"a seminal work of hypermedia art"
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Star rating: ****

If Monks Had Macs is a difficult application to pin down. Part-book, part-game it styles itself as a virtual monastery of ideas and comes complete with a selection of e-books including works by GK Chesterton, Robert Louis Stephenson, Oscar Wilde, Henry David Thoreau and the Warren Commission witness testimony to the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

It first debuted back in the prehistoric Mac era as a HyperCard stack and it has now been updated to run on modern Macs. Prior to the release of this software most HyperCard applications were either dull business oriented databases or amateurish efforts, not unlike the PowerPoint presentations of today. Without this oddball product displaying the power and potential of hypermedia, applications such as the groundbreaking 1990s game Myst would likely never have appeared. Rewritten with the powerful hypermedia app, Runtime Revolution, this new edition, “If Monks Had Macs: The director’s cut” sees the application working on Mac OS X [and Windows 95 - XP -bt]....

The internet is with us now and is infinitely better than CD-ROM multimedia resources in scope, but few websites – if any – can match up to the quality of this.

- Jason Walsh for MacWorld UK, January 2005


While most games help us pass the time between one workaday task and the next, they can hardly be considered a vehicle for personal growth — other than the exercise of hand-eye coordination. This does not hold true for the CD-ROM version of riverText’s If Monks Had Macs, published by The Voyager Co [now published by rivertext for less in a much enlarged and improved edition].

Building on the original 1988 shareware version, this $34.95 expanded version is a 24-piece collection of essays, electronic books, games and music linked together with the very personal touch of author Brian Thomas. If Monks Had Macs has been considered by multimedia mavens to be a seminal work of hypermedia art, juxtaposing serious and fun topics and using links in a creative as well as educational way. Its total gestalt is far greater than the sum of its parts.

The heart of the product is the Get an Inner Life module that helps users create a journal and then use it for personal exploration via keywords and threads. The software automatically creates links for previous entries as you add new keywords to the journal.

The new version adds an interesting essay on Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s "Tower of Babel" painting as well as the author’s President Kennedy assassination stacks. It also features several complete electronic books, including Henry David Thoreau’s "Walden" and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s "The Scarlet Letter." ...

If all this sounds too serious, there are some new games mixed in. ... A customizable haiku generator can help with meditation or add a clever touch to an interoffice memo.

If you want to take a break from the enjoyable junk found with most computer games, try If Monks Had Macs. The mental exercise can do us all some good.

— David Morgenstern, MacWeek 12-04-95

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"Stop playing around and expand your mind with If Monks had Macs, a collection of essays, books, games, and music."


© Brian Thomas, 2009
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