Three Fourths Home ([bracket]games)

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Three Fourths Home is a choice-based interactive story about a young adult named Kelly driving home through the Nebraska rain while carrying on a telephone conversation with her mother (and, as Mom passes the phone around, other members of the family). With music, sound effects, and illustration, it’s more lushly constructed than the average Twine game, but offers the same general style of play.

The conversation is simple menu-based stuff, usually with two or three available options, but — a little like Coming Out Simulator 2014 — Three Fourths Home also uses animation and location imagery to remind you constantly of where you are, as your car slides down the road between corn fields and past water tanks and into gathering darkness. While you play, you have to actively keep driving your car, or the whole story slides to a stop. Driving only consists of holding down a single button, but I found this was a good physical representation of being slightly distracted by an ongoing task. Sound effects also present some environmental distractions.

That sense of split attention is highly appropriate to this story, which concerns all of the relationships in the family: Kelly’s relationship to her parents and brother, and also their relationships to one another. Times are tough: Kelly’s been forced to move back home after living on her own for a while, her father has sustained a serious injury and can’t work any more, the economy in town has tanked and no one is too optimistic that it’s going to go back to normal any time soon. Meanwhile, her brother Ben suffers something which is never explicitly named, but which makes him highly anxious and impairs his social skills. There’s a sense that there’s simply too much going on for anyone to handle: too much worry, too much concern, practical concerns making it hard for people to connect properly with one another. Kelly’s absence when she was living away from the family has affected everyone, especially Ben, and the lost connection can’t easily be reformed.

Even the controls are affected: the letters of the conversation are printed in a thin grey font and the rain makes them hard to read; sometimes it’s not possible to really see the non-selected dialogue options, so it’s necessary to cycle through all of them in order to read them and pick one:

Three Fourths Occluded Dialog

…and I think this would have become a pretty frustrating effect had the game been substantially longer than it is, but for a short playthrough it made its point.

Most of the conversation choices seem to be reflective choice. It’s not at all clear to me that they changed anything. But they were well-written reflective choices that I soon found myself invested in: how hard to we want to come down on Dad for self-medicating his chronic pain with a few beers? how much patience do we have for the brother’s exasperating conversation tics? how hard to we resist with Mom seems to be infantilizing Kelly a little, treating her as less than a full adult?

The dialogue is skillfully constructed to sketch in personalities and histories and problems quickly and without too much exposition. We never find out exactly what the accident was that injured Dad, or any more than the outline of the reason Kelly had to move back home, but it doesn’t really matter: the player can guess at some probabilities, and the story is about how we’re relating to people now, not about the details of those past events.

There’s one artistic choice here that didn’t work for me so well, and that was the inclusion of a longish story narrated by the brother as Kelly drives. It’s a bit of a challenge to read extended text with this UI, and it’s the least interactive portion of an already very linear piece, but my chief concern was that the story felt as though it had been inserted in order to emphasize themes that didn’t really need more explanation. I would rather have spent more of the game on the more nuanced character interaction on offer elsewhere. Still, tastes may vary on this point.

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