While it was largely an accident borne of technological limitations, I think that these games demanded a level of investment on the part of the players. You couldn’t just “jump into” the Wizardry dungeon for a quick 15-minute session. You would get lost. You would die. While an experienced player could maybe make a quick foray without adequate preparation, to actually have a prayer of medium-term success you needed to commit to the game. You needed to invest a chunk of yourself into it. You needed to take action outside the pressing of buttons on the keyboard. You needed to grok the manual. You needed to map. You needed to take notes. You needed to plan.
But here’s the thing – I keep calling it an “investment” for a reason. As players, we got out of it what we put into it. Our investment into these games made them “real” in some small ways. We willed them into an existence beyond the monitor and floppy drive when we committed to studying up on flight maneuvers and what all those switches, dials, and gauges in the cockpit meant and how to use them. We gave them life when we drew out our maps on graph paper, and wrote up notes and connections of clues by hand like a real-life mystery. And we didn’t have an Internet full of spoilers to do all the work for us, either.