FriendOfFred's IFComp 2023 reviews

I haven’t been on the forum for a while, but what better time to come back than October 1! I do have a habit of starting review threads that end up with just one review, but we’ll see how far I can go this time. I’m planning to go mostly by my personal shuffle order, though there are a few games I’ll particularly try to get to before the judging period ends. Assume that all reviews contain spoilers.

My Pseudo-Dementia Exhibition
In the Details


My Pseudo-Dementia Exhibition by Naomi Norbez (Bez)

This entry is a personal account of the author’s hospitalization and mental health recovery, presented as a series of virtual “museum exhibits”. His original reason for seeking treatment was for symptoms of pseudo-dementia, which sounds like a terrifying thing to deal with, involving cognitive failures and memory loss suddenly occuring at a young age. However, lots of other issues become involved as we make our way through the narrative, including depression and suicidal thoughts, abuse, gender, and transphobia.

The exhibits display items from Bez’s time at various institutions, accompanied by commentary to form a connected narrative. Each stage of the story is represented as an exhibit hall with items scattered throughout it. The exhibits are thoughtfully designed; there is some order within each exhibit hall, but, as in a real museum, you can wander around as you choose, and you’re not always sure where to go next. In some cases, I went to one end of the room first and found items that weren’t explained until I went back to look at things near the entrance. The interactivity makes a subtle difference to how the information is received, and ultimately it’s a very different experience than simply reading it in a linear format would be.

Many of the items are mundane. Folders are a recurring theme (recovery involves lots of paperwork), as are notebooks and sketchbooks, sometimes only seen from the outside. The items also include notes and diary entries, poems, and artwork, giving an intimate look into Bez’s evolving mental state. This material is very raw, and some of it hits hard. At one point, when Bez is contemplating suicide, he writes a dialogue between himself and an “ideal version” of himself, searching for a larger perspective about whether it’s better to die than to continue struggling with life. Dramatically and philosophically, this was the central hinge of the story for me, and yet it wasn’t written as a dramatic moment in a story, or a philosophical dialogue, but as a very personal and urgent expression of the thoughts of a particular moment in time. The museum setting turns this moment into an artifact, giving us a certain historical distance from it, but doesn’t attenuate its power.

I found one bug where an item was inaccessible (its square on the grid had only one adjacent space, and the direction command to reach it didn’t appear there). Since this was an isolated incident, I assume it was unintentional, though it would make sense if the museum had things in its collection that weren’t ready to be displayed.

As the blurb notes, the best way to approach this game is as a museum, a curated selection of historical artifacts, albeit a very personal and subjective history. As always in a museum, the story being told is only one of many. It’s interesting to consider what the exhibits for other characters might look like, or what you would put in a museum of your life. Those who do this may have a rewarding experience.


Thank you for the amazing, thoughtful review. I’m very touched. ;m;
What item was inaccessible to you?


The inaccesible item was in the TR exhibit. In the screenshot below, there’s an item to my east, but no link to go east.


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In the Details by M.A. Shannon

This is a short story made with a choice system called Texture, which I wasn’t previously familiar with. Instead of clicking links, you make choices by dragging and dropping buttons over keywords in the text. (E.g., an “Inspect” button can be dropped on various nouns.) It’s an interesting idea, but would work best with a real mouse; I found the interface kind of annoying on my laptop.

In the story, you are a rock star arriving in a limousine, amid a crowd of screaming fans, to a big show, one that will open up even better opportunities for you. Your rise to stardom has apparently been sudden and meteoric, and there are hints that you haven’t been handling it very well, partying excessively and alienating everyone around you. Both facts are soon explained: a year ago, you were foolish enough to bargain with the devil for talent, and the adversary has now come back to collect payment.

It’s a promising beginning, but from there it goes…pretty much nowhere? The game is over almost as soon as the setup is complete. There are a few different endings, but all of them either involve your death (when this happens you have to start over from the beginning) or say “To be continued…” In the most interesting ending, you end up on stage stripped of your supernatural talent, the crowd turns on you, and you soon get thrown out of the auditorium as another mysterious performer appears. What happens next?

I took a peek at the compiled javascript code, and it looks like there are supposed to be passages involving more negotiations with the devil, but I can’t figure out how to reach them. So I could be missing something, but otherwise, in its current state this feels like a fragment of a story that doesn’t stand up on its own.