I mentioned Richard Goodness’s Fear of Twine exhibition and some of the works in it earlier. Here are some capsule responses to Zombies and Elephants, Workers in Progress, Saturday Night, Truth is Ghost, When Acting As A Wave, and The Girl in the Haunted House.
Zombies and Elephants, Verena Kyratzes. A generic disclaimer goes here, to the effect that I don’t really like zombie stories very much. This one was interesting, though, primarily because of the human interaction. The story is set on a research compound in Africa. Outside the compound are a lot of elephants, moodily looking in. Inside the compound are (inevitably) some ill-advised experiments. The protagonist is not one of the white researchers, but an African worker. It’s this last fact that made the story interesting for me. The protagonist does not quite trust the researchers who run the compound, and they do not quite tell him everything. The whole story is about otherness: the workers are unlike the researchers, the humans are unlike the elephants, the zombies are unlike anything else, and the alliances shift, as needed, as the situation shifts.
I don’t know whether it is possible to reach a positive ending in this piece. I certainly did not, but I was satisfied by the negative ending and don’t feel any great need to replay.
Workers in Progress, Konstantinos “Gnome” Dimopoulos. This piece is about politics and voting patterns in Greece. The premise reminded me of Jahanzaib Haque’s It’s election time in Pakistan: Go rich boy, go!. Haque’s game is considerably zanier and includes a number of adventures on the way to the polling place, whereas Workers in Progress is mostly concerned with the political decisions you make — but both games require some level of familiarity with the major parties in their respective countries, and therefore are challenging for outsiders. Dimopoulos clearly realizes this, and provides Wikipedia links to a description of each party on the page where you are first required to vote. If you vote correctly, you can get an ending in which Greece’s overall economic situation is improved — though at least in my most successful playthrough, this meant leaving the Euro.
In any case, I am interested in the issues this raises, but I felt like it doesn’t do a particularly good job of either teaching the player about the situation or earning our confidence that the outcomes it assigns are correct. Most of the heavy lifting to do with understanding party viewpoints is left to Wikipedia, which means that the game itself isn’t contributing much about what these groups are and do. It doesn’t personalize the issue by, for instance, introducing any characters associated with particular parties, or showing much about how people’s daily lives are affected by different policies. I found that I could easily eliminate voting for a few of the parties (no Golden Dawn, thank you), but would have liked the game to provide a little more information on the distinctions between various center and left parties. Ultimately, this seemed more like the skeleton of a game than a finished thing in itself.
Eric Brasure’s Saturday Night made a few waves on the intfiction forum because it contains an explicit photograph of male genitalia; there’s a certain amount of warning that this might happen, but as the game doesn’t actually come out and say “watch out, there will be a pornographic picture soon,” some people were apparently taken by surprise. Despite this surprise, it’s not really what I would consider a pornographic game, or wasn’t in my playthrough. Both times I played, what happened was that I messaged a bunch of different guys through some sort of hookup app, then exchanged a few unsatisfying texts with each one before giving up for the night. It’s a persuasive sketch of a futile and disappointing experience, I suppose.
Truth is Ghost, by Joel Goodwin. This is the sort of story in which characters exchange urgent, nasty dialogue, but don’t really let the reader in on what is going on. I think it concerns, possibly, some characters who are something like hitmen, who may or may not have supernatural powers of some sort, who may or may not be operating in reality, and who are possibly responsible for the creation of gods, or God. I played through it twice, and it made maybe slightly more sense the second time, but not to the point where I felt I could explain the plot at all. Moreover, the chief difference my choices seemed to make was which bit of text I read first — and reading them in the wrong order the first time was a significant contributor to my confusion. I think there was a “better” order to go through the three major scenes, and I just happened not to get it right the first time around. So I’m not sure that worked, as a design strategy.
There was also something where at each of the two endings I got there was a partial URL for a Youtube video. I’m guessing that if I’d been determined and played a bunch more, and had the foresight to actually write this down, it might have led somewhere. But I didn’t. If anyone else pieced this together, I’d be mildly curious to find out where it went and whether the goal of the exercise explained the plot more fully, but I wasn’t getting enough from reading through the story to want to do it a bunch more times.
When Acting As A Wave by David T Marchand is also a political piece — sort of — about a person in a position of power in a troubled country, who daily faces the risk of assassination. It only gradually builds to the place where that’s clear. It’s also structurally novel, though, in that there is no narrative, non-link text. Each time you make a choice, you discover its ramifications by looking at the list of choices that come up next. It therefore feels very spare, and it takes a little while for the nature of the situation to become clear. The piece also makes clever use of timers to add new options to the screen, representing different types of situation — sometimes you’re in a spot where you need to make a quick binary choice, and sometimes you’re more killing time, with additional fidgety tasks coming up.
Amanda Lange’s The Girl in the Haunted House plays closer than most of these games to traditional CYOA where if you go through door A you get one ending and if you go through door B you get a completely different one in which different rules of the universe apply. Depending on where you go with this story, the outcome can be supernaturally horrific or horrific within the rules of accepted science or not actually all that horrific at all. (There may be other possibilities as well.) All the endings I found did play one way or another with the idea that the protagonist is being objectified and used — as an actress in a haunted house hired to provide jump-scares, she can be ogled, or worse, by the guests or her fellow actors. There’s a little bit of meta-acknowledgement about the role of pretty side-character girls in horror, reminiscent of Hanon Ondricek’s Final Girl.