I played through the game ( The Interactive Fiction Competition ) twice, and I’m still feeling uncertain how to judge it. There’s only one review at this time on the review spreadsheet and it’s in the locked author’s area. So I was hoping to gather a little more feedback from other judges.
Specifically, I’m having trouble getting past the inclusion of the explicit sex scenes in the story. I know the author did a good job informing me that the scenes were there, in the content warning before you actually play the game. And I did get a sense for what the scenes were trying to do – one showing Juniper remembering Mike, and one showing Roger being vulnerable and asking for a specific sex act to escape from his grief. But on another level, I don’t know if the explicitness of the scenes was necessary. I can envision rewriting them to leave more to the imagination. I found them distracting rather than character-revealing.
I’m trying to decide if it’s fair for me to use my feelings about these scenes to affect my rating of the game. After all, the author warned me, and I chose to play. The thing is, I’m not sure how they could have done better. I feel like there aren’t great examples in IF of sex scenes being done well. (Maybe Adam Thornton’s Stiffy Makane games, but those games are trying to do something quite different.) I guess I’d like to hear from other judges if the sex scenes worked for you.
I try to give every game a fair shake, but the sex scenes in this game were very explicit, and I couldn’t continue. The author did warn about that ahead of time.
But I think it’s fair to include your feelings about that; if someone writes scenes with a lot of violence and gore, reviewers will talk about how effective or not it was; same with drug use or other ‘adult’ or explicit content. So you should share your thoughts!
I should say that some authors (like @HanonO) have added ways to skip or censor adult content in their games to allow more people to play it. But as an author you have to choose whether to stick to your personal vision or write in a way that allows more people to play. I love the games Bez writes, so I’m bummed he didn’t include a ‘safe’ playthrough choice, but it seems like the explicitness may be an important part of the story he was trying to tell, so I’ll respect that.
(Edit: For historical interest, Venus meet Venus is an old ifcomp game with similar themes, including explicit sex scenes with transgender individuals. For years it was the most-rated unreviewed game on IFDB, only recently getting a review from autumnc).
I haven’t played it yet (although it’s on my list). I think it was the film critic Roger Ebert who said that he rated movies on the formula of:
Divide what is delivered by what is promised.
If the game promises kinky sex, funny robots, and a madcap heist, and the kinky sex (even if it’s not your brand of kink) and madcap heist are there, but the robots aren’t there or aren’t funny, then it’s 2/3 (so round up to a 7), or (if the robots just are only kind of funny) 2.5/3, so about 8.
Of course, that doesn’t leave much room for personal taste, so maybe save back a couple of points to reflect that?
I’m trying to work out my own judging rubric and having trouble with it, so just throwing this out there.
Edit: Now that I’m thinking about it, there is plenty of room for personal taste in such a rubric. What is funny in a robot? Subjective. What is kinky? Subjective. What is madcap? Subjective.
Finished the story not long ago. Taking it as a given that the characters were going to have sex - which seems to be pretty integral to the story that the author wanted to tell - I would tend to think that showing it explicitly was a fine choice, in the sense that it fit the story.
Something that struck me about Weird Grief was the openness that exists between the main characters, the way that they can just share their feelings and desires with each other without fear of judgment. It felt like I was looking into a world in which the characters are so in tune with each other that restraint is not necessary between them. For the author to exercise restraint in describing the sex, I think, would have felt like a break from the mood of the rest of the story.
All that said, there’s got to be room for a judge’s totally subjective values to be reflected in their score. As a rather extreme thought experiment that in no way reflects my attitude toward this piece: if a game described itself as “a bad game that will waste your time,” and you played it and decided that it was bad and that it wasted your time, would that game deserve a high score for delivering on what it promised?
I also had some complicated feelings about this game, and really bounced off the sex scenes as well.
There was some stuff that I really didn’t like about them that and they may just be a me problem (having a friend ask for a threesome at a time like this would be a huge violation in my life, but I’m not poly and don’t run in circles where this would be acceptable) but overall I think the sex scenes are more symptomatic of the bigger issue I have, which is that the game seems to be more about Roger and his struggle rather than Juniper’s. To wit, most of your choices revolve around how to interact with him specifically, whether inside the bedroom or not, and I don’t really feel we did as much helping Juniper with her own grief as was advertised in the blurb. Which would be less of an issue if the blurb was more accurate, or if we didn’t already get a good look at Roger and his struggles in The Dead Account. Having the majority of Juniper’s choices revolve around him (with most also involving sex with him) felt very weird to me, and the explicit nature of the sex exacerbated that.
I think I would have liked to see more emotional content in the sex scenes (especially involving Juniper’s inner thoughts) and less sexy sex, although those things aren’t mutually exclusive. We got some of that in the first scene, but I found it lacking in the subsequent ones. Without it I feel the explicit content feels tonally off compared to the rest of the game, if that makes sense?
I have not yet played all the way through Weird Grief, although I did get to one of the explicit scenes. I have written several games that include explicit sex so I am no prude, but I do see how the first one comes at the reader a bit unexpectedly - even though it is thoroughly content warned and appropriate in a story like this.
I actually find it an interesting concept - in a committed polygamous (multigamous?) relationship how is one supposed to behave when one of the members is no longer present? Is one allowed to still have feelings and potentially act on them? Do things still work the same way? I’d assume it’s incredibly personal and different in each individual situation, but this is a fascinating dynamic I’m not sure I’ve ever read about before.
I will hold back on any type of post-mortem/explanation until the end of the comp. I am curious to see how this thread develops.
Anyone interested in these sorts of questions might look into the Bay Area’s New Narrativists. While the Wikipedia entry makes the movement sound highly theoretical, most of their fiction is grounded and accessible, especially if you’re interested in sexuality and gender.