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Gaming When You Ought to Be Working

Example MS-DOS Boss Key Screens

Within the days earlier than multitasking PCs, gaming at work might be harmful: The boss would possibly stroll in and catch you at any second. However by urgent a boss key—a panic button that shortly hid your recreation behind a pretend work doc—you could possibly probably get away with it. Right here’s a have a look at boss keys over time.

What Is a Boss Key?

It’s the early 1980s, and also you’re procrastinating at work. You’ve got an IBM PC or an Apple II that may run just one program at a time, so if you happen to run a recreation, your boss would possibly stroll in and see that you just’re not working. That’s the place the “boss key” is available in. It’s a particular key on the keyboard that will clear the sport display and show a pretend display (resembling a spreadsheet, business-looking graphs, DOS immediate, or perhaps a clean display) that will make it appear to be you’re really doing work—or simply disguise the sport.

A man using an IBM PC in 1981.
Engaged on the PC within the 1980s typically concerned numerous graphs and spreadsheets. IBM

A couple of components seemingly made boss keys inside video games extra widespread within the 1980s and early 1990s than they’re at present. Again then, most MS-DOS PCs have been single-tasking machines, so that you couldn’t shortly Alt+Tab away from the sport to a different window like you’ll be able to at present. Additionally, The Encyclopedia of Video Video games speculates that boss keys have been extra standard when PC clones have been costlier and extra more likely to be positioned at work than within the dwelling. Extra unique PC gaming within the workplace translated right into a higher want to cover the exercise, therefore the boss key.

RELATED: 40 Years Later: What Was it Like to Use an IBM PC in 1981?

Who Invented the Boss Key?

Pioneering software program developer Roger Wagner claims he invented the thought of the boss key in 1981. His idea discovered its manner into Bezare, a 1982 Apple II area shooter recreation developed by John Besnard and printed by Southwestern Information Methods. Within the recreation, if you happen to press Ctrl+W, a fake spreadsheet show will take over the display. Urgent any key once more will return to the sport.

The first known boss key screen, in Bezare for Apple II (1982).
The primary recognized boss key display, in Bezare for Apple II (1982).

An analogous boss key idea (referred to as “Droop Sport”) appeared within the journey recreation Asylum for the IBM PC in 1982. For those who pressed F9 throughout gameplay, the display would clear, which was “added for many who will likely be attempting to flee from Asylum throughout work hours,” according to PC Journal, apparently quoting a consumer guide.

Whether or not Bezare or Asylum launched the boss key thought first isn’t solely clear with out deeper analysis, however it’s potential that a number of individuals got here up with the idea independently.

Over time, boss keys have had completely different names. Alternately, some applications check with them as “boss buttons” or “panic buttons.” In 1985, Transactor journal called boss keys a “Somebody’s Coming” mode. From a search on the Web Archive and journal databases, it looks like the time period “boss key” originated someplace round 1984, as seen in the manual for Spitfire Ace, for instance.

Which Video games Included Boss Keys?

The boss key A> prompt on Tetris for the IBM PC.
Urgent Escape in Tetris on the IBM PC gave you this plain “A>” DOS immediate.

MobyGames currently lists at the least 70 video games launched between 1982 and 2006 that embrace boss key options, and there are seemingly many extra. Right here’s a fast record of a handful of traditional video games that assist you to disguise your gaming exercise at work. All video games listed below are for MS-DOS.

  • Rogue (1984): Press F10 and also you’ll see a “Supervisor Display screen,” an MS-DOS immediate (“C>”) that you would be able to sort in. Sort “rogue” on the command line to get again to the sport.
  • Spitfire Ace (1984): For those who press “]” on this dogfighting recreation, you’ll see a simulated spreadsheet on the display.
  • Tetris (1987): Press Escape on the menu display, and also you’ll see a pretend spreadsheet. In the course of the recreation, urgent Escape exhibits a unique display, a pretend “A>” DOS immediate.
  • Star Wars (1989): Urgent F4 on this arcade port shows one of many most sophisticated boss key screens ever made, which lets you choose between a simulated interactive spreadsheet, a programmer credit menu, and a rotating 3D Broderbund logo you could possibly transfer round on the display, and extra.
  • Blox (1990): This Tetris clone features a semi-functional spreadsheet you’ll be able to really sort in and manipulate as an alternative of simply being a static display. Simply hit Escape.
  • Wolfenstein 3D (1992): For those who press F1, you see a pretend “C>” MS-DOS immediate.

Though dozens of different video games used boss screens through the years, most characteristic a pretend spreadsheet or a DOS immediate. Some, like Hugo’s Home of Horrors, even include a real DOS prompt (press F9) and stored the sport resident in reminiscence so it may be resumed when prepared.

RELATED: PCs Before Windows: What Using MS-DOS Was Actually Like

Did Anybody Truly Use Boss Keys?

It’s laborious to understand how many individuals really used boss keys again within the day, however they have been common enough in games that somebody should have discovered them helpful. And though we’ve discovered classic references to hiding video games from spouses (resembling within the Spitfire Ace guide), it’s laborious to separate the “boss key” idea from the act of surreptitiously taking part in video games at work.

Details about the “BOSS KEY” in Spitfire Ace for IBM PC (1984). Microprose

A 1987 Newsweek article titled “Laptop Complications” singled out individuals who play video games in workplace settings as a sort of “troublemaker.” After mentioning the idea of a boss key, it cites a survey performed by recreation writer Epyx that stated 66% of executives polled “use their workplace computer systems for actions moreover work, and of these, 57 % play video games.” (That’s about 37% of executives who have been gaming.) About half of these workplace players introduced the software program in secretly. So taking part in laptop video games within the workplace was pretty widespread within the 1980s.

By the mid-late 1980s boss keys have been widespread sufficient to develop into a trope on the receiving finish of parody in video games like Leather Goddesses of Phobos (1986), whose boss key shows a screenful of ridiculous marital aid descriptions, and Leisure Suit Larry (1987), wherein Ctrl+B exhibits a bar chart of condom varieties, then shortly ends the sport with a message that reads, “Sorry, however you’ll have to revive your recreation; once you panic, I neglect the whole lot!”

A message in the Leisure Suit Larry boss key screens.
The boss key message in Leisure Go well with Larry for MS-DOS.

When requested why the Leisure Go well with Larry boss key ends the sport in an e mail from How-To Geek, creator Al Lowe replied, “As a way to reply as shortly as potential, I jumped instantly to that scene with out saving your present place. I might have, however machines have been slower then, and I believed velocity was extra essential because you all the time had a current saved recreation you could possibly restore.”

Even when completed out of necessity and humor relatively than punishment, Leisure Go well with Larry’s game-ending boss key display probably opened up a miniature tradition struggle over gaming within the workplace.

One other Sierra recreation, Space Quest III (1989), features a “boss key” (Ctrl+B) that shows a judgemental message once you activate it, unfold over three pop-up windows. Among the many messages is a timer that exhibits how lengthy you’ve been taking part in the sport, then a display that claims “That’s a good suggestion, however I’m afraid that, being the nice firm males that we’re, we are able to’t assist you to cheat like that. Sorry.”

One of the boss key messages from Space Quest III (1989).

Some video games went additional than that, purposely not together with boss keys in any respect below the moralizing pretense that folks shouldn’t be gaming on firm time. Within the June 27, 1989 difficulty of PCMag, John C. Dvorak complained a few developer’s refusal so as to add a boss key to the PC recreation Jetfighter. Dvorak wrote in protest, “Hey boys: thoughts your personal enterprise. I take advantage of a boss key to maintain the youthful relations from horning in on a recreation once I’m reviewing.”

Do Apps Have Boss Keys These Days?

Because the world transitioned to multitasking windowed working methods, boss keys turned much less mandatory. However they haven’t died out—and so they aren’t used solely for gaming. In 2001, a job-hunting web site referred to as Headhunter.web integrated a boss button that, when clicked, “displayed a display of innocuous textual content,” according to PC Magazine.

And since 2006, the NCAA web site has included a “boss button” display to click on to whereas streaming the basketball event, though it’s develop into one thing of an inside joke in more moderen years.

The 2021 NCAA boss button featured a joke about Zooming sports mascots.
The 2021 NCAA “boss button” featured a joke about Zooming sports activities mascots. NCAA

Some video games nonetheless have boss key performance. For instance, there’s a preferred free-to-play rhythm recreation referred to as osu! that hides itself in the system tray once you push “0” on the numeric keypad. If a selected recreation doesn’t embrace it, you’ll be able to create your own boss key with AutoHotKey, a complicated macro program for Home windows.

Widespread media participant VLC has a customizable boss key shortcut, too. When pressed, it’ll disguise the video participant in your notification space.

Though the idea of a boss secret is a lot rarer today, it’s nonetheless made a mark on standard tradition. When Cliff Bleszinski based the now-defunct Boss Key Productions in 2014, he selected a reputation that immediately referenced the idea of boss keys in gaming (and with a wink towards boss keys in Zelda, he told me on Twitter). They’re part of laptop gaming lore.

So the place does the boss key go from right here? With so many individuals working from dwelling today, possibly there’s no want to cover what video games you’ve been taking part in anymore. You’re the boss now. Comfortable gaming!

RELATED: How to Create Custom Keyboard Shortcuts with AutoHotkey

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