I thought it might be interesting to pop up a quick post on how I pick through games to play!
How do I pick a game to play?
- Can I easily open this game to play it?
- Do I know the author, or have I heard of the game before?
- Is this game made in a way I’m familiar with?
- Is this game in a genre I’m interested in?
- Does the game have an eyecatching title?
- Is the cover art appealing?
A. If I can’t open a game, I’m definitely not going to play it. When I play interactive fiction, I’ll generally ignore anything I can’t crank open in my web browser- as my laptop doesn’t really have a lot of space left on it to dedicate to a game I’ll play once, and I’m too clumsy with technology to really want to spend the hour or so it’ll take me to learn how to actually open and install something properly if there’s no clear instructions, and even then- I’d only really do it for something I’d been anticipating for awhile, rather than spending that time on something I might not even like all that much. On Itchio, I’ll automatically filter it by web + interactive fiction for my tags of choice.
B. If I’ve heard of the author, in terms of them being a big name luminary in the scene (as in the case of Emily Short’s game about letters and in a historical setting), I’m more likely to play the game. Also, if I’ve had pleasant interactions with the author, I’m definitely going to stick it onto my to-play list, even if it doesn’t wind up being reviewed or written about. If I’ve heard good things about the author generally from previous discussion, I’m also more likely to play the game. I will play games by people I’ve never heard of before, but those take a lower priority.
C. I’ll automatically lean more towards Twine, Bitsy, Ren’py, and RPG maker games, as those are more easily navigable for me due to being more familiar with the conventions- either due to building around with them myself, or having watched Let’s Plays, or reading through their documentation.
D. I like lots of genres when I read, but I especially have a soft spot for the gothic, horror in all its permutations (straddling slasher fests to campy hijinks to psychological terror, and so on), science fiction (especially if it’s hard sci-fi, I really respect people who can pull off grounding a narrative firmly in reality), westerns (I love cowboys!), romance (I have a massive soft spot for dime store romance novels and pulpy tropes) and to a smaller extent, campus novels, urban fantasy, and superhero stuff. I generally do not read High Fantasy, or faithful fairy-tale adaptations, but I may make exceptions if the prose is really excellent or I like the creator.
E. I love titles. I tend to use one or two word titles, or else a small sentence, (examples in my own being: Sweetpea for IF, and for other works- I Have Loved You, In Loving You, Feylines, Lead Us Into The Light, Lost Cabernet, Lonely For You, Dinners Gone South, Goliaths and Endurance and so forth). So either having a really snappy title like ‘Phenomena’ that leads me to wonder what that one word symbolizes, or a long bit like ‘The Bones of Rosalinda’ will get me to take a second look.
I also like calls to the reader (the use of ‘you’ in my own titles, and ‘You, Me and Coffee’’) as well as funky stylization (“fix it”, though these I associate with more feels-y, Twine-y, younger writer who also likes fanfiction and poetry like myself authors, I tend to also assume they are also women just from a first blush) and will often scroll through listings, find the cool names, and then pick through that list further to see what I can play.
F. Pretty art make brain go brrrrrr. I generally fall into two camps here: if it has gorgeous typography, minimalistic visuals otherwise, whether it feels font-y or hand drawn, generally a single word title, and high contrast OR a neon effect, I’ll definitely check it out. On the other hand, if it has a beautifully rendered, painted scene- especially if it’s of a location or a person, I’ll click on it too, but I prefer these covers to be lush with details. Either super tight and clean font work, or really gorgeous and rambling painted covers. I generally will not play games that don’t have some form of cover, but a super snappy bit of writing as a sample may make me check it out.
And then, for me to want to write up a little blurb about it:
- Did the game make me feel a particular way?
- Does the game have a strong message?
- Does the game have characters I really like?
- Does the game have anything quirky about its design or layout?
- What’s the accessibility of the game like?
- Who would I recommend this game to?
A. I especially care about, above all else, if a game made me feel any which way. That can be happy, relieved, scared, angry, or upset- but I want to feel something when I’m done playing, and if I don’t, I generally won’t write something on it. I try not to be mean, when I’m writing my odds and ends- and if I really hate a game, I just won’t mention anything about it. On a scale of like, 1 to 5, if I’d rate a game below 3 stars, I will not write about it- or anything below a 4 on a scale of 10.
B. This can go either which way. I don’t actually mind didactic, or a bit heavy-handed message-y preach-y games, so long as the game itself either strikes a strong emotion alongside it, or it was genuinely fun to play. I can even disagree with the message, and still find artistic merit, even if I might wrinkle my nose or make a bit of a face at how it may have been handled: if there’s a good faith attempt to take a stab at a difficult topic, then I usually won’t mind too much. On the other hand, the cardinal damn sin is being preach-y, and dry. If you’re going to proselytize or hold a lecture at me, then at least let me have fun during it, or be charmingly witty or devastatingly funny.
C. Characters are generally the #1 criteria for me when I am reading fiction, or engaging with any bit of media at all. I don’t mind reading boring rehashed plots or old tropes- but I want to fall in love with your characters, or at least fiercely hate them, or be able to rip them apart at the seams to dissect and poke around in their little brains and backstories, and if you can make me love a character of yours, I will babble about them endlessly, paint them, write fanfiction about them, etc, etc. Strong characters are my ride or die point for novels- if I don’t click with them, I won’t buy it. This is a bit hard with reader self inserts- so I actually tend to focus more on the NPC cast in IF.
And if it is a reader insert- please do specify if you actually intended for him to be read as a male. I played this one game once, where you didn’t learn it was a gay man coming out until the very end, which gave me insane whiplash since I’d been assuming it was a reader insert, and she was a gay woman coming out- which led to me puzzledly backtracking to see if somehow I had missed it: but the author just uh, sort of forgot that women might be part of the audience, I guess, since it was otherwise written as a very empty/bland/universal protagonist.
I actually don’t mind playing through games as men- though I do prefer to play as a woman, generally speaking. I do write a lot of guys in my own work, IF or otherwise- but if I’m meant to be playing as a guy, I want to be able to readjust my framework so I don’t get baffled at the end when he whips it out or whatever. (Generally if I’m playing a self insert game where it’s explicitly a male lead, I’ll simply imagine, and play as if one of my male original characters were the ones piloting the character- so like, a roleplay exercise. Whereas, if she’s a woman, or gender neutral, then I’ll just imagine it as if I were the protagonist directly, and make decisions based on what I personally would do.)
D. Pretty layouts make brain go brrrr. So does anything novel- like an interesting mechanic, or some strange new way of laying out your text, or mashing different buttons to make things happen. I’m not too hard to please here- I was blown out of the water by the click and drag system in 10PM.
E. If I can’t play the game, I’m not going to play the game. If I can play the game while having to adjust it, I’ll grumble, but I’ll still play through it. Here would fall a bunch of things: is the text readable, or is it readable if I zoom in a lot and it doesn’t break everything to hell too badly, can I select the text to copy and paste it elsewhere to enlarge it if I need to, does your colour choice hurt my eyes, do you have an option to adjust/toggle audio or background SFX, do you have an option to adjust/toggle flashing gifs or videos or can I at least brace myself before seeing them, do you have a content warnings page or some sort of tags or disclaimer somewhere so I can make the informed decision on whether or not I want to engage with potentially distressing material (some days are better than others for confronting my PTSD, and simply being able to prepare myself for a trigger can help me avoid a full blown episode), do you (ironic of me, I know) use paragraphing and lots of white space, do you use too many timed or too distracting text effects, do you have a save/reload system, and so on, and so on.
Out of those, what I most look for are: can I read the text with minimal effort/adjusting? Do you have content warnings somewhere? Do you use paragraphs? Do you have timed effects?
F. And who would I suggest it to? Even if the game doesn’t personally vibe with me, if I can see one of my loved ones playing it, or a very particular sort of person, I’ll mention that. I’m not the universal audience for everything- I’m quite picky, actually, but that doesn’t detract from a work’s quality.