to that, the insurance number didn’t have a chance.  After half an hour, I determined you had to try five times each at two separate prompts before finally getting to a place that would allow you to use a touch tone keypad.  From there, I managed to talk to a very nice woman from India named “Joan” to get the proper letter in the mail within the next ten business days.

THE CHEERING CROWDS OF THE MORNING HAD BEEN REDUCED TO JUST MEKA BY AFTERNOON.  AS THE FINAL RAYS OF THE SETTING SUN FADED IN THE WEST, EVEN SHE TURNED TO GO.  BUT – SUDDENLY – SHE HEARD SOMETHING THAT MADE HER TURN AROUND.

THERE YOU WERE, TIRED AND BLOODY FROM BATTLE, BUT MARCHING PROUDLY FROM THE MOUTH OF THE CAVE.  IN YOUR HAND, THE FORM FILLED OUT IN ITS ENTIRETY IN TRIPLICATE.

YOU HAVE TRIUMPHED.

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