Okay, One More Review, I Guess… (Caroline)

I didn’t think I’d be posting any more actual reviews of IF entries, but since Emily’s review of Caroline was what first alerted me to IF Comp in the first place, and because I totally stepped in it in her comments section by replying to someone who’d spouted some Twine-hate, I figured what the hell, I wanted to organize my thoughts on it.

This is a review of Caroline. I was raped by Caroline. The game and the character, if such a thing is possible.

As a game, Caroline is not very good. It’s not very fun, either, and crashed multiple times when I played (which is impressive, for such a sparse experience). To play, you simply type in the words that the game tells you to type.

It does raise interesting questions, however, about agency and consent. In dating sims and interactive novels that focus on relationships, consent is programmed in and characters are scripted to say ‘yes’. Being scripts/objects/whatever, characters can give no consent, and any sexual advances towards them allowed by the programming are met with the programmed response, either agreeing to a sexual encounter or declining a sexual encounter based on the choices made by the player. However, Caroline flips this: the player’s agency is removed; the game’s program is ever driving you toward the inevitable conclusion of having sex with an awful crazy woman. No choices you make prevents this, opportunities to say no, while given, are of no consequence. Caroline is going to force you to have sex with her whether you want her to or not. Is the player character raped? As I said, you can say ‘no’, but it doesn’t change anything. You can consent, but does consent mean anything if not consenting isn’t an option? Of course, unlike real life, you can always turn Caroline off.

Other than this intellectual bone to chew on, there isn’t much that you’ll find in Caroline. It’s not a fun or enjoyable experience, but rape isn’t supposed to be, is it? If this game was going for something else, I have no idea what it could be. At the end, Caroline turns into a magic angel; does this mean her crazy cult was right? Who knows. I think the only reason i felt the need to say anything about this was because of how creeped out I was by it by the time I got it to actually work.  Consider this explanation of my being creeped out therapeutic in nature.

Sorry to Disillusion You Who are Over From Intfiction

But I wasn’t planning on doing serious or a series of reviews of IFComp entries. I was only remarking on one that I played and found particularly interesting.*

One exciting thing I did learn, however, is that the Interactive Fiction community is just as wonky and fragmented as the rest of gamerdom. I learned many cool things, in fact.

1) There is a schism in the community about what IF is; there are Parser Purist and there are those who think that any and all text-based stuff counts as IF.

2) Much like some people gripe and complain about games being developed on this engine or that engine, people in the IF community seem to be grumbly about games developed in things besides Inform & TAD(both parser based dev platforms), particularly something called Twine, which sounds like it eats christian babies if some parser-Grognards are to be believed.

3) The debate between parser based games and CYOA/Hyperlinked games is pretty heated and involves some hurt feeling. Some people are going so far as to suggesting 1-starring any entries that aren’t parse based in their competition, while other people are saying that’s incredibly misogynistic and transphobic.

Wait, what? Am I missing something here? Oh, right! Niches, niche programming, niche development, learning curves, silenced voices, etc. etc. etc.

Unless they’re really well put together (and even then, it can be iffy), parser games are incredibly difficult to play. There’s not only an incredibly steep learning curve to play them, there’s also a steep learning curve to develop ones that aren’t crappy unplayable messes.

Choose Your Own Adventure style html based programming has apparently become more popular in the Interactive Fiction community if for no other reason than developing this sort of game is easier and has less learning curve. Hell, I developed my “Game” in MS Word, because after one look at Inform I was all “No time for this right now”. Anyway, accessibility has led to two things: a change in ratio of choice-based interactive fiction vs. parser-based interactive fiction, and an increase in ‘marginalized developers’ who want their voices heard.

Pretend I said “marginalized developers” in regular quotes. Then pretend I said it again with finger quotes. Who are marginalized developers? Developers who haven’t learned to develop except in user friendly software. Developers who are LGBT and/or minority.

So, there’s the complaint that X is not Y. Indeed X is not Y, but the fact that you are complaining is because you hate gay people and other minorities. Wait, what?

Apparently, Zoe Quinn, a figure who interestingly most of the IF community doesn’t seem to have heard of, and #gamergate cast their shadows here, too, because since Zoe’s game was a choice based IF title and Zoe is being persecuted, then your dislike of a certain game type is dislike of Zoe and all marginalized individuals? I don’t know! But maybe!

It interests me when I hear about marginalized voices in gaming, and often times these voices become marginalized because they don’t go into development. Now that they are in development using a simple to use dev tool, people who did not like that game style in the first place now do not like gay people/women either because I guess gay people/women are the ones using more?

Are LGBT underrepresented in parser-based text gaming? Are they underrepresented to a greater degree than they are overrepresented in other media? Everyone crapped themselves when it came out that most people’s impression of the percentage of LGBT people in America was wildly overestimated. So, is it possible that parser-based gaming is so incredibly niche a development field, and the LGBT dev community so small that a random sampling might just happen to include next to no LGBT devs? I don’t know, nor do I know if it matters.

Based on a few of the games I played in IFComp, I can see why some people might complain. A few of the games felt less like games (some didn’t even really have choices that I could perceive) than they did Dorothy Allison prose-poetry where you clicked a hyperlink to go to the next paragraph. Is it interactive fiction? Well, it’s fiction that you can interact with, but I can see how finding multiple examples of that when someone was really hoping for a Zork-fest one might find it aggravating.

In the meantime, I’m now facing Stereotype Threat. Why? Because Oh, Crap, I’m a minority, and I’m writing my choice-based Interactive fiction in a word-processor! Is it because I’m Latino? Is it because I have gender dysphoria? Is it because I smoked too much dope in college listened to industrial music? Or is it because that was the platform that I wanted to create in? I don’t blame somebody who wants to play Zork for not wanting to read what I wrote, and I think it has more to do with them wishing it was Zork rather than because I’m whatever niche ethno-gender identity.

This is probably bad to say, since I’m so “new” to the Interactive Fiction community, but after one quick peek under the hood, I’m sticking with my D&D homies.

But if any of you who came over on the forum sandwich feel like staying, by all means stay, and I hope you enjoy what you find here.

*: I won’t tell you which ones I played, but seriously, Creatures Such as We was the only one I liked; what does that say about me, since it was choice-based and not parser, but also not html-links?


Creatures Such as We (Interactive Fiction)

Thanks to Emily Short’s blog, I’ve happened upon IF Comp, an interactive fiction contest. I’ve only really had a chance to play one of the games through once so far, but it’s certainly been interesting. It’s called “Creatures Such as We” by Lynnea Glasser. In it, you are a tour guide/PR rep/hospitality steward on the moon who has just finished playing a game with a disappointing Gainax Ending and the next guests you’re in charge of herding are a bunch from the dev team of the game you’ve just finished. Ostensibly, you and one of them may fall in love after talks about the game, life, work on the moon, and (ugh) social justice issues. My playthru, I tried to maintain professional distance while making the characters feel comfortable and indulging a bit in the character’s fandom for the games the team has developed. I actually find most of the characters either naive or mildly disagreeable. Only as a PR spaceman, it’s my place to humor and indulge them so that they have a good time. Talking with the lady artist character who wants to make a game about micro-aggressions? Ugh. Does my character’s polite responses come across as flirting? Maybe! But does that happen in real life when I politely humor those who I don’t really like? Maybe! By the end, I found myself actively walking the line between being nice to the character who had become interested in me and not intentionally stringing them along. Does not just crapping on someone you don’t really like end up being worse than letting them get the wrong idea? Questions questions questions!

All in all, it’s a fascinating game that you’ll definitely play through several times.

Also, I know the player character works in space, but these socially conscious game devs need to check their “I’m on vacation in spaaaaaace!” privilege.

Lastly, the game checking your replays, locking you into an unwinnable loop reminds me a lot of Drakkengard, where you progressively unlocked worse and worse endings.

Minor Update (4/1/2015): Oddly enough, for whatever reason, Lynnea Glasser felt the need to remove both my comment saying that the game was amazing and congratulating it on its success in IF Comp.