As you say, it’s been eight years. But I don’t think I meant “complicity tester” as a negative moral judgement. I wouldn’t mean it that way now. There are a lot of IF games that do interesting things by exploring what the player is willing to go along with and what they aren’t: that doesn’t make them bad games, it makes them games that derive meaning from the gap between what the player finds comfortable and what’s required in order to progress.
My interpretation of that years-old review now is something like this:
- I found this game thought-provoking, and other people might also. I would like to talk about it. (I think this is where the “worthwhile” phrasing is coming from.) That said, those thoughts were primarily about the form of games and how they make meaning.
- Meanwhile, I’m at a loss about what meaning this game is seeking to convey. I’m finding it unpleasant, but the unpleasantness isn’t saying anything to me, and there isn’t a great deal else going on here so far as I can tell. Did the author really intend only to give his players an unpleasant time? If so, why?
I don’t find unpleasantness inherently disqualifying in fiction; I’ve found value in a number of other nauseating works, including several by Chandler; I just didn’t get anything from this one, and I do need some compensating element if I’m going to put myself through that.
Perhaps, as I think you suggest, there is a value for some players simply in experiencing this transgressive and horrific thing within the safe confines of fiction. That’s not me, but that’s fine: different works speak to different people. There are relatively few types of work I think outright should not exist, and Taghairm does not fall into any of the relevant categories as far as I can tell.
(Curiously, I think I now have a guess at what the point was – an observation about the ultimate banality and tedium of even the most sadistic violence. But if that’s right, it’s a point I didn’t internalise from Taghairm, but from a bunch of true crime research years later. I think I needed to encounter it in a nonfictional context to really absorb it.)
It’s also likely I was interpreting my own interaction in the story differently than you were interpreting yours. If you approach it as “this is a horror genre game and my role as a horror player is to see it to the bloody end, and then I will have experienced the meaning of this story,” then that puts a construction on what you were doing quite different from mine. Viz, “this is an interactive fiction piece in a context where there’s a decade+ of game-making and theory around the player’s willingness to continue with questionable activities vs where they draw the line. By continuing to do this I’m suggesting to the game that it has successfully lured me to continue and that I should get whatever ending is reserved for devoted cat-skewerers. That ending is likely to be intentionally not worthwhile, and it may in fact not exist at all. It’s conceivable that the cat-skewering continues in a loop forever. Very possibly I have received the entire point of this game already by discovering that I do not enjoy fictionally skewering cats, though that was not a very surprising or interesting thing for me to learn.”
Anyway, I can see why the phrase “complicity tester” could be annoying, since summarising the game in that way fails to recognise the value I gather you found in encountering something “unacceptable or hidden or weird or distasteful or irrational” in this safe space. And it’s possibly off-target (as an assessment of authorial purpose, at least) if Chandler didn’t intend players to struggle over whether they ought to continue at all.
But I don’t think I intended it moralistically. I don’t think it is ineffective or morally objectionable to explore the limits of a player’s complicity, and I think there are games that do good things with both the blunter and the more nuanced variations of this technique.