Computerfriend postface & reviews

Hi,
in the past i’ve put a here’s-what-went-into-this type of thing at the end of my games, but when i finished making computerfriend i really didn’t have anything to say about it. unlike most of the stuff i make there wasn’t any a takeaway or central metaphor. but there are still some notes kicking around and i thought i would share them (and also make this a receptacle for my brief comments on the other games i played during the festival).

in interactive fiction there are a lot of bleak and deeply unfun games that are nevertheless beautiful in a way because they are cathartic. I wanted to make a game like that but not beautiful or cathartic. for me computerfriend was an indulgence in climate fatalism, anti-patriotism, civilization pessimism in general. i hope none of what i wrote comes to pass IRL but it was fun and weirdly relaxing to dwell on the worst case scenario: everyone is miserable and physically/psychically uncomfortable and close to death all the time, there is no social safety net, and community as a concept has evaporated leaving behind contextless conversations with people you don’t like or understand & deep communication with nonorganic entities only. a scenario that probably strikes some as familiar.

like many people i’ve been sick & isolated a lot these past few years and i think for some players, computerfriend will feel nihilistic and alien and for others it’ll be like, yes, i am being seen right now. if nobody got anything from my games except occasional moments of unalone-ness that would be okay with me. when I was designing it i was thinking “this will take all the advice of the people who didn’t like Universal Hologram but in such a way that when they play it they’ll get mad and say i wasn’t supposed to take their advice that way.” my hope was that a few weirdos would like it, some people would be interested but uncomfortable, and the majority would play for five minutes and then close the tab. instead it seems like people liked it way more than Universal Hologram, which is endlessly funny to me. i genuinely have no idea why this is. players have tried to explain it to me and i don’t get it. i don’t think computerfriend is a pleasant experience in any way; it’s designed to be unpleasant. if i’ve learned anything from the feedback it’s that human beings have a high tolerance for misery as long as it’s novel & weird.

to answer some questions i’ve gotten: computerfriend is not based on a real therapist or person. it’s more like an internal monologue, where you try to convince yourself certain things are true/untrue and maybe succeed by being confusing and stupid or fail by being obvious. godfield is not based on a real place. the relationships in the game (with parents, partners, roommates) are real but not literally true, they’re more like how I see my relationships when I’m at my lowest (as the player character is). i was doing really well mentally when i wrote the game so please do not be concerned lol.

i’m grateful for everyone who playtested and helped me out and reviewed it and just played the thing. this community is really special. i was very lucky to find it.

i am a bad interactive fiction player. i attempted few games and finished even fewer. i mention these because i liked them a lot and want to encourage others to check them out.

my two favorite games from the festival were from the back garden: Manifesto No and Phenomena. Phenomena is a game of customizable astral poetry. it’s very funny, brief, well written, and satisfying. Manifest No is an obscure and dense digital tome that should really be treated more like a physical novel where you make the decision to sit down and wrestle with it without allowing yourself to be distracted. it’s tense and dark and wonderful.

I playtested New Year’s Eve, 2019 and saved these two quotes which i feel like are sort of in conversation with one another: “It’s like the whole basis of human interaction is just an optimization problem where you have to identify the correct sequence of actions, but like, I’m always picking the wrong actions, and it’s like a game and it’s a game that I suck at.” and also “But you are not a protagonist, because you are not a literary construct, because there are no such things as narrative arcs in this universe. You are a product of physics and biochemistry. You are a body moving through time and space. You won’t get a character arc, because people don’t have character arcs, save the physical process of growth and decay and death.”

I playtested Ma Tiger’s Terrible Trip. the mechanics are impressive but it’s also the only game i played where i was like damn i wish this were five hours long. Moy created a world that I want to spend time in which is impressive because i don’t generally like spending time anywhere.

I played The Fall of Asemia in which strange repetition becomes gradually more meaningful. timely and effective. i don’t know how Best fit so much characterization and plot into such an odd little package.

I played Sweetpea. I’m glad I didn’t read the content warnings; it would have spoiled what I view as the story’s most powerful moment. stylistically wonderful with a few odd choices: one difficult color combination at the end and a perspective switch that isn’t immediately obvious. a few typos, extra commas, repetitive phrases. the the author has a great way with words, though. sometimes seems like I don’t have the option I’d want, or I do have ones that don’t make sense - A monster momentarily leaves the room and I have the option to open the nighttable drawer for reasons i can’t understand. Excellent understated writing: “You did say that you’d be heading downstairs, but if it is your father- you’re pretty sure he can figure his own way in.” And description: “Michael blinks, watching you like a bug under a cup: and his irises settle deep brown, dark enough it’s difficult to see his pupils. You know that they’re wobbling and splitting off like oily bubbles in lava lamps all the same.” a terrific first game. I hope it’s the first of many from de Augustine.

there are a few more I’ll play but I probably won’t review them here. thanks for reading! thanks for taking part in this wonderful creative process. i’ll see you later.

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I didn’t play all of the games in the festival but I really enjoyed Computerfriend.

I thought it was cathartic despite your intention. I think that the antagonistic computer is palatable because computer “helpers” around the time the game is set really were like that. Think MS Word’s Clippy and its unwanted advice, etc. It offsets some of the harshness that comes with the “inorganic AI conversation” tone that you mentioned.

There was a similar game called You are SpamZapper 3.1 during IF Comp, which featured an over-excited computer program that would be annoying if it were a person. It’s a different angle but works for similar reasons, I think.

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Computerfriend had some genuinely startling moments for me, many related to the level of interactivity it had. One of the reasons I generally like parser games better than choice games is that they often feel more interactive. Just clicking on links doesn’t feel very interactive to me. But CF really rose above this. When it asked me to type something and I saw what was being typed, I was rattled. I felt like my choices were consequential, and so I was immersed. I also like very dark stories, but I think the main reason CF was so successful for me was that elevated and innovative level of interactivity.

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Computerfriend appealed to me for multiple reasons. It is well-written, for one thing, and I mean that in a craft/fiction sense. The many details of the world were as depressing as they were visceral, and the various interfaces (computer programs, etc) emphasized this mood in a lateral way. In this future, games are not even games.

It also is a window into a phenomenon we see today: the pathologizing of normalcy. How happy or content is a person expected to feel in the world of Computerfriend? I recall that, when I was first awarded disability, there was a brief (at least, I hope it is over) trend toward declaring “most” Americans as suffering through a “mental disorder.” What they really meant, of course, is that most Americans (most people?) experience difficult times, that some live through trauma, and that life for some is very hard.

Such rhetorical flim-flam absolves the unabsolved. People who find themselves in unlivable circumstances are often victims of public policy, social forces, or even economic pressures, but a pathologizing model blames the sufferer. It is they who are sick, they who are damaged. They need medicine. They need to comply.

Fun fact: since I live in Louisiana, I initially thought Computerfriend had accessed my browser’s location services.

e: I regret that my suggested ribbon was not more clever, as I fear it will be lost in a wide field of similarly-named ribbons.

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