IF Comp 2013: Our Boys in Uniform (Megan Stevens)

Our Boys in Uniform is a choice-based game focused on a political reading of American history, propaganda, and claims of exceptionalism. Review after the jump, any spoilers after a longer spoiler space.

Our Boys in Uniform has the following structure: each piece of text contains a number of highlighted links. One of these is the “lie”, and selecting that link ends the game. Most of the rest are “propaganda”, which lead to a side text but then return to the original node. The last is the “truth”, which allows the reader to go on to another node of the same type. So, for instance, various words in the Star Spangled Banner are highlighted, but you can only make progress if you figure out which of the words in the song the author thinks is actually accurate.

The blurb describes this as “a short, cynical logic game.” I didn’t find it as logical as all that; it was more an exercise in guessing the author’s agenda and then guessing which words best corresponded to that agenda. Logic didn’t really enter into it — and my feeling about using choice-based narratives to enforce compliance with a particular party line hard to take. (I ranted about this once before, with respect to a different kind of party line entirely, so I won’t repeat that whole rant here.)

I felt this was trying to make an argument that was neither very clearly stated nor very well supported, using design tactics I don’t care for, and I fear I gave up on it fairly soon. I don’t at all think that the US is flawless in all its works and ways, but I found even the fictionalized and fantastical Solarium a more thought-provoking way to explore negative aspects of US policy — because it went into some detail, and because it did not simply exact agreement from its player as the price of admission.

2 thoughts on “IF Comp 2013: Our Boys in Uniform (Megan Stevens)

  1. I read the story a little differently, as a character study of narrator. You, the player, are free to ask different questions or explore the narrator’s perspective on different subjects. At no point, as a player, did I ever feel forced to agree with the narrator. I agree with you that the blurb is poorly written, not an accurate description of the story mechanics. I also wouldn’t classify this as a “choice-based game”, although I suppose by one definition, it is. More of a conversation game.

    • The thing is that if you explore the lie options, you get punitively sent back to the beginning of the story. This felt to me like a tactic designed to require the player’s compliance in order to proceed.

      I’m using “choice-based” in these reviews as an antonym for “parser-based”, mostly. Formally, this is in Twine, and no typing is required, so that is the distinction I’m making.

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