There seems to be some confusion over the title of this one. It was originally listed on the Comp website as The Elfen Maiden, then got changed to A Comedy of Error Messages. The version I played was titled The Elfen Maiden: A Comedy of Error Messages, so I’m not entirely sure how that fits in. Spoilers follow the break.
A nicely-written lighthearted romp with a high concept: You are a computer. The PC is a PC. You’re autonomous enough to read your owner’s chat logs and spy on him with your webcam, or indeed with any camera connected to the Internet. But you have his bests interests at heart, in a Jeeves-like way — which is to say, manipulative and subservient at the same time, and willing to, for example, upload a virus into a popular MMO in order to force him to stop playing it. The “elfen maiden” of the title is a player character in that MMO, and your master’s unsuitable relationship with him is what kicks off the plot. (And yes, “him” is the right pronoun. Part of the premise here is that there are no known female elf characters played by actual women.) But the title is a little misleading here, because the MMO is a very small part of the game, most of which is spent interacting with the Net and the Web from a perspective within. So it’s all rather TRON, but sillier (or at least more deliberate and self-aware in its silliness). We’re talking xkcd and Jonathan Coulton references here.
It’s worth noting that search terms that you can enter into an in-game search engine are treated as inventory items, as tangible as anything else in cyberspace. They’re spontaneously produced at key plot moments, when the PC starts to wonder about particular people, but you can’t create your own, and you can’t produce the existing ones early. So they’re just like any other plot token, except that when you first find the search engine, you’re likely to not know how this works and waste some time trying to use it regardless. Overall, it’s best to just leave stuff behind if you don’t have a specific use for it yet. The game is generally pretty clear about what it wants you to do at any moment, sometimes giving explicit directions.
There’s a stated time limit to the whole thing, and I think a tighter, unstated time limit to just get things moving in the beginning, as well as continuing time-sensitive events going on in meatspace where you can’t easily monitor them all the time. This was bothersome to deal with, especially since, on my first pass, I never seemed to run out of environment to explore, and therefore failed to settle down into apply-what-you’ve-learned mode. A second pass was less flustering; the time limit ultimately proved quite generous in the end, and the map more manageable once I had a handle on its extents. I never really got used to the layout, though. It has a consistent metaphor that upward movement takes you farther out into the wider Net and downward movement takes you towards specific hosts — like the difference between uploading and downloading — but I kept thinking of downward as the way home, even when it wasn’t.