Looking for Intimate, Personal Games written between 1993 and 2012

For strange and likely unproductive reasons (my game!), I need to imagine a critical context for a totally made up IF game that was written in 1996. Its original reception was poor, but a small number of devoted players became attached to it as the years went by.

To do this, I’m investigating the evolution/emergence of games that are intimate and personal up to the year 2012. Not emotionally powerful, mind you, because a game can be that without being intimate or personal. I think that poets might use the word “confessional,” though I avoid that term because I think it can overshadow the author’s craft. I don’t want to do that.

It seems to my untrained eye (I’m just an outsider looking back) that the Twine revolution made it possible for this kind of work to reach wider audiences. Were there parser games that featured this kind of (sometimes uncomfortable) closeness before Howling Dogs?

I can think of Deadline Enchanter (possibly? it’s been a long time), but there must be more. Any suggestions?

EDIT: I think the term I’ll use for this type of story is proximal narrative because there is very little distance–if any–between the narrator and their subject.

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Rameses pops to mind.
Possibly also De Baron.
Bee is from 2012.

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Hmm, intriguing question - I think your hypothesis is right since I’m struggling to come up with many examples. Still, here are a couple, some fairly mainstream, some idiosyncratic:

  • Photopia could well belong on the list - there are obviously lots of layers here but since I learned that Cadre had a sister who died very young the game’s definitely felt more intensely personal to me.

  • Vespers has an overwhelming hothouse atmosphere, with a moralistic streak that can look like (and might be) self-loathing.

  • Gamlet is incredibly hard to pin down and maybe requires some knowledge of IF scene personalities from the mid aughts to fully get, but the highly specific personality of the main character - a post-adolescent Jewish boy eager to sin, is my best recollection - makes it stand out as a beacon of subjectivity in my memory.

  • Constraints (2002) may or may not fit, but the impotence in the face of climate disaster in the third section feels like it might be somewhat related to the vibe you’re after.

Off to bed but will think to see if I can come up with others…

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Thanks, you two! I’ll give them a look this morning.

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In the End was a game before Photopia that focused on a sad protagonist who ends up (spoiler for sad end) committing suicide.

A Moment of Hope from 1999 was about an awkward teenage boy who gets matched with his crush.

Eric’s Gift was the first TADS3 game entered in IFComp and is a linear story about a boy dreaming about a girl and then meeting her in person.

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Thanks for these, Brian. All useful. I hadn’t heard of In the End as an early attempt at puzzleless IF

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Common Ground By Stephen Grenade? (1999)

Slice of life exploring the POVs and relationships within a family. Don’t remember it it gets all the way to “personal and intimate” but it’s very grounded and it certainly felt drastically different from anything I played from that time.

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Some other ideas:

  • Augustine - the main plot is a Highlanderish war of immortals thing, but the setting (which is most of what’s interesting) is inspired by a ghost tour the author took.

  • An Episode in the Life of an Artist - an internal portrait of a perhaps-autistic protagonist, albeit with somewhat shoddy implementation.

  • Blue Chairs - it’s been decades since I played this, and even back then I would have had a hard time summing it up. It’s a surrealistic journey of guilt and alienation, employing George W. Bush’s (presumed) regret over invading Iraq as a one leitmotif among many. And the guy who wrote this wrote Twine, so I think there’s some stuff to dig into here.

  • Muse - this one doesn’t seem autobiographical – it’s a period piece, for one thing – but the closely-characterized protagonist and omnipresent themes of grief, faith, and lost romance certainly make it feel quite personal.

…I think I have an inkling of what you’re after by asking this question, and I’m excited to see what you’re going to do with all these responses!

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Best of Three may be worth checking out as well, although it is only partially parser. Or perhaps it is interesting for that reason: the author had to move away from the parser in order to be personal. My reaction back in 2001 was pretty much “uncomfortable closeness”.

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Thanks everyone for the suggestions so far! I’ll hopefully have something intelligent to say after I’ve looked at all of them.

If I recall it correctly, On Optimism by Tim Lane is very much in the category of confessional games that didn’t do well in the competition. Text from the game:

From a review on IFDB:

Re: Hanon, I would like to stress in the strongest possible terms that The Baron is not a confessional story. :grimacing:

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Oh, of course! I didn’t at all mean to imply that, but it’s a very personal story about that bad character.

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That’s right! I was reading the original post as asking for the author to be personally present in the game, but I can see how you could also read it as being about the characters. :slight_smile:

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Right, it’s possible to write a ‘confessional’ about characters that isn’t specifically biographical or about author personal experience.

For example, Stephen King’s Dolores Claiborne is highly personal and confessional and King is obviously not that actual character confessing to a (potentially justified) murder during an eclipse.

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I’m slowly making my way through the games. Have played through Vespers. What an odd game! I think I’ll try to play them all so that I can make sincere claims in my fake criticism, if that makes sense at all.

I appreciate all the help; everything seems worth a look.

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I’m actually, on-and-off as usual, working on an intimate & personal IF, albeit currently in an “off” phase, so the list of intimate & personal IF works can give some inspiration :slight_smile:

I will add Plesoianu’s City of dead leaves to the list and recommend Eric’s gift.

Best regards from Italy,
dott. Piergiorgio.

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This applies doubly to Gamlet, I think. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it mentioned in my short time around here. It’s easy to understand the ambivalence of its reviews, despite some pretty strong moments. I don’t know anything about the author, though.

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There was a major troll named Jacek Pudlo who was really rude to a lot of people, especially Emily Short. He was famous for creating sock puppet accounts. I’m pretty sure he made Gamlet, even though the first name is different; but he does seem to acknowledge having made it in this post: Interview: Jacek does Jacek

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Ah, yes. That person. A jerk, for sure. Though I do appreciate the efforts to see IF and traditional literary work as a single continuum. Not in terms of inspiration, which we see today, but in terms of critical analysis. Still, it is an old truth that even a person haunted by bad ideas might find a good one now and then.

I actually remember him, because one of the most memorable threads that I’ve seen here is his:

I believe that I read conversations about suicide–thanks to my own experiences with mental illness and mentally ill people–differently than most do. Once I saw the avatar photo, I knew him instantly.

I am half-revolted and half-interested, again, because of the thread’s literary concerns.

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Ha, yeah, I thought, man if you find Vespers weird wait til you hit the next one!

I was only intermittently lurking on raif back in the day, but yeah, Pudlo was a giant jerk though as you can see in the interview, some of that apparently came from a place of maybe-understandable frustration with the lack of serious literary work in the IF community (that “apparently” is doing a lot of work since assuming good faith here is perhaps not a safe bet). I think there might have been a theory that someone else wrote Gamlet as a joke at his expense – the protagonist seems like an author-insert and isn’t especially attractive! – though I think most settled on thinking he was (I hadn’t seen the “interview” Brian links that sure looks like it confirms it).

EDIT: Oh yeah, I saw that thread when it got bumped a month ago. I’ve been lucky enough not have had many personal experiences that impact how I read conversations about suicide, but it still seemed incredibly ghoulish to me.

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