Paolo Chikiamco’s Choice of Games game Slammed! has been around for a while now, and has enjoyed a reputation as one of CoG’s better works. It just became available on Steam, and I took that occasion as an opportunity to check it out.
The premise is that you’re an aspiring wrestler who gets a chance to break into the pro circuit, developing your skills and playing out a bunch of matches in the ring. On the face of it, this doesn’t sound like my kind of thing — the only two wrestlers I can name are Hulk Hogan and Jesse Ventura, and I just had to double check on wikipedia to make sure I was remembering them right — which may be why I put off playing Slammed! despite the good reviews.
Chikiamco, on the other hand, clearly does know and care a lot about wrestling, and he writes about it in a way that feels both compelling and reasonably accessible to the non-fan, constructing a detailed world full of strong personalities. What’s more, the themes that come out of the premise are things that interest me: career vs personal loyalty, the cultivation of professional persona, the development of both skills and relationships, the fine line between being a team player and letting yourself be taken advantage of.
As a pro wrestler you have an image to curate, so you have to decide how to present yourself on stage, and how much to live up to that impression off-stage. Your career performance inevitably bleeds over into your relationships with the other major characters, who are mostly either other wrestlers or managers associated with planning your fights. You start to heavily blur line between reality and “works” — storylines planned in order to give a narrative arc to staged wrestling feuds. You spend a lot of game time on in-the-ring decisions, but those decisions are grounded in interpersonal stakes, especially your long running rivalry with your former friend JJ.
What really makes this work is the amount of attention given to the other major characters. There’s a substantial amount of text in Slammed!, and it’s largely devoted to character development: in contrast with also-quite-large Choice of Robots, Slammed! occurs mostly over the span of a couple of years, rather than decades, and relatively little of the story is delivered as high-level summary. The plot is focused enough that you’re encountering the same cast of characters over and over again, building up significant history with them.
I played Slammed! as a female wrestler, and I was pleased by how natural this felt: my experience wasn’t all about my gender, but there were some occasions when my character did have to deal with some misogyny and misplaced assumptions about what it meant for her to be a woman in this field. Again, the option to play as a woman felt like more than a purely cosmetic decision even though the game wasn’t about gender per se. (From reading CoG forum discussion, I have the impression that earlier releases occasionally had typos where the pronouns were not properly adjusted to the player’s choices, but I didn’t notice any of this on my own run-through.)
Slammed! also handles romance as successfully as any CoG piece I’ve yet played. There are (as is common in CoG pieces) several romantic options, including characters who switch gender in response to your character choices. In this case, though, each of the romantic possibilities has his or her own role to play in the storyline aside from any romantic significance you may have granted them, and they’re developed sufficiently to feel like really different people. They’ll put different demands on you, as well. Selecting one of them isn’t just an aesthetic choice but a rather deeper statement about who your character is and what sort of relationship you’d want to be part of.
Another significant strength of this piece is the plot structure and pacing. Some of the more broad-branching CoG pieces, especially early material like Choice of the Dragon and Choice of Broadsides, offer such a wide variety of outcomes that it’s hard for the story to build much narrative momentum. Slammed! trades in that wealth of wildly divergent endings for a more coherent experience with much better foreshadowing.
In other words, Slammed! demonstrates a lot of the qualities associated with solidly written non-interactive genre fiction — more so, perhaps, than many other works that I might point out for novel or exciting uses of interaction. I’m going to keep it in mind for the next time someone asks me to recommend an interactive piece that feels particularly readerly.
Disclaimer: I paid full price for this work and have no past or current financial relationship with Choice of Games. However, we have occasionally discussed the possibility of a future working relationship.