Circuit’s Edge: How I Learned About Nightclubs

We all know what bars and nightclubs are and the dodgy things that can happen in them, and probably dismiss all this as common knowledge. But does anyone actually remember how they found out what these places were like? Though I can’t be sure exactly when I found out about nightlife and like every other kid I would have learned a great deal from TV and movies or older kids or maybe even my parents about these places where, as a child, I thought it was just where “mummies and daddies meet”. But one of the earliest ways I found out about these places was by a PC game made in 1990 called Circuit’s Edge.

Set about 200 years from now, Circuit’s Edge is essentially a sci-fi murder mystery and the character you play is a street hustler named Marid Audran who moonlights as a private dick in a ghetto called the Budayeen, part of an unnamed Middle Eastern city. Marid is framed for a cop’s murder and with the help of mobster Friedlander Bey has to prove his innocence and prevent more people from snuffing it at some psycho’s hands.

Circuit’s Edge taught my 10-12 year old self about what nightclubs are like and the people and things that come with nightclubs, such as dance music, drunkards, skanky girls, strippers, transsexuals (half of the “female” characters used to be men!), sleazy dickheads, shady people (e.g. drug dealers), hookers, the variety of booze and party drugs available, and even simply how darkly lit clubs are! While Circuit’s Edge will look tame and dated to many people compared to more recent games such as the Grand Theft Auto games in terms of violence, sex, nightlife and even sweearing as most of the action in Circuit’s Edge is described in text, this game was quite risqué and shocking for a game made when the most popular games at the time were aimed at kids, such as Super Mario Bros and The Legend Of Zelda.

Watch the video below to see two of the game’s dark neon lit nightclubs (go to the 06:15, 09:23 and 11:23 points in the video to see the nightclub scenes quicker). The written descriptions of the clubs when you first enter them are pretty spot on about the feel of real nightclubs, so there you go!

The whole game’s music in particular is a strong point for the game; it really sets the mood of the game. The somewhat danceable (or at least catchy) video game nightclub music is enticing and gets you in the mood to both play the game and, strangely, even to go out to a real bar or club! For me at least, whenever I have played this game as an adult (I have played this game several times over the years), I feel like I want to be part of this game’s world, especially during the nightclub scenes. You can also go to other dodgy late night places such as fast food joints, tattoo palours, motels to root prostitutes at, video game arcades, a casino, and even deal with taxi drivers who don’t know what they’re doing. (Ironically, while you might consider real life cabbies kind of interchangeable, the game’s cabbie Bill is one of the game’s most memorable characters, on account of having an implanted lung that pumps a heroin-like substance into his bloodstream 24/7).

The game also depicts the darker realities of nightlife. You can buy various drugs from drug dealers and feel as high as a kite, but if you use them, you’ll later get thugs come to bash you for it (the mobster Marid works for detests drug use!) Besides the adversaries you have to face in proving Marid’s innocence, you’ll often get street thugs who will come up to you and try to rob or kill you when you walk in the dark alleyways. Though depressing and of course being a video game, this actually is pretty educational to youngsters about the dangers of city streets at night.

Besides how memorable the game was for the nightlife and murder stuff in it that shocked me as a child, another reason is because the characters and the world it is set in is so bloody interesting and vividly described. The game is set in a futuristic Middle Eastern city rather than an American or British city like most sci-fi, and depicts the Middle East as thriving while western countries are dirt poor. Quite a role reversal! You get to put microchips in your skull to temporarily give you skills and personalities that Marid doesn’t really have to help him get through the game’s obstacles, which is just plain cool! (Well, I think it is anyway.) It’s a real shame how unknown this game is; the only reason I know it exists is because I got the game in a pack of sci-fi PC games as a present once. It’s quite hard to find (once saw it on eBay going for $75!), but you could just download it for free, I did!

I found out much later on the games are based on a trilogy of science fiction novels by George Alec Effinger, respectively titled When Gravity Fails, A Fire In The Sun, and The Exile Kiss. Let me say, if there is anyone reading this who likes sci-fi, read these books, they’re awesome! I just finished reading the third novel just last night, which kind of makes me want to play the game again. I don’t know if this sounds sad or not, but I still remember the city in the game by heart and knew exactly what I have to do at every turn.

If there’s one thing I could take from playing Circuit’s Edge is that, despite it being a sci-fi murder mystery set in a futuristic Arabic city, it kind of is an educational game on the goings-on of present day Australian nightclubs. What makes me laugh now is that when I was a kid, my parents would make me stop playing video games as they distracted me from doing my homework, but with this game in particular, I was unknowingly learning about how the real world works! (Much more useful than learning about long division if you ask me!) If anyone else had a unique way of learning what happens at bars or nightclubs as a kid, or if you are one of the few people who have played Circuit’s Edge, please comment and share your story.

Originally published here at on Wednesday 15 February 2012

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