I forget which game it was, exactly. If I had to pick one, I’d say probably the text adventure Humbug. It doesn’t really matter, as it’s not really the game’s fault, but I still remember the sadness of being told to go into the inventory and realising that while I was thinking of a big room full of bubbling liquids in interesting flasks and other cool science stuff, the game was actually saying ‘look in your pockets’. Especially as if it was Humbug, it’s a game about wandering around and exploring your crazy inventor grandfather’s house. I must have searched for whole minutes, back in 1990.
There’s never been a game that really harnessed that desire, but still, it explains a lot about one of my favourite things in RPGs – particularly those of the early 90s – that the inventory often was a place to experiment rather than simply pluck the correct item at the correct time. Even if then, as now, it’s often been more accident than design.