Everyone remembers their first. Whether it’s your first live gig (the A-Teens), your first car (a dented Honda CR-V), or your first kiss (sorry Dillon), the inaugural “thing” tends to stick. in the head. A lot of people my age have a lifelong fondness for Pokemon, as it was most likely their first video game. mine was Quest Chex — a first-person shooter designed for children.
Good kind of. It’s not as simple as a “kids shooter”, although it is technically accurate in terms of target audience and playstyle. Quest Chex has a pseudo-mythical status for many reasons. Despite its origins and concept, it has not only managed to maintain an active fanbase since its debut, but has become such a cult classic that it has achieved full acclaim. remaster and multiple reissues no later than March 2022.
My personal interpretation of “mythical” has to do with the fact that I’ve spent most of my life being convinced that I invented this game and my memories were either completely fabricated or completely inaccurate. Yet it is very real. And it came back into my life after two decades in the weirdest way.
Let me back down.
Quest Chex is a 1996 family-friendly first-person shooter PC game that was included, free, in Chex cereal boxes for a 6-week period. It is also a simple Loss clone. Yes this Loss, the game oft-cited for fueling the suburban panic of “violent video games” of the 90s. , it is because it is.
Why the hell was this done?
Simply speaking, money. The whole purpose of Quest Chex was to “invigorate” the Chex brand, which is marketing to “sell more stuff”. The promotion agency in charge of this decided that put 6 million copies of a free CD-ROM in cereal boxes would show consumers that the company was cool and connected with young people, and thus boost sales. It actually worked, and 90s kids all over the world got their hands on this cult classic in the making.
The development of the game was unsurprisingly weird. Since the budget was low (half a million) and the turnaround time was tight (six months), the team opted to source an existing game engine, pay next to nothing to license it, and adapt it to their needs. Fucking madly, they chose Identification software Lossthe groundbreaking and controversial first-person shooter that was best known for its graphic violence and satanic imagery, and would later be tainted by its association with the Columbine shootings.
Quest Chex is a re-skin of Loss with new music and textures; gameplay and levels are identical. Guns have been replaced with distant-looking objects, blood with slime, and bullets with vegetables. To put it in perspective, it would be like taking Resident Evil 7 and turn Ethan Winters into a Kinder egg that kills chocolate mold.
Engine modding was done by a literal 17 year old programmer in the evening (you know, after I finish school). The full 6 million copies of the release were burned from a single demo disc, even before it was tested for bugs. It all sounds like a schoolyard rumor twisted by a phone game, but it’s real.
I was first introduced Quest Chex when I was in kindergarten. The boys responsible for showing it to me were Brad and Jason, the sons of my parents’ closest friends. Brad and Jason were 3 and 5 years older than me, but they never made me feel like an attendant or an annoyance – I was like a little sister who came to visit me a few times a year.
The two would take turns Chex Quest on their home PC while I sat next to or above them like a horrible monkey child and watched them. It was the first real video game I had ever seen, except for a few “educational” point and click and dress up games. I was hypnotized. It was like stepping into one of Windows 95’s screen savers – fully 3D, but you were under control.
More importantly, you, a giant piece of Chex cereal, could fight aliens. Sick.
I’m sure we’ve only played it a handful of times. We have all grown up. I became convinced that I must have imagined Quest Chex – it was way too weird to really exist. I didn’t think much about it after my childhood.
That is, until the fall of 2017 when Jason was killed by a drunk driver. His death was devastating and I felt deeply alone afterwards, as I had no mutual friends to remember him with. Only my family and his.
A few months after Jason passed away, his mother asked friends to share fond memories of him. I’ve had plenty: trips to the lake, bad sumo home videos that, in hindsight, were probably super racist. I wondered what to tell her, what story would be so perfect that it would ease her grief.
Suddenly I knew – I had to find out what the fucking cereal game was, if it was even real.
It only took a few moments of searching on Google to discover that holy shitnot only was this game legit, but it had a serious follow-up. I called Jason’s mom and managed to explain to her, through laughter and tears, that Jason showed me my very first video game, uh, where you’re a piece of cereal killing aliens with vegetables ? She was puzzled and a little puzzled. But I could tell she was smiling.
I’m well aware of how nostalgia goggles work, especially on my generation, but part of me is truly grateful for this silly little game and the place it holds in my heart. It’s a perfect reflection of how innocuous things – the ones you don’t expect to have lasting meaning – are often the things that stick with you. A backwards marketing ploy that has become a legend among children that has become a central memory of a lost friend.
I really don’t know who thought it was appropriate to take perhaps the most graphic game of the era and remake it for kids, or how they ended up succeeding. But at the end of the day, some of that utter weirdness is what makes Quest Chex so fascinating – it shouldn’t exist. And I can’t imagine life without it.