Ned Nelson Really Needs a Job (Eric Crepeau)
Played 13th / 18th April (in browser)
(I played Part 1 of 3 on the 13th and decided to take a short break which lasted five days. Sorry.)
You are Ned Nelson, and you Really Need a Job. In this 30 minute Twine gauntlet, you need to survive a job interview for an application you’ve completely forgotten, and figure out in the process what the job actually is.
The blurb suggests that this is going to be a Death Off the Cuff-style bluffing comedy, but it’s not that. You learn what the job is fairly quickly, and then you have a different set of problems. Ned Nelson Really Needs a Job is more a character study of Cosmo Jett, Ned’s interviewer and the worst person in the world. He’s an exaggeration of the Silicon Valley bro; he’s Elon Musk with even less of a filter. Crepeau’s dialogue does a good job of making Jett one of the most unlikeable characters in interactive fiction.
The game tempts you throughout with the “Punch Jett directly in the face” option. As you learn more about the situation and Ned’s morality gets tested, that option looks better and better. And what a punch it is – maybe one of the best in videogames. The description is a little grisly for my tastes, but the writing lingers on the moment before your fist connects, and it’s so very cathartic.
In general, the writing is very good here. The jokes come thick and fast and they mostly land, and the dialogue really goes whole hog on characterisation. The writing is also secretly very good at setting the mood. The reveal of what’s going on is cartoonishly evil, but the game becomes a lot more tense as it commits to the bit and gradually nudges Ned towards complicity.
As you may have guessed, this is not a subtle game. It’s not a game which is trying to change your worldview. It subscribes to the “punch Nazis” school of political praxis. (I don’t think you’re actually told that Jett is a fascist, but we’re in the same ballpark here.) I appreciate this a lot, honestly. So much in the real world is defined by compromise – “there is no ethical consumption under late capitalism” and all that. In real life, you have to buy from, work with, and work for companies with blood on their hands, because it’s that or starve. Here, you can punch Jett directly in the face. What a release.
A couple of complaints: I would have liked some CSS styling to make the game look nice. (I complained about this with The Secret of Nara, so it’s only fair I complain about it with Ned Nelson.) And although the puzzling is mild and the solutions are fair enough (and the one centrepiece puzzle is clever and narratively satisfying), I found it a little annoying to have to play a chunk of the game again whenever I failed. Checkpoints at the beginning of every part are appreciated, but an undo button would have been better, and it would be nice for players who are hunting down all the alternative endings as they’re encouraged to do in the True Ending.
Ribbons: Funniest Game so far. And, of course, Best Punch.