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Month: August 2017

Review: Anna Anthropy’s Queers in Love at the End of the World

Review: Anna Anthropy’s Queers in Love at the End of the World

Queers in Love at the End of the World
by Anna Anthropy
Interactive Fiction / Twine Game
2013


Queers in Love at the End of the World is an interactive fiction written using Twine Sugarcane by Anna Anthropy, supposedly for a competition and inspired by a quote from Tumblr: “when we have each other, we have everything”.

The theme of the competition and therefore this IF is ‘ten seconds’. The reader is given ten seconds to go from start to finish by clicking on the links to try and find a path. This means you have little to no time to read anything, even the opening passage. You could, of course, spend time reading each passage and simply following your old path when you move onto the next page but that kind of defeats the purpose.

What little I managed to read in between frantic clicking on links is great writing: emotive wording, characterisation, and multiple paths to take. This IF is best suited to those who like to skim-read and get the gist of what path they’re taking, but someone who enjoys taking their time and reading isn’t going to have the best experience.

The entire point is that you have no time to think, no time to react to the information you’re being given because the world is ending. The inclusion of a timer is an excellent way to replicate the anxiety one would feel when given only ten seconds to experience something.

Because of the tiny time limit, this IF has a high degree of re-playability. In the ten to twenty times a reader would usually spend reading an IF, they can experience many different paths of the game. I don’t know how many endings there are but one of the best parts is probably when you finish frantically clicking links and end up on a page with three seconds left where you actually have enough time to read it.

This IF relies heavily on assumptions: when you click on a link, you have some idea where you’re going to go. Most of the options are actions: “kiss her” etc., or the player-character thinking about something specific, such as “The memory of her smell when she’s far away”.

The title is the only overt reference to this being an LGBT+ piece. Nothing in the text (that I managed to read) was obvious that this should be anything more than the standard heteronormative piece. This piece is a massive hi-five to the LGBT+ community and one that I can definitely get behind. After all, why should writers have to conform to stereotypes in order to display a relationship that is fundamentally the same as those available in other fiction? The fact that the title itself states this is enough of a tip off and is great representation.

Anna Anthropy is an American video game writer and has a great list of other works if you want to follow her other works. I highly recommend it.

Review: Joanna Walsh’s SEED

Review: Joanna Walsh’s SEED

SEED
by Joanna Walsh
Illustrated by Charlotte Hicks
2017
Interactive Fiction
Best accessed on a mobile device.


SEED is written by Joanna Walsh and illustrated by Charlotte Hicks, and follows the tale of an 18-year old girl during four months of her life in the late 1980s. This story, one of many published by those at Visual Editions, is one best experienced on your mobile device; though possible to view on a desktop computer, you really do want to be able to swipe easily.

Described in the introduction as a coming of age narrative, SEED is a story that feels like an in-depth exploration of a character. We are free, as the reader, to choose the path through the narrative we like the look of best.

You’re able to swipe about the darkness of the story’s surface layer and follow the vines, or not, with whimsical abandon. It’s a fun experience, heightened by the quality of the webpage, prose, and illustrations.

If you dive in anywhere on the storyline at random, as I did when I first opened the webpage, you’d be excused to find yourself a little befuddled. The text reads a little off-kilter, with a sense of something odd going on. It’s not just because you don’t know where you are in the narrative yet, because you can find the same thing happening on reading the ‘opening’ lexia, or “chunk of text”.

Though the text is from a point of view that’s a little skewed, it brings a lyrical sense of amusement to the telling, which I enjoy:

“Ragged robin a canker, looks like something ill./ Outside the cattery don’t touch animals ever./ Brimstone butterflies./ The smell of humans on them doesn’t go away./ Crowsfoot. Yellow things./ Birds neither./ They will die, abandoned./”

The preceding quote is in verse, and judging from the introductory paragraph, and others that are in prose, is fully intended to have those line breaks. This poetic style doesn’t persist throughout the entire lexia, it often falls into a stream-of-consciousness style of narrative that is part and parcel of the whimsical weaving of story and style.

When you explore the text of SEED, and it seems obvious when thinking about the title of the piece, there are many illustrations of flowers, vines, and roots. I like this imagery because it reinforces the idea that you are following the thread, or root, of a story.

When you read to the end of a lexia, you can simply swipe again to move onto the next one that Walsh intended to follow on from what you were reading, or you can tap the cross and go back to the “main menu” of the narrative to find another. However, that’s a rather simplistic view of the text.

What I mean by this is that the main menu also shows an options panel, allowing us to pick which thread of the story to follow. For example, when I picked ‘land’, a green thread was left in its wake and related lexias were highlighted, showing me the path that discusses land. Anything not in that sub-section was greyed out.

In this way, you could come to SEED and read only the lexias concerning the land, or the house, or work, and leave it at that. You would have a ‘complete’ narrative, though it wouldn’t be the whole narrative.

You read ‘chapters’ of each month in which the story takes place – June, July, August, September – and once you finish exploring one month, you can move onto the next. Or not, as the choice is completely up to you.

However, what’s really, really, fascinating about this story is that when you read any lexia with only one thread enabled, you only see the text within that lexia relevant to that thread, and that thread alone.

If you have all threads enabled, you read every scrap of information in that lexia, and each one can be pages long. Disable all but one thread, and your lexias can be a single sentence long.

This functionality completely changed the way I viewed SEED, and I’m sure any other reader would react the same way: from cute and slightly befuddling, to clever and intriguing.

This text is beautifully lyrical, follows a character who is engaging and with whom you easily empathise, and is underpinned by fantastic technology that shines through when used on a mobile device.

I thoroughly recommend SEED, and I’ll be diving into the rest of Visual Edition’s books when I get the chance; I’ve still got another five read-throughs of this one to go!

Review: Michael Lutz’s My Father’s Long, Long Legs

Review: Michael Lutz’s My Father’s Long, Long Legs

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My Father’s Long, Long Legs
by Michael Lutz
2013
Hypertext / Twine Game


Players of My Father’s Long, Long Legs will probably never find a piece of hypertext more aptly described by the phrase “digging yourself a hole”.

This twine game, from Michael Lutz’s site Correlated Contents, explores the topic of an absent father in a rather peculiar way. You play as the eldest child, nameless like the other characters, identified only by their relevant roles: Father, Mother, Brother, Brother’s Friend, etc. Then through clicking hyperlinks to reveal more text, you burrow deeper into how the family is affected once the protagonist’s father begins digging in the basement of their home.

As you play the game, you learn little about the protagonist but much about her family. The first ‘choice’ you’re presented with is an option to learn more about your brother, mother or yourself (although, the latter only provides extra insight on the protagonist’s family situation and gender, as she’s later referred to as “young lady”).

The choices themselves are less about what dialogue the player accesses and more about what order it’s accessed in. The previously mentioned “Brother”, “Mother” and “Yourself” options must all be viewed to advance, but you can view them in whatever order you like. Similarly, to progress through the game, the player must click the link in the current passage to reveal the next passage.

As each passage is revealed the webpage becomes longer, revealing a daunting wall of text to the player. It’s easy then to imagine that you’ve done some digging yourself, buried deep in this black background, going deeper the more you read. Towards the end of the game’s first phase, you’re asked to make a real choice in My Father’s Long, Long Legs, but even this only results in a small dialogue change.

Then in phase two things get a little more interesting.

I categorise phase two by the change in background and how you read the text. In phase one, all the text you’ve read so far is still visible. You can scroll up and return to the beginning of the story, although it’s impossible to make any changes to your choices without restarting the game. However, in phase two each choice you make takes you to a new screen. Some screens are even repeated depending on which options you pick.

Not to mention, everything is black besides a small circle you control via mouse. This allows you to read the text underneath the circle, simulating a torch held by the protagonist. There are also audio elements, the sound of digging, and the humming of Johnny Cash’s “You Are My Sunshine” right at the end.

The player is now faced with choices again, heading in certain directions or performing other actions, trying to navigate the protagonist through the basement. I’ve completed the game a few times yet I struggle to discern whether specific choices take you to the ending quicker or not.

At times, the unsettling sound of digging in the background seems to become more loud or quiet depending on the choices taken. Perhaps this signals the player to follow their ears to reach the end, much like The Forest Temple in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time. Alternatively, it could be a certain number of choices that lead the player to the end, as they wander lost through the same few sets of decisions.

Overall, My Father’s Long, Long Legs is an engaging – and towards the end, frightening – piece of hypertext, lacking only in the branching paths so familiar to hypertext fiction. But despite the game only having one path, it’s a path well worth walking if you have twenty minutes to take in the scenery.

Review: Zoe Quinn’s Depression Quest

Review: Zoe Quinn’s Depression Quest

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Depression Quest
by Zoe Quinn
2013
Hypertext / Twine Game
Steam / Play for Free


I know, the title doesn’t scream ‘thrilling-thing-you-want-to-do’ but bear with me for a second. Depression Quest is an interactive Twine game with collaborators Patrick Lindsey and Issac Schankler. You play as someone living with depression who is given everyday situations to navigate and choices as to what you can decide to do.

It is not a fun game.

It isn’t meant to be.

The purpose is to educate those who play so they have a better understanding of what living with depression entails, this can range from people struggling with the mental illness or those trying to support them. As you begin you are given snippets of information about your background such as your social circle and the fact you have a girlfriend called Alex.

The story is navigated via hyperlinks but additionally also has music which you are encouraged to listen to as you play. But you don’t miss anything if you do; I gather it’s there to provide some sort of ambience yet it’s rather just stereotypical sad piano.

Depending on which choice you take, others are struck through so you no longer have that option. You can see the most positive or logical option, you know it’s there, but you’ve chosen to ignore it or not pursue it for whatever reason. This element of the game in particular I found interesting, more evocative of real life frustration. You’ve made a choice. You can’t go back. You have to deal with what’s left.

However, a drawback for Depression Quest is that if you’ve dealt with or are dealing with depression you know how to get the ‘positive’ outcome. As with all games, you want to beat them, you want to achieve the best possible outcome and with this, it’s fairly simple to do. This part of the gameplay feels almost encouraging, that if you can manage it here there’s the possibility you can do it for yourself too.

Additionally, parts of the writing start to feel like it’s more of a personal account of their mental health, what choices they feel they had at that time so it can come across as very narrow in its scope, and slightly tedious.

Adversely you do get several chances to open up to the other characters, to change your progression if you’ve decided this isn’t quite the path you want. One thing that is beneficial is that the game provides something akin to stress relief. You can choose the most disastrous options but there is no fall out, no lasting damage, no broken friendships, etc. It’s all contained in cyberspace, waiting for the reset button.

In essence, it is an educational tool in a sea of thousands and there is no doubt that for some it has served its purpose. Depression Quest is a good attempt at trying to battle the stigma of mental illness through a more interactive, widely accessible platform and should be utilised more often.

Review: Michael Lutz’s the uncle who works for nintendo

Review: Michael Lutz’s the uncle who works for nintendo

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the uncle who works for nintendo
Michael Lutz
Interactive Fiction / Twine Game
October 2014


the uncle who works for nintendo (TUWWFN and capitalised in some uploads but not in his website) is exactly the kind of IF you’d expect from someone who also authored a game called the bones picked clean and the clean bones gone. The origin of Lutz’s problem with capitalisation is a mystery but he certainly knows how to write in Twine.

This game takes around 15-20 per play through and has five possible endings so if you’re the kind to want to find every possibility, I recommend setting a few hours aside to immerse yourself in this fiction.

In Lutz’s words, his piece “uses a horror framework to think about misogyny and emotional abuse and manipulation”. So even though the title references a company well known for brightly-coloured characters and kid-friendly universes, TUWWFN is a chilling story set in childhood. The misogyny in the piece, admittedly, seems a bit stuck-on for bonus points and is only really present if you go through a specific path but manipulation (of people and of facts) is as clear as day.

If you’re going to read this, I have two pieces of advice. Turn your sound on (hello sound effects), and question everything.

The first thing you do is pick the name of your best friend which is a refreshing change. Normally you’re picking who you are. From there, it matches your general Twine fiction: you’re given a few possible paths to take and you’ll be affecting your ending the whole way. The whole way through, you take the lead and the world around you is affected by your actions.

One interesting innovation used in the piece is Lutz’s use of coding language within the game itself. This gives an extra level of understanding to those who have also used Twine but also has the added benefit of formatting the text differently to the rest of the passage. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just take a look.

Though Lutz seems to have a few issues with commas, it doesn’t detract too much from the story itself and though the piece does have some interesting innovations, some of the dialogue is reminiscent of everyone’s first two years writing awkward overly-polite conversations between their characters.

That said, the basic scene-setting isn’t too bad. If you’re in the habit of skim-reading IF, you might need to make the effort to read it through. Links to other passages are dotted throughout each passage and can change the reading and the ending you’re in store for. Even if you’re redirected back to the same passage, you’ll find differences in the text if you look closely enough.

Lutz has also cleverly made the game in such a way where you’re not sure if things are broken or if it’s just meant to back you into a corner. Not everything in this game is as it seems at first. Though that sentence could be taken as a motto for this piece.

Though, at the time of writing this review, I haven’t yet gotten all five endings, I would say this game has a high degree of re-playability. The desire to see what choices will lead us where and how you can avoid meeting the same sticky end you already found.

I wouldn’t put this game up there with AAA horror games, but it is a bit spooky and I’d recommend that you read it in a well-lit room with a warm drink if you’re not of a robust disposition.

To see more of Michael Kurtz’s works, visit his website here.