INFINITUBE by Tom Charles Bair III
INFINITUBE by Tom Charles Bair III (a pseudonym, I presume) is a complicated narrative artefact written in Twine. It presents itself as a dubious commercial project that promises ‘infinite experiences’ in which you can be whomever you want. What it in fact does, is allow you to experience a series of randomly chosen scenes from the lives of different people – could be a poor mother, could be a weirdo artist in New York, could be millionaire rapper Jay-Z – in which you can make a few choices before they suddenly end. Going through these scenes gives you attributes, which you can then sell to earn tokens that will allow you to continue playing. In the meantime, strange things happen: you get (deliberate) error messages, there is communication from the entrapped creator of INFINITUBE, and a strange semi-Biblical text called Infinitome pops up in your inventory.
Several of these fragments were actually rather interesting and/or enjoyable. To take an example, the Jay-Z scene led to an article that analysed the way that Jay-Z dealt with the supposed moral failures of O. J. Simpson in not embracing his blackness. I’m hardly in a good position to judge the worth of the article – in many of the scenes in INFINITUBE, it probably helps to live in the USA if you really want to understand what’s going on, since intimate familiarity with the culture is presupposed – but it seemed cogent and had depth. I also liked the writing in the Infinitome chapters. Other fragments left me cold, including the weird New York artist one in which accepting a rent-controlled (?) apartment always leads to your doom. And then there was the timed text. Really. Slow. Timed. Text. Happily this only occurs in a few scenes, but where it did it was extremely annoying. At one point I was literally playing a game of patience while waiting for the text to appear. (Let’s all repeat together: “Don’t use timed text! Don’t use timed text!”)
I believe the main theme that INFINITUBE wants to explore is the lie of the American Dream (which suggests that there are infinite possibilities and that you can be anyone… if only you work hard enough), and especially it’s connection with race. During the game, you’ll frequently get the WHITE attribute, which in turn allows you to earn more tokens, thus stacking the deck in your favour. (Two WHITE attributes transform into a EUROCENTRIC attribute, but let me tell you as a European that there is no Eurocentrism to be found in this game. When poetry is quoted, it’s Whitman. Even M. C. Escher, the only European (and indeed Dutch) name I came across, is presented as a rapper.) However, they don’t stack the deck very much in your favour: even with EUROCENTRIC I was unable to pay the second contribution. And when that happens, the game just starts over. This also means that I may have seen only a small part of the piece. Certainly I did not come to a point where things started to make sense or achieve any kind of coherence.
Finally, it must be noted that there are some errors in the game. One of the first pages you can get to, your Profile, has a link that leads to an empty page. When you have Infinitome chapters 1 and 2 in your inventory, you can in fact read all the chapters 1 to 6. Typos are also rather frequent, with terms like “Cesaer’s Palace”, “Strangness” and “appearence” popping up on your screen. Sometimes the game produces text that could be just American slang that I’m unfamiliar with, but could also be simply wrong, such as when it gives me a “flec of insight”.
INFINITUBE is a strange piece. I liked some parts of it, but I cannot judge the whole a success.