As I’ve done the past two years, I’m going to jot down my EctoComp impressions. I may not get to all the games. I may get to some but have nothing to say. These won’t be proper reviews, and they’ll almost certainly have spoilers, so beware!
First, I want to talk about two games together.
[spoiler]Both these games present you with an apparently evil task. You can either perform it or back out.
In Do It, you enter a dark basement, approach a woman tied to a chair, and grab a knife. Then you can “do it” or not.
In Corrupter of Dreams, you’re a nightmare in a dream. You have the chance to touch and thereby corrupt elements in the dream, or you can leave and let the dreamer sleep peacefully.
What both games have in common is that they assume the player will pick the “nice” choices: to leave the woman undisturbed; to leave the dream uncorrupted. But the “nice” choices are actually the evil ones. In Do It, you’re a cop coming to save the woman, and if you don’t “do it” and cut her bondage, the real murderer arrives and kills you. In Corrupter of Dreams, the dreamer is sleeping in a bunker, dreaming about a garden; leaving the dream uncorrupted encourages the dreamer to go outside to find the real garden upon awakening, abandoning the bunker and dying in an irradiated world.
So you have to perform the evil actions to win. But don’t worry, because you’re still a good guy. No need to fret over moral dilemmas. You can rot the dreamworld without having to feel guilty about deriving pleasure from its destruction. You can pick the violent “do it” option with the knife, get that subversive little thrill, without actually hurting anyone.
I find this quite interesting. These games want to have their cake and eat it too, and they rather manage it. In games in general, players want to rip environments apart, steal everything, murder NPCs, because it’s entertaining. But we have to keep it entertaining. Don’t make them think about it. They won’t like to think about it. Move consequences offstage. Arrange the narrative so that the resolution provides a Get Out Of Jail Free card for their previous misbehavior.
If the most dramatic path through a game appears to be the least moral, this is also a way to dangle a carrot for players who might otherwise protest on moral grounds.
Well, I picked the evil options first. With horror games, I’m willing to act horrible. But both games let me off the hook. I would’ve preferred if they hadn’t.
Although I have some issues with them, I find these games very neat to think about. They expand past themselves. They belong to a larger discussion. And they have compact conceptual cores, just right for their lengths. I also really like the mechanics in Corrupter of Dreams, but then, it’s a one-room limited parser game that exploits the TOUCH command. I admit my biases.[/spoiler]