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Plugged In

The lost video games of Timothy Leary

Plugged In

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Timothy Leary's pop-culture status was pretty well cemented via his fervent arguments for the use of psychedelic drugs.

But it turns out the leading cheerleader of LSD had a side gig: Game developer.

The New York Public Library has discovered a "dozen or so" games developed by Leary in the 1980s as it goes through the archives he left the facility. The games were found on the roughly 375 computer disks Leary donated upon his death in 1996.

The games, not surprisingly, are in the self-help genre, reports the New York Times. And true to form, they encourage the use of pharmaceuticals, which we're pretty sure are non-prescription. But the digital archivist who led the project notes that they were actually pretty far ahead of their time.

"Leary brought an angle of psychological interaction to this idea of interactive gaming, this idea of reprogramming your brain," said Donald Mennerich. "It didn’t catch on then, but he was pretty far ahead of the curve."

Leary also reportedly was at work on a “Choose Your Own Adventure”-style project based on William Gibson's “Neuromancer.” William S. Burroughs was on board to write it, artist Keith Haring was handling graphics, and none other than Devo was to craft the soundtrack. Very little of the game seems to have survived, though the facility dug up five digital images Haring made with MacPaint software.

Leary actually had some background in the game development world. In 1985, he worked with EA to create Mind Mirror, a game that allowed players to create and role-play different personalities, based on ideas from Leary's Ph.D. thesis. The game went on to sell 65,000 copies over two years, respectable numbers for the time. A Facebook version of Mind Mirror is still available today.

Following its release, Leary promised the follow-up would explore "such dimensions as psychic sensitivity, telepathy, psychedelic excellence, mastery of your own brain, the ability to jump levels, inter-neurological gymnast skills, and oh yeah, the erotic."

None of these games seems to fulfill that promise. And while some of them are playable thanks to emulator software, don't expect greatness.

"The games were still in development, so they're buggy," says Mennerich.

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