A difficult choice

Have you ever encountered in games that you can’t do the action that the author suggests? It’s assumed that you’ll not move further until you do this. For example, something that is contrary to your moral principles or beliefs. What were your actions: stop playing or do what the author wants?

  • stop playing
  • do what the author wants
0 voters

I’d do “what the author wants”, with my own moral reservations and realising I’m reading/playing a story.


Oh, I originally thought that you meant like if the author suggests to do something but it’s physically impossible in the game to do so.

(Like: “You need to find a can oil” but there’s no oil in the game.)

I agree with @rovarsson in this case, but it depends to the extremity of the situation. Like, if I REALLY don’t feel comfortable with it, I will stop.


This review of Taghairm (by Chandler Groover) by Emily Short is all about her refusal as a player to engage with the intented gameline. I actually do like (edit: not as in “enjoyed”) the game, but I understand her aversion to cooperating in killing cats.

IF Comp 2015: Taghairm (Chandler Groover) – Emily Short’s Interactive Storytelling (emshort.blog)

When reading the archives of her blog, you see the evolution towards awareness of being complicit in the actions of the PC, and of denying willingness to co-operate.

Killing, drugging NPCs is a staple of text adventures. and I still welcome them when I feel they’re appropriate in-context. At the same time I do think that many puzzles don’t need this, and it would make for a better game/story to find another less harmful way to distract obstacle-NPCs. (For example, one puzzle in Illuminizmo Iniziato, a favourite of mine still, could have done without the doping of the sailor. Even with the whimsical tone of the game, this stood out to me as something I’d rather not done).

In a recent game I played, I was even disturbed that I couldn’t help a certain farmer get his alien cows and goats and octopi and mushrooms back into the pen…

EDIT: But, hmmm… I still do those things (enter those commands) to see where the author will lead me. The interactivity of a parser game requiring me to enter certain commands doesn’t stop me from turning the page.


Max said it best, it depends on the extent. If it bothers me enough that I’m no longer having fun, that’s it for the game. There are literally more games left to play than I have time left in my life to play them, and that’s focusing solely on IF.

An exception might be if a game comes recommended due to a novel approach or mechanic. In that case, I might continue because I’m not playing the game strictly for entertainment, but also to learn from the game’s design, which is somewhat apart from its content.


This came up for me quite sharply in a game from last year’s ParserComp, The Muse - I wound up doing the thing and then regretting it, which doesn’t feel very good! More detail in my review, which is at the link (@kaemi has a very good review on the page too, and gets at the question from a different angle).


Though the way octopi and squid are cooked is horrific and should be banned. Same with crabs and lobsters. I feel my heart crush and a heavy weight when I see the lobsters bound up with rubber bands in tiny tanks, and the rest is unexplainable…


Wow. Just reading your review … This thread got dark quickly, although I guess the underlying causes for the thread probably were dark enough.


Ugh, 100%. I try to be laid-back about being a vegetarian, but the way people blithely torture and eat octopi - these marvelous alien intelligences - makes me very upset.

Also, uh, maybe don’t play Gourmet.


Noted. (Though I would say that I couldn’t go vegan; I stick to drinking soy milk and keeping stuff organic.)


There are two actions in Trinity (killing the skink and sacrificing the lemming) that I strongly dislike performing. But I concluded that author Brian Moriarty wants players to feel this discomfort. In nuclear war, unpleasant choices and no-win situations are inevitable, and he’s giving us a tiny taste of that. So I reluctantly admit it adds to the game (which, by the way, is my all-time number one favorite).

If I didn’t get that sense, I would stop playing.


I try to avoid playing games that do stuff like this. I wish I had a reliable way to tell in advance if it was going to be that kind of game.


I felt really bad for the skink as well. “What? Do that? No thanks!” And didn’t reach much father than that. (Though I don’t understand why exactly it has to be done in space.)


Yeah, I was thinking about this too - usually the issue doesn’t come up for me in movies and books, less because the interactivity makes a difference and more because things like ratings, pre-release reviews, and genre expectations typically make it easy for me to avoid stuff I viscerally dislike in those media. Of course there are IF reviews, but I tend to avoid reading those before playing since I don’t want them to influence me if I write a review…


I remember all that, and wrote a very different review (Wade's Important Astrolab: IFComp 2015 review: Taghairm by Chandler Groover) – which now seems to me to spend too much time complaining about my beefs with some aspects of Twine presentation.

Whether she was likely to have ever liked playing Taghairm or not (she wasn’t) calling it a complicity tester seems off target and moralising for no gain. As does her assessment that it meets some bar of worthwhile. It is a simulation of someone performing an ancient, nauseating and apparently real ritual. Should it avoid being nauseating? Should it not even exist because it is nauseating? I don’t see any solution to the problem the way she framed it except that certain entirely fictional material (often various kinds of horror, or games with stories with with morally poor or worse actions) shouldn’t exist. She also suspected it might be a troll, while the author thought it was their best work to date. Being fiction, no real cats were harmed.

Some ways of reviewing are entirely compatible with some kind of material, and this was one of those cases, I think. Except the line ‘I was mostly thinking, “Eeeagh"’ which seemed pretty direct.

All this said – I shouldn’t harp too much on eight year old reviews. I don’t want people to harp too much on mine! But I remember my gander got up at the time, and reading it again, I still felt like that. When your favourite genre is horror you get weary of reviews in this fashion and have to vent occasionally.



“Milk and honey, fresh whole lizard, killed in the light of a crescent moon.” The Mercury door has the only crescent moon in the game.

It says something that I can still remember that vividly enough to quote the rhyme after not having played Trinity in…I want to say almost ten years.


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.


I remember thinking, as I was playing through this title (Worked through all of Groover’s works last year), that this would be a cute time to alter the quit function. Meaning, that the way forward was the player’s refusal to be complicit. The suspicion was so strong, I actually tried it to see if that was the case.

It was not. I just had a closed tab.

Missed opportunity IMO.

Edit: Is that a thing, btw? I wanted to ask afterwards, but got distracted and forgot. Now that I’m reminded, I’d love to know. Is there a way to make the game pop up a modal or something if you try to kill it? I’m assuming so, because that’s a common feature in website design. Please do tell, any available and kind Twine aficionados.


Thanks for teleporting in, @emshort !

Yeah. Part of what I thought of after I wrote my (yesterday) post, was – one thing is that if you work in extreme territory, a reality will be that the responding analysis may be, well, a reaction to extremity, or just trying to grapple with what it’s about in the first place. I saw a doco on horror films somewhere in the past few years (unfortunately I don’t remember the name) where someone suggested that for people whose instinctive reaction is ‘Ugh, I’d never go to a horror movie,’ they’d actually had a useful discussion in their head already that led to that course of action. They might not have realised it because it came out as the word ‘Ugh’. Potentially you have underestimated the value of considering the prospect of skewering numerous cats and how that made you feel :wink:

At the other end, it’s hard to ever fully explain rationally why people like me who are interested in these extreme things are, but they are and it’s real. I found I had in common with the author in an interview they did at the time being into films like A Serbian Film and Cannibal Holocaust:

Taghairm does owe something to my literary preferences, but I’d actually say it was inspired more by horror film. In that department my tastes run almost counter to my taste in horror books. I’m drawn to extreme, transgressive movies like A Serbian Film , Cannibal Holocaust , Begotten , Irreversible . These are all unpleasant viewing experiences. I cannot claim to enjoy them. But I feel compelled to watch them, like they’re opening windows into human nature that you have to acknowledge if you want to be honest about life.” (from Taghairm Game Review and Interview with Creator Chandler Groover - Ravenous Monster Horror Webzine)

I don’t think it’s morally objectionable to do that, either. To me, this game was never much interested in complicity in the first place. So it is, as you said, probably the contexts we variously came from and received it in.



I try to meet things where they are, but some works bite off more than they can chew.

I, too, regretted finishing The Muse. What I really regret is not recognizing in the preceding moment that it could in no way bear the weight of its own brutality on its back.

I suppose I was too caught up in wanting to finish, a common hazard when it comes to being an audience.

I feel this way about the torture scene in Grand Theft Auto V. So stupid and empty. I should have just stopped there.