Writers Are Not Strangers

A very meta game involving reviewing works of fiction. I’ve posted a review of it on my blog here.

Choicescript-driven and literary, this is a story about Alix, who seems to maybe be in her early-to-mid-20s or so. Bit aimless, supporting herself as a Youtube-equivalent content creator. A lot of this is about her relationships with her family and friends, and about coping with inevitability, and the past.

And the meteorite strike. There’s a meteorite strike that could hit whenever.

Some of the other reviews didn’t seem to sympathize much with her, and this type of character does seem rarer in games and IF, but I thought she was grounded pretty well and had a fairly understood set of hang-ups and fears around her relationship with her parents, adulthood, and y’know, the state of her world and its impeding doom. Maybe it’s partly an issue of agency; she’s not Rameses-level, but the player cannot compel her to suddenly improve her lot in life. I think I generally leaned away from that in my choices, even.

I think that’s sort of worth thinking about more, now that I think about it, because I found the story gripping (strong writing helped), even though I don’t think I could tell you anything specific that I/Alix was really trying to do throughout this, and concrete motivations were always something I thought was fairly important in IF. It’s several sort-of vignettes like journal entries, days across months, world-building, small things happen, visits to family, and the choices are mostly decision points about reactions to things, what things mean to you, and what seems most important to you at a given moment. I see some similarities with last year’s Will Not Let Me Go in its smaller choices, even though obviously, the protagonists are in completely different circumstances (and invoke completely different inherent levels of empathy). This isn’t as emotionally surfaced maybe, but it still rings true, for me. Different people cope differently.

[spoiler]The rating segments were effective, and placed well within the greater story. I’ve thought too much about numbers and ratings and their impact on the other side of the screen for that part not to resonate. I thought about giving a 10 on the 2nd story, after giving a 4 to the first one, but I ended up scoring it a fairer 8. (I also thought about giving a 1 to her sincere third story/note just for kicks, but I gave that a 10, in the end).

What I found more confusing were the aspects where the game was trying to break down the relationship between protagonist and player, seemingly? I think Alix made reference to me as a demi-god or something, but I don’t think I could really connect any commentary on that from the choices I was given necessarily, and it felt meta-obtrusive in a way that the reader/writer stuff above still felt in-world.

The apocalyptic aspect also worked, I thought. It’s background noise, it’s maybe not realistic how people are reacting, but it’s just quietly back there, casually mentioned, until it’s suddenly RIGHT HERE, unignorable. I do think I was a bit fuzzy on the scope of the meteorite strike for a lot of it; are we talking city-level catastrophe, country-wide, or Armageddon(the movie)-level? It felt metaphorical.[/spoiler]
Choices! A lot of the other reviews I saw also seemed concerned/confused about the level of cause/effect interactivity of this – not that there wasn’t enough, necessarily, just that they couldn’t figure out how the story branched-- and maybe that has to do with a reviewer’s general need to try to understand the work fully before commenting on it? I did load up a last save and poke around a different path, but I don’t really feel like going beyond that, and I wonder if most other players try to go back and figure out how much their choices “matter” in these types of games as well? Can you even make a choice-based/Telltale-style game that’s meant to be played only once, or do you have to develop those with the idea that a lot of players will check to see if their choices were faked? I do think on my playthrough, the choices I made were acknowledged enough to feel effective.

The Youtuber aspect is mostly background in the story; it isolates her from her greater family it seems, and accentuates the generation gap. The biggest role her job plays is just in establishing her online popularity, which again, is barely present in what’s happening; this is a story that mostly takes place in real life, in familial obligations and well-worn relationships, and e-fame doesn’t carry over. There’s an anonymous gift that intrudes on her doorstep, and Alix is briefly terrified by its giver’s intentions; who knows what could come, from the unknowing masses of her “audience”? And she escapes, from both worlds, into a separate online one of her choosing. You want to be known, until you don’t. You want to be alone. You want to be acknowledged. You want to be someone else.

This makes me think.

I think about past hospital visits during IFComp. I think about how the political and cultural climate outside always seems to hit its low points during recent IFComps, how it seems to be getting bleaker with each passing one.

I’ve generally put more effort into reviews than ratings for these competitions. If I reviewed less, I could probably judge more entries, but what’s the trade-off? I want the game that wins to be the “best”, definitely, and I want a fair competition, but it’s the lower end, and the middle, where the point of these numbers seems less obvious. Does just handing out more 3s and 4s help? Help how? It’d be great if some of the authors of those 4 games turned in 7s instead the next year. Some reviewers also publicize their scores, but I haven’t, for similar reasons.

Now the competition’s all over, I can finally say: thank you so much for your reviews - they’re very much appreciated!
(And everyone who voted, but didn’t review, you’re very much appreciated too!)

This was a great game, Lynda! Thanks for pouring so much work into this.