No Longer IF Comp 2015: Emily is Away

thumbnailEmily is Away is a text-focused game that was originally entered in IF Comp 2015, but withdrawn because the author also planned to release it to the public as a paid commercial work. (Today, in fact!) IF Comp isn’t really a good place for submitting commercial games, for a host of reasons — you have to let people have free copies of your thing, and then you’re not allowed to talk about your own work for the duration of the competition, and so on.

Nonetheless, I did play this in the free beta version that I received as an IF Comp judge. My first impression of it was extremely positive, since it struck me as polished and inventive and very easy to get into. It uses a mockup of an instant messenger interface for five dialogue exchanges with your friend Emily (hence the title). These exchanges span a five-year period from senior year of high school to senior year of college, and plot out the course of your relationship.

The game does a number of cunning interface things: you make a dialogue choice from three options, but then you have to actually spam your keyboard to mime typing in your input. This might seem a bit gimmicky — indeed it is a bit gimmicky — but the game uses it to good effect, because you see what your character types and deletes and retypes before sending the final version of the message. And there are things where you can reset your profile picture and get Emily’s comments on it, or see the rest of your buddy list (even if there’s never any way to talk to anyone but Emily). The early stages of the game created a charming sense of connection for me.

I should note that it is entirely possible to name the protagonist a female name, and the randomizer at the beginning of the game will suggest some female names as options, but the bulk of the story reads to me as heteronormative. We only see Emily date men and we only see the protagonist date women. It’s possible that you’re lesbian and Emily is bisexual, but nothing in the narrative actively supports this view.

Once I’d played through the whole thing several times, I developed some more conflicted views about the content, and I’d like to talk about why; but this is going to be totally spoilery, so if you’re planning to play yourself, you should probably not click through.

(Edited to add: the author has now shared some of his own thoughts, both about his Comp participation and about the game content; see the bottom of the comment thread.)

Emily is Away is billed as a branching narrative, but as far as I can tell it is in fact a friendly gauntlet with largely cosmetic delayed consequence. You can be more or less dismissive or pleasant to Emily, go to a party she wants to go to or not, pick a business or engineering or art school for yourself, act worried or indifferent when she talks about entering what might be an abusive relationship. And these things are remembered and they do make some difference, but only around the edges of the story. Your actions can change which high school acquaintance Emily is dating in freshman year of college, but not whether she is dating one of them. And as far as I can tell, no matter what you do, your relationship will have come apart by the end of your senior year in college, and you’ll be reduced to exchanging platitudes.

The crux of this relationship disintegration happens because of an event in chapter 3, sophomore year. Emily tells you that she’s just broken up with her boyfriend, she’s upset, and she keeps wondering whether you and she might have gotten together in senior year of high school. Then she asks whether she can come visit you at your dorm.

You have some genuine options here.

You can say no, she can’t visit; in that case, in chapter 4, she’ll tell you that she’s felt differently about you ever since you refused to help her out in her time of depression.

You can say that she can visit but only as friends; later, in chapter 4, she’ll tell you that she’s felt differently about you ever since you didn’t act on the mutual attraction she was sure you both felt.

Or you can say she can visit, and not establish any particular boundaries. Then later, in chapter 4, she’ll tell you that she’s felt differently about you ever since your hookup, which felt like you planned it. She says it happened really fast, and that she thought you should have understood she was really vulnerable. This version appears to happen whether or not you agree to having alcohol during the visit, and whether or not you choose to spend the weekend hanging out with friends or going to parties. (If you do agree to have alcohol, she’ll also mention being drunk, but getting rid of alcohol from the situation does not make the rest of it go away.)

Here’s what squicks me out about this. It sounds as though in that last scenario, she’s describing a situation in which, at the very least, she and the protagonist had regrettable sex with dubious consent. I-the-player did not say that that was what I wanted to have happen. I had no control over the events of the narrative when this thing went down and I don’t have clear access to whether it was rape.

The protagonist does at one point type, then delete, that she had wanted to hook up — but we don’t know the circumstances around that. In some versions, she may not have been sober enough to give meaningful consent. In all versions, we don’t know whether the protagonist is being truthful and accurate. What I do know for sure is that Emily feels betrayed and upset about what happened between us and that years later she is uncomfortable even thinking about it.

So the game is assigning me complicity in that without my having had any preliminary agency or indeed any strong signs that that was what the outcome was likely to be. You can ask her if the protagonist did something wrong or if she had a bad time, and she’ll claim it was fine, but she very obviously feels that it was the opposite of fine. The way I read it, she seems to be trying to call you out on taking advantage of her without quite being ready to accuse you of rape. I found this rough to play through.

At the same time, Emily is Away frames the other outcomes of the visit as failures, in such a way that if I said “no” or “as friends”, I might go back and replay for a better outcome, and get funneled into the non-consensual outcome.

I think the intended arc of the game is supposed to be the gradual wistful discovery that you and Emily are never going to work out, despite your strong and badly suppressed feelings for her. By chapter 5, the game has stopped trying to pretend you have significant agency, since whenever you pick an option that would try to get her to talk about the past, you wind up deleting it and asking her inane stuff about movies and music instead. It’s the Rameses effect, used for more or less the same aims.

It’s also possible that there is some “right” solution that would have made things somehow better, which I happened not to find in half a dozen trips through the game.

But either way, I felt like the game had raised the issue of a possible sexual violation and then not really looked seriously at the aftermath of such an event. One of the peculiarities of this structure is that Emily sounds exactly as upset with you, in many of the same words, if you let her visit as friends. And in the late game it continues to be all about the protagonist’s feelings and the protagonist’s sadness that they couldn’t connect with Emily any more — a state of affairs that retrospectively colors some of their earlier behavior as entitled Nice Guy-ism rather than awkwardness and genuine concern.

“Doesn’t it suck how you never wind up with your crush?” is a pretty horrible final message if you didn’t respect her sexual boundaries. But there’s no way, within the game, to interrogate that behavior and its aftermath. Structurally, it’s portrayed as just another way your friendship can go sour.

(Edited to add: there are some additional thoughts on these topics at this ZEAL article by Bruno Dias.)

24 thoughts on “No Longer IF Comp 2015: Emily is Away

  1. Hmm–this is a disappointing as I liked the concept on RPS but the lack of consent is creepy esp since there’s no other real ending. I’ll be skipping this game.

  2. the game wasn’t just removed from the comp because they planned to release it. they’d already been publicly showing it at festivals, and by all accounts seemed to have deliberately broken the rules on prior public release and used the comp purely as promotion for a commercial work.

  3. Now that it’s withdrawn, I assume I could talk about it. I loved this game, and saw it as one of the contenders for first place. I was troubled by the rape scenario, too, feeling that my personal choices had been misconstrued.

    This withdrawal has sparked a small controversy among the authors, with many people feeling upset, saying that they used the IFComp unethically to promote a game that they knew would be withdrawn, and feeling upset that it’s almost garnered more attention by being withdrawn than it would having been left in.

    I’m torn about it, because I feel it was a bit disingenuous on their part, and not a good example for future entrants, but I also found the game very enjoyable.

    • I think at this point there seems to be a pretty strong consensus that it was really unseemly to submit this to the IFComp, though of course we can only speculate on whether it was a cynical move or just category error on the part of the developer.

      • well, at best, we’re talking about someone who seems to have failed to read any of the rules of a long-standing, important event. that event existing in a culture he seems to want to exist commercially within, or adjacent to. at worst, and more likely, he use IFComp as just another of a series of festivals in which to exhibit. (and there is, or at least was, plenty of evidence on his twitter of him showing the game, in-person, to people at said festivals).

        on a more global level, i guess i’m not really sure why further attention is being given to someone who seems to lack any degree of respect for the community, either in terms of giving him review space, or responding at all to his obviously self-promotional entreaties on twitter. particularly when there’s obviously a lot more people still in the competition, still following the rules, who deserve the promotion and possibly money that he’s still getting in this space and others.

      • Well, I’m fine with Emily Short and the podcast reviewing the game, because an IF reviewer is supposed to review games that people are interested in; the real issue is more with the authors themselves or some miscommunication between everyone, causing a disturbance.

      • a, I have a variety of thoughts in response to this which I hope to have time to get to more later — I’m currently on a train, which is not the venue for composing long responses — but to address the implied grievance at the end first: my reviewing this game has not edged out or stolen from or de-promoted any other IF Comp games that I might have reviewed instead. I have tried every Comp game that will run on my system, and I have reviewed all those that fit into my coverage criteria. The rest of those reviews will appear over the course of the rest of the month.

      • in regards to ms. short’s comment above (not sure if it’ll appear next to hers or not), i’ll retract the idea of any sort of zero-sum shift in terms of attention or promotion, or theft (which wasn’t my intention to suggest in the first place). you, like a lot of people within the community, seem quite busy and it seemed entirely possible that, in a record-breakingly large year, you or others might have a finite amount of time for which such a zero-sum equation might exist. my apologies if those statements seemed like an indictment of you.

        i am concerned, though, that providing further attention to emily is away fails a critical mission of valorizing the world, and creators, we’d like to see. but that’s a moderately different issue, and one upon which i believe you’ll probably have more interesting and important things to say than me, so i’ll leave it to you.

        thanks so much for responding.

  4. I would disagree with your comment that “IF Comp isn’t really a good place for submitting commercial games”. Clearly it is, as doing so has generated additional buzz and reviews for this author, for the low, low cost of parasitizing attention from the legitimate entries that were submitted in good faith and whose authors didn’t violate the contest rules from day one. It’s not as if we have so few games in the running this year that any of us are going to have plenty of extra time after reviewing — or even playing — them all.

    At the risk of shading into Godwin territory, this reminds me of nothing so much as the constant media coverage lavished on school shooters, serial killers, and other publicized criminals. Why reward what are clearly multiple, deliberate violations of IFComp’s simple, clearly-stated rules with any extra attention whatsoever?

    I’m surprised the author of this game didn’t register under the name “John David Stutts”. It would have been the most honest part of his submission.

    • Okay, so, a number of things here. It’s apparent from this that a consensus has built up in some part of the community to which I am not party — like, say, the authors’ board on intfiction? — and that feelings are running really strong.

      Here’s my perspective.

      1. I was unaware of this consensus. So, whatever else one may feel about this, my posting is not a response to it or a failure to honor it or any of those things which would first require me to be aware of the feeling on the subject.

      I *was* aware that by reviewing a game after it was withdrawn, I might trigger some anxiety that the review had displaced reviews of other, non-withdrawn games. It has not. As mentioned earlier, I wrote all my reviews, and then I organized their post dates in the way I thought would be most fun and interesting.

      There are various considerations that go into that — I put a lot of the most Halloween-y flavored games at the end of the month, I joined up some games that were on a common theme into single posts, I tried to (at least sometimes) alternate parser and choice posts… Since this was a game with a specific release date, that seemed like the obvious time to schedule it for. I felt that at most I was risking some mild disgruntlement by releasing it before I’d, um, finished my homework by releasing all my comp reviews. But I figured that was something I could probably address with a brief explanation.

      I hope authors will at least understand that releasing all the reviews as soon as written in one big glob makes it a lot less likely that anyone but themselves would read the review of their game.

      *

      2. It’s possible there are some available facts that I don’t have, but based on what I do know, I find it very easy to believe that the author did enter the comp in good faith.

      Indie game marketing practice involves entering a lot of competitions and festivals and shows, and almost all of them are by default differently structured from the IF Comp, and do allow simultaneous entries, advertising, being previously released, etc. But assuming that he did read the rules, it’s not clear to me that he would necessarily have thought “right, okay, I’m going to be violating those.” In, again, the indie game world, “released” is *not* the same thing as “previewed at a conference to some people.” Even if we go with the Comp’s own “what does ‘released’ mean?” wording from some previous years, the restriction says that you should know all the people who have played your game before submission. If you showed the game in person to a bunch of people who walked up to your conference table, you might well still meet those criteria.

      So I could see him thinking he was eligible. I could also see him possibly being a little careless about reading the rules because he’s reading the rules for the dozen different things all of which are places where he’s entering his game and PS it’s exhausting being about to release a game and sometimes you get fuzzy, by accident. I could easily imagine that too.

      Anyway. I could be wrong about this. I am not well acquainted with this author. But coming to it from the indie marketing perspective rather than the perspective of someone who’s been involved in IF Comp for nearly twenty years and for whom October 1 is a kind of holiday: yeah. I could totally see someone doing exactly this by accident with no ill will or cynicism.

      In fact, that strikes me as a whole lot *more* likely than someone pulling a marketing stunt by means of a competition that, however much it may mean a great deal to me personally, just doesn’t have *that* much clout in the larger indie games scene. Not in comparison to things like IndieCade.

      *

      3. This blog is partly meant to serve the IF community, but that’s not the only thing it’s about. Part of my agenda (in blogging, in doing what I do in general) is to help different parts of the interactive storytelling world be in better contact with one another. This is the main reason why I tend to write reviews that mention other related games from the past or from other fields — I want to try to join up all these isolated areas of knowledge and practice.

      As a story-focused conversation game presented in text, Emily is Away is totally the kind of thing that I would normally give space to, regardless of whether it got entered in the comp or not.

      Even more than that, I wrote about it because I had a weird, disturbing experience with it and I wanted to communicate that and find out whether I was alone in this or whether other people did too. “Because I have something to say about this” is another common reason why I blog about stuff.

      *

      4. I do not believe there is a significant risk that Emily is Away will pave the way for other indie creators to abuse the competition for their own ends. Rather, I suspect that we’ll see a clarification of certain rules in the future, and some attention to their enforcement, and that this will be a non-issue in 2016.

      *

      5. “i am concerned, though, that providing further attention to emily is away fails a critical mission of valorizing the world, and creators, we’d like to see.”

      I hope it’s now clear why I don’t consider my review a ‘critical mission failure’, and why it’s not even clear to me that the author deserves general opprobrium. (I have weird feelings about the game itself, and he seems not to have intended the way that I read it. But most of the comments here aren’t even about what I said about the game!)

      So we now move from this particular case to the general question of what to talk about and how to talk about it.

      The issue a raises is something I give a lot of thought. I do try to provide coverage and support to the kinds of work I value. I do try to pay attention to creators who might not have a lot of other venues for attention. My coverage is scarcely influential enough to make or break anyone’s indie fortunes, but I try to be responsible.

      Still, coverage isn’t the same thing as a reward for the author. Sometimes I play a game by a person I like, a game written with good intentions by an honorable human, and I think, “meh.” And then I don’t cover it — because however nice the person might be, I don’t feel like there’s that much to add to the world by reviewing it; it’s neither good enough to recommend people play nor interesting enough in its failures to be worth dissecting.

      And conversely, sometimes I think it’s worthwhile to talk about work by people who have behaved badly. Sometimes the work is good in spite of them, or has something to say that will contribute to the discourse around games. Ezra Pound was a brilliant poet, and also terrible to his family, not to mention a racist fascist who literally gave broadcasts propping up the Axis powers. On the Terrible Behavior scale, he far outranks anything we’ve talked about here. But it would be misguided to refuse to talk about his art for that reason, I believe.

      A few times before someone has suggested that I not cover a particular person’s work because of that person’s alleged misdeeds. It’s possible that at some point in the future this situation will arise and it will feel clear-cut. So far, though, it’s happened in rather muddy situations where I have conflicting reports about what happened. In those cases I try to err on the side of charity, and assume the best until I know worse. This sometimes does cause me considerable distress, but it seems the least-bad course for me to follow.

      *

      I understand that tempers are running high. But please, here at least, let’s turn down the flames under the pitch cauldron. Maybe I’m wrong about (2); maybe entering IF Comp was a cynical ploy on the part of this author, a deliberate attempt to exploit something that wasn’t for him. But barring more data, that seems less likely to me than “guy from different scene with different default rules, who is probably super busy and not getting enough sleep right now, misread situation and inadvertently pissed people off.” So, that’s a thing that happens. Unfortunate, but not the end of the world.

      I almost never delete non-spam comments from this blog, but the one circumstance in which I will do it is if people start getting really vicious towards each other or third parties, because that’s just not the kind of discussion that I am willing to sponsor. No one has crossed the line yet. But what I do see here worried me enough that I sat up writing this explanation until 2 AM after what was frankly an excruciatingly long day because I didn’t want to wake up and find it had gotten any uglier.

      • these are all really, really valuable points. the only thing i’ll add is that the release was planned, and first published, before the end of the second day of the competition: https://twitter.com/KyleSeeley23/status/650046979901419520. which to me seems like a blatant violation of more than one rule, regardless of prior festivals, or any particular definition of “prior release” or “public communication.” but you are right — perhaps what’s needed here most of all is good faith. certainly we are in agreement that small ponds shouldn’t automatically spark large fires.

        i believe a lot of it the opprobrium stems from the fact that, besides you, there’s been frankly fairly little in the way of reviewing. there’s still a lot of games that haven’t gotten any reviews at all, and emily is away seems to have gotten a very significant amount of press/promotion/critical response relative to nearly every other game. so, yes, agreed, small ponds, but small ponds where a lot of people are treading water very, very quietly, and very, very obediently, under a great deal of stress and rough gags. perhaps there’s more than just a little projection going on, then.

        thanks again for your response.

      • Your points are all well-taken. I disagree with almost all of them, but I respect that they are a reasoned position. Let me also say that I’m sorry if my post caused enough distress for you to lose sleep; that was not my intention.

        Let me address your points. First, there is no “consensus” that I am aware of. I’m not participating in IFComp this year and therefore have no access to the authors board. If there seems to be a consensus, perhaps it’s simply because a lot of people independently arrived at the same conclusion and feel strongly about the subject. I know for a fact I haven’t spoken to anyone, in the IF community or out of it, about my opinions of this author’s behavior.

        I applaud your willingness to ascribe the best possible intentions to the author. I wish I could share that perspective, but I don’t. When I go to the authors’ page at IFComp, under “How to Enter the IFComp” the first entry is “Read the Rules”, where it tells prospective entrants to read the rules. The rules are clearly understandable and even if he somehow believed that his public exhibition of the game — and handing out demo disks, for God’s sake — at different venues for months didn’t count as making his game available for public play or download, certainly the rule 4 proscription against public discussion of his game during the contest period was intelligible to him.

        I don’t for a minute think he was too tired or stressed to read the rules; his Twitter feed seems to showcase plenty of free time. But let’s assume he did just simply make a mistake, didn’t read the rules, skipped every other bold word, whatever. Even if he didn’t know he was doing anything wrong at the time, it should have been clear when pointed out to him that this was an egregious violation of the rules of the contest he sought out and chose to enter, that it was a mistake — _his_ mistake — and a serious one. His behavior compromised IFComp and could have caused legitimate entries material damage had his rule-breaking not been caught. Rudimentary courtesy should tell him that he owes the other authors, who also worked hard on their projects with the expectation of fair competition, a sincere apology.

        There’s been no apology that I’ve seen; no mention of anything relating to the withdrawal from IFComp other than Jason’s announcement of amicable separation. Everything from him I can find is just wine, roses, and the continuous marketing of his game. To me this indicates pretty clearly that IFComp was never anything more to him than a promotional venue and potential source of press coverage; there was no engagement with the IF community by this author before, and now he’s vanished into the sunset without another word.

        My problem isn’t so much that you’re reviewing this game; this blog is yours and you can write about anything you want. As you say, this is a legitimate indie game with aspects that are interesting to you and about which you would like to discuss. That’s your right. My problem is that the author of this game is benefitting from what I believe is deliberate abuse of the IFComp and the IF community in general. I don’t think it’s right. I believe that withholding the attention and publicity he so clearly seeks (through this and other channels) would help to redress the abuse and reduce the attractiveness of the IFComp to others who might be inclined to behave similarly.

        But it’s certainly your forum here, and you have every right to disagree.

      • For what it’s worth, I agree with Emily on this.

        The idea that Seeley has “made a significant amount of money off of breaking the IFComp rules” (a’s words here) sounds implausible to me. The marginal extra attention of being on the IFComp front page for a week just isn’t that high. I flipped through the Steam Greenlight comments just now; nobody in that audience mentioned IFComp at all. It doesn’t come up in the RPS review (the highest-profile review I can see other than this one). It’s just not that big a deal to them.

        From the author’s perspective, I strongly suspect — no, I haven’t discussed it with them — I suspect this was just an embarrassing screwup in coordinating a game release, and the penalty is that the game was withdrawn. Matter closed. They’re not thinking about posting personal apologies because they don’t have a personal connection to the community or the Comp in the first place. And — well — if it were me and I were reading this thread, jumping in to placate the angry IF people would seem like a huge potential mistake.

        (The rules page says “Those who violate a rule once will either be issued a warning or disqualified, at the discretion of the organizers.” It doesn’t say “You will owe everybody a public apology” or “The IF community will shun you as an outcast for your sins.” These are not things that would come to an outsider’s mind when considering the idea of entering.)

      • “significant” meaning “non-negligible,” “definite,” “able to be tied directly to participation therein,” etc. not “yacht money” or “rent money” or even “beer money.”

        “an embarrassing screwup in coordinating a game release” is true, yes, but embarrassing in no way at all precludes “selfish” or “immoral.” you’re welcome to view the IFComp as trivial, and i certainly won’t disagree that you’ve got the experience necessary for that.

        but i really don’t see for a second why “not having a personal connection” to an event, and a community, that i frankly feels deserves more respect than a hit-and-run by-the-numbers promotion entry when you’re following the rules, much less when you flagrantly violate at least one of them, is an excuse. i’m not bound by the rules of the IFComp with regards to penalties, and neither are you, and to suggest that our public morality should necessarily derive from the specific wording of this current year’s rules seems quite ridiculous to me.

        so, matter not closed, by a long shot. nobody here, and i suspect nobody who’s upset, would expect him to stick his head in here and offer an apology. because the time for an apology would be before everyone points out everything you did wrong, and before it might produce bad publicity. which, at least in regards to the deficiencies in his content, he was ever-so-quick in responding to on twitter.

        your stance seems to be that making an indie game is a stance that automatically deserves good faith, even in the absolute lack of good faith on the part of the creator. why in the world should we care about kyle seeley’s career? why should we assume that in the absence of unshakeable, objective evidence that his having broken the rules did him no good? and why in the world should we assume that breaking the rules in this case should be adjudicated solely and invisibly, and with nearly no mention (the stealthiness of which lead to the exact confusion which lead, in part, for ms. short to have to write a blog post at 2am) by said adjudicators of the specifics which lead to the game’s disqualification?

      • To Matt Wigdahl: Re. consensus: sorry, I accidentally responded at the wrong nesting level — even though my comment showed up following yours, I was also addressing the larger group, and it seemed to me that the authors posting had already discussed this and formed an opinion, even if you formed your similar opinion separately from that group. But this is not a sentiment I’d seen discussed on the intfiction forum, or Twitter, or ifMUD, in the last couple of weeks.

        “To me this indicates pretty clearly that IFComp was never anything more to him than a promotional venue and potential source of press coverage” — okay, here I agree with you. I also think the author entered IF Comp as a promotional venue, and that led to his treating it much more casually than would an author who had spent all year writing a game just for this one release context. But most indie games competitions and festivals are promotional venues. One isn’t expected to engage with the community (to the extent that there even is an identified community) as a prerequisite to enter IGF or IndieCade or even smaller, more IF-leaning things like the Kitschies or the WordPlay showcase. And if booted out of those venues for a conflict with the rules, one generally isn’t considered to have committed a crime against a larger community.

        Finally, having spent a good amount of time now involved not only with the IF Comp but also with various parts of the indie scene, I question to what degree he’s received disproportionate press coverage for breaking the rules (which seemed to be the point of the mass shooter analogy), or even because of being part of IF Comp. Again, it’s just not that newsworthy a thing outside of our particular sphere.

        I think it far, far more likely that the coverage he’s getting in some more mainstream venues comes from doing press releases and outreach and the other things you do when you’re marketing a game. I received independent PR email from him about the game’s release, for instance.

        To A: Re. reviews/attention as a scarce resource: hm. I’m seeing typically several reviews a day coming out on the feeds besides my own, but I can understand this feeling like not enough, from an authorial perspective. I’m not sure whether there’s anything else I can do about this, but I’ll think.

        I can’t speak for jmac about how he chose to handle the withdrawal of this game, but honestly I think a low-drama post is both the kindest and safest way to do it, and indeed the way most in accord with the other aims you’re talking about here. Suppose there were a furious official condemnation followed by a massive flamewar. The primary result of such a flamewar would be to suck up the attention and time of the kind of people who closely follow and care about IF Comp, rather than to effectively punish Kyle Seeley for sucking up the attention and time etc.

        Speaking of which: for precisely this reason, I’m now going to close the comment thread on this. I’m still interested in talking about the substance of my review with anyone who wants to do that; I’m also willing to exchange email about the community issues if someone feels a need to do so (emshortif@gmail.com is my preferred email address these days). But I think the various views have now been clearly articulated on both sides. So probably further debate here isn’t going to accomplish as much for the remaining comp authors as writing more reviews, giving more feedback in the author forums, etc.

  5. I wouldn’t say there’s a consensus on the private author forums. Several people’s reaction was, “Oh no! Have I also violated the rules???” which does support the idea that it was a “good faith” mistake on the author’s part (it is treated that way on the comp blog, which I thought was a classy move that kept the moral high ground for the comp). The rules do have some fine lines (although “released during the comp” is way over the line), and it feels wrong to have the game get extra attention due to breaking the rules…. but I suspect the community is coherent enough that some people will hesitate to work with the author in future. That strikes me as a long-term punishment fitting the crime.

    None of that is as disturbing as your analysis of the squicky content outlined above. That is something that can cause real harm.

    • “None of that is as disturbing as your analysis of the squicky content outlined above. That is something that can cause real harm.”

      i’m not sure if i agree with that!

      IF happens to be one of the few domains that tends to have a low bar of entry — both in technical and prose terms — for queer/trans women, and as such, it’s one of the only game “genres” i can think of in which said groups tend to be able to get significant amounts of attention as auteurs. in fact, i find the idea of someone (regardless of intent) breaking the rules in a self-promotional way in such a domain deeply unacceptable. if i wanted, i could compare and contrast examples from your web presence with the author’s, and show you how he was posting about a commercial, make him $$$ release literally from day 1 of the comp. but trust me when i say that the author of emily is away acted far differently, and more flagrantly, than any other authors, even the author of paradise.

      i won’t make assumptions about the way the author identifies, but the substance of the fiction itself seems firmly hetero- and cisnormative, and for that person to have made a significant amount of money off of breaking the IFComp rules bothers me a great deal. i won’t say it bothers me more than possibly non-con fiction. but to be honest that’s because, in a way that may not be at all fair, the disrespect for the idea that a woman still vocally, strongly upset about an uncomfortable sexual encounter (vocally stated in a conversation canonically stated to be a year after the fact!) for legitimate, traumatic reasons, seems of a piece with the disrespect for disadvantaged people, particularly women, in a niche games space.

      but that could be over the line, and i’m perfectly willing to delete it (or humbly accept its deletion) should you or ms. short find that to be the case.

  6. I am opening comments again long enough to post the following response from the author, since I think it addresses a number of the things here:

    * From Kyle *:

    Hey all – dev here, I figured I’d go ahead and write something up here to clear the air. Warning – wall of text incoming.

    I heard about IFComp for the first time from Jason McIntosh. He’s local to the Boston community and at a meetup he announced the competition. Now at this point (septemberish) I’d already entered multiple festivals and competitions as one does when trying to get their indie game out there. IFComp sounded right up my alley, I spoke to Jason after the event just to make sure my game would fit in the competition, which he assured me it would. I skimmed the rules quickly, as submissions were closing very soon. I did happen across the promotion guidelines – this rule is unique to IFComp in terms of all the other festivals/comps I was involved with prior. I interpreted the rule as – you can’t promote your game’s involvement in IFComp. This made sense to me because being a community choice event – driving views to your own game instead of others would be unfair. Jason got in contact with me shortly after the start of the festival regarding this rule and my plans to release during the Comps schedule. He informed me that my past promotions were seen as in the grey area for the promotion rule, but his major concern was my release date. Releasing the game during the competition and doing necessary release things would be breaking those rules. Jason gave me two options, either remain in the competition and push my release date, or pull my game from the competition and hit my release date. I was really looking forward to getting this game out there so I chose the latter. IFComp was a blast. The community gave me a bunch of good feedback and my game got played by a lot of people. I would have loved to stay in the competition but I really wanted to release Oct 16th.

    I’d also like to point out that this is my first IF-ish game. This is the first time I’d ever heard of IFComp or tried to get involved with the IF community. To give you an idea of how green I am to Interactive Fiction, I didn’t even know there was a name for my style of game (friendly gauntlet) until Emily described it as such in her article.

    I’m sorry to those who feel I ruined IFComp. And I’m sorry to other entries that feel I stole review time or play time from their games. That was certainly not my intention. Honestly, I really just wanted to be involved in this community of great games.

    Now – story feedback. Beware spoilers below.

    This is in regards to Emily Shorts interpretation of events in Chapter 4 of Emily is Away. If you have not yet played the game or read the article I’d really encourage you to interpret this narrative yourself.

    You do not rape someone in Emily is Away. There is a branch of the story where Emily will visit you at school after she goes through a break up with her boyfriend. It’s at this point that she’s very emotionally vulnerable. It is up to you whether you let her come or tell her no. You can also try to establish boundaries or not. If you let her come and don’t establish boundaries then you two will hook up. She also asks about alcohol. If you she brings alcohol, or you say you have some, she will mention it in the next year. It is not the alcohol that determines whether or not you hook up but if you establish friend boundaries.

    If you two do hook up she regrets her decision. It was made in haste after she broke up with her past boyfriend and was based off of memories and not real feelings for you. This ruins your friendship and potential relationship. It’s a fly-too-close-to-the-sun scenario. Where hooking-up is what some players want at this point. But then the chapter after they’re faced with the reality that they just went from 0-60 in their relationship with Emily and it seems to have derailed their friendship forever. All people who have play-tested this game came up with the intended scenario when encountering this story-line. That you two got drunk, hooked up, and now Emily regrets it. The deleted line “but you wanted to hook up” supports the intended story. So what went wrong, and what made Emily Short interpret this scenario as being questionably not consensual.

    Before I go into potential causes – I want to preface this by saying there is no wrong way to interpret a story. I’m not in any way saying Emily Short made the wrong decision based on the information my story provided. But there is an intended story-line, which is not the way Emily Short ended up perceiving it. So what went wrong here. Well, most people happen upon this branch when they want hook up with Emily. Their character’s motivation leads them here. So when they see Emily regretting the decision in Chapter 4 – the not consensual story-line isn’t one they have in their heads. Because they are playing as the main character. They just see the scenario as Emily regretting what had happened in the past. So how is this different from the way Emily Short played it.

    This was not the first story-arc Emily Short encountered. At this point in playing she had entered the ‘what-if’ stage, where she was trying different combinations of events to see what different outcomes the story could yield. In this stage you are no longer truly playing as the main character, you’re more of an omniscient observer. So when she stumbled on this regret story arc she was not on the characters side. She was rather looking at the game as a detective. From this perspective, without associating yourself as the main character, the story can be interpreted in different ways. I think this was the root cause of the confusion. Ultimately this is my fault as the games creator for not writing a more open-and-shut scenario. And also for making the ‘what-if’ stage so easy to go in-and-out of. I’m sorry to anyone who interprets the story that way – it was certainly not my intention.

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