My decision to review the 2021 comp wasn’t a sudden one. I’d rated the 2018 and 2019 comps, without publically reviewing them or otherwise making my presence known in any way. I had seriously considered posting reviews in 2019, but I was dissatisfied with the first review I wrote and never posted it. But that isn’t even the start of it. The fact is, I’ve been following this community on and off for more than half my life now - ever since I discovered the text adventure on a Wikipedia rabbit hole.
While I might have been stalking you all for a long time (not as closely as I’m making it sound, and there were long periods of disengagement) I’ve only started talking to you all recently. So what compelled me to announce myself by posting nearly a review a day for six weeks?
I think partly it was a desire to really get a clear picture of the comp as a whole - or, at least, a clearly defined cross-section of it. In 2018 and 2019, I missed some of the biggest games because I followed the shuffle and never got round to them. I wanted to do better this time. Although I didn’t express this to myself at the time, when I decided to go in reverse alphabetical order I was launching myself into a challenge: get from Z to A.
I did get from Z to A. I reviewed thirty-six games, according to the spreadsheet, plus one long post-Comp review. I’m not sure it’s given me a huge amount of insight into “the state of the community” or anything like that. But it did teach me some things about myself.
I Can Be Really Mean, As A Critic
and sometimes I can be kind! But I’m also capable of writing viciously, not all the time, just when a game tries my patience. This is a contrast to the trajectory of the community, which has on the whole become gentle in its approach, because you don’t want to discourage new authors! And that’s a noble thing, so it makes sense that the community didn’t seem inclined to encourage me in my occasional turns towards diatribe (with one exception).
I’ve regretted some of the crueler things I’ve written. For example, my Unfortunate review closed with the line “The most Unfortunate thing of all was that the author decided to release a game in this state to the IF Comp.” I stand by my opinion that Unfortunate was not ready for publication because even a single playthrough would have exposed its game-breaking bugs, that it should not have been submitted to the Comp in that state, but that line was just cheap. It was a weak reference that detracted from the review and which I only threw in at the last minute. On the whole I think no-one benefitted from that.
In other cases, though, I think my harshness was justified. I think especially of Kidney Kwest. I went in hard on that game because I felt its “pretend not to be a computer script” approach was so appalling, not just in IF terms but in general UI terms, that it needed to be denounced loudly. My review of Kidney Kwest didn’t get much engagement, but I think it was a great review and I’m still proud of it. In general I think it’s good to keep a robust element, as well as a gentle element, in the body of criticism the IF community produces.
The exception to the rule that my pissy reviews didn’t get engagement was my review of Smart Theory. That got a lot of likes, probably because I took a political position people here sympathized with. I hope I don’t get put in a box on the basis of that review. That stuff I said about wisdom isn’t just something I made up to justify left-wing priors; it’s my actual worldview. Honestly I was embarassed that my Smart Theory review got so many likes, because I didn’t think it was that good. I stand by everything in it: it’s just not well-written. I was really writing myself into a lather there.
I Felt Insecure And 'Showed Off’
As I’ve said, my reviews this year were my first real contribution to the IF community, but I have been engaged with IF much longer than that. And I think there was a part of me that wanted to prove that I knew what I was talking about, that I belonged here. I think sometimes this made my reviews come off as ore confident, which is basically good. But it sometimes made my reviews weaker as I went out of my way to talk about “inside baseball” stuff.
For example, making it clear in my Ghosts Within review that I had read the TADS 3 Technical Manual. (Although, I think that was an insightful paragraph.) Or consider my Codex Sadistica review. Every other review of that game pointed out that it was under-implemented. I went on at length about how I knew it would be under-implemented because of the combination of its system and format. I then went on to infer that the writer deliberately targeted that format because it’s easier to do colored text in it, which was presumptuous of me. There was no call to make guesses about the author’s intent like that.
There are some other things I said which were presumptous even if they don’t fit that pattern of ‘trying to display IF systems knowledge’. My discussion of Pseudavid’s writing style (in a positive review!) probably came off as condescending, for which I apologize.
I Found The Texture (Prose, etc.) Of A Work Had A Large Effect On My Experience Of It, But Often Lacked The Critical Language To Explain Why
Nothing more to say about that, really. I kept trying to talk about prose and it came out really weak. I’ll never be Sam Kabo Ashwell but I want to get better at this.
So, How Did Maintaining That Schedule Feel?
Alright, I guess? Having to produce reviews at a fast rate was interesting. I don’t think it compromisd quality; in fact, I think it provided focus. I would occasionally have to come up with a review for something about which I really felt nothing, and I don’t feel like those reviews were particularly strong. I’m not sure whether it was a quality of the specific games or if I was just tired. In fact, it’s possible those reviews are fine and I just feel negative about them because of the circumstances.
But I wrote more words, many of which I’m happy with, than I really thought I could per day over a sustained period. It’s not that many words; I haven’t calculated the exact amount, but there were many people more prolific than me (shout-out to Mike Russo). But it suggests I can get other writing projects done with the right schedule, which is encouraging. I did have to sideline some other interests to match the schedule, though.
Do I want to do it again next year, though? …you know, that’s interesting. I was going to write about how it wasn’t always fun to do this and it sometimes felt like a joke, having to pit all these wildly different games coming from wildly different places against each other, but looking back on all the writing I did over those six weeks… mostly, what I feel is satisfaction. I’m satisfied by quantity and also quality. I think I did a decent job, all things considered. Nonetheless, I may want to give a more restrained set of reviews next year; I have not decided exactly what I plan to do or how I plan to do it.
But if I do do it again, I’ll be armed with something I got from this excercise: I have a pretty good idea of what constitutes which number scores for me now. This makes it practicable to rank a >2 hour game midway through and keep playing, which should allow for more comprehensive reviews and also lead to me engaging more deeply with 2+ hour games. I found that I tended to disconnect from the games listed as more than two hours well before my two hours were actually up, knowing that I wasn’t going to get any closure during the comp period.
Anyway, thanks to everybody who engaged with my reviews, even just by giving likes. I appreciate the kindness this community has shown me. I do think this was a strong Comp (though I find several aspects of the results baffling). Here’s hoping the world of IF has an equally good 2022!