Newsletter 79: “Dragon’s Lair” and Junk Culture

Will Leitch
5 min readMar 22, 2019

I’ve decided to start putting some of the best newsletter essays here on Medium, so more people can read them. You’re still better off just subscribing. This one is from November 2017, about how nostalgia fools us into thinking things from our youth were interesting when they were actually terrible.

The return of Stranger Things to Netflix — I haven’t seen it yet but will surely watch it with the same “yeah, this is fine, I guess, this is passable” to-watch-while-folding-laundry half-interest as I watched the first season — has rekindled interest in the old “Dragon’s Lair” video game. I’m embarrassed to say I am old enough to have played “Dragon’s Lair,” repeatedly, as a kid, and that I am still infuriated by the game today.

Apparently “Dragon’s Lair” shows up in Stranger Things 2, and just thinking about that game is bringing back a rush of ugly memories. Polygon has a good history lesson on “Dragon’s Lair,” why the game was so popular, how impossible it was to play, how expensive it was, how often it constantly broke down. I did not need this primer, though, because a larger percentage of my childhood than I’d care to admit was spent trying to figure out that stupid-ass game. As Polygon explained, the game actually ran on a Laserdisc — which is why it was constantly breaking, and why the game is less a “game” and more a “DVD with an options menu” — unlike every other game, which meant that you had to push the buttons to play at the exact right point or you lost. And I mean exact: Even if you tried to move your character away from the dragon at the logical time — like you would in any other game — you will still die unless it was the precise moment the game wanted you to move. It was impossible. I think I once played it six straight times and didn’t get past the first screen once. But the game looked so pretty, like you were actually playing a cartoon yourself, that it was irresistible.

The six straight failures was not merely an academic matter. I played at the Aladdin’s Castle at the Cross County Mall in Mattoon, and usually my mother would drop me off with five bucks to last me as long as it took her to go to fabrics store and Sears. (The last…

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Will Leitch

Author of six books, including “How Lucky” and "The Time Has Come." NYMag/MLB.. Founder, Deadspin. https://williamfleitch.substack.com