The Utopia Arcology is essentially a city in a tower, and like many urban games, Inside Woman has you tour the city and all it has to offer by starting in the slums and working your way up. There’s a point where you have to earn some money to progress, so you wangle a job slinging pizza. This lasts for one shift: once you’ve had the experience of solving pizza-serving puzzles, there’s no reason to revisit it. It’s time to move on up to the museum and the university and suchlike. Paying your dues to increase your status — it’s like a highly abbreviated American dream, except that you’re doing it to destroy the system from within.
Just in case you forget this, your sidekick makes occasional heavy-handed comments reminding you how evil everything around you is. I haven’t mentioned the sidekick yet: it’s the disembodied voice of a teenage boy, code-named NANCI, or Nanci for short. We’re told in the beginning that Nanci is an agent assigned to monitor you via a nanomechanical transceiver you’ve ingested. He can see through your eyes, hear through your ears, think perverted thoughts during your gratuitous shower scene1 — he’s a lot like the player, in fact.
As a wisecracking commentator with no physical presence2, Nanci unavoidably reminds me of Arthur, the AI sidekick in The Journeyman Project 2: Buried in Time. I hated Arthur. Let me tell you about my experience with Arthur, and how it was optimized to maximize hate. In JP2, you don’t start off with sidekick Arthur: you have to solve a sequence of puzzles to obtain him, and once you have him, he’s essential to solving other puzzles. I failed to notice a hotspot in the game’s hub that was supposed to lead to encountering him for the first time. Consequently, I played as much of the game as it’s possible to play without him — maybe 1/3 of the game can be explored this way — then got stuck. (So already my first encounter with him is associated him with a bad experience.) When I finally got him, I was horrified at how he transformed the game. I had been enjoying the quiet, lonely atmosphere. I didn’t want it sprinkled with stupid jokes and insultingly unnecessary hints.
Nanci is better than that, though. He seldom speaks spontaneously — just on important plot developments, which, at the rate I’m going, occupy a small minority of my playtime. Usually he’s silent until you explicitly request information about something, which you do by simply focusing your attention on it with the “focus on” command. It’s like a third alternative to “examine” and “search”! I don’t think I’ve seen anything yet where Nanci yields essential new information, but he does at least provide the guidance of an additional point of view, like examining things with Poet in Suspended.
He doesn’t seem to take much advantage of being on the outside, though — you’d think he could look up information not available to you, contact the relatives of your fellow citizens, things like that. Maybe he’ll get to do that at some point, but so far, he might as well be inside the arcology with me. Which makes me a little suspicious. Maybe we’re headed for a third-act twist here. Maybe the nanomachines I swallowed aren’t a transceiver at all, but an AI. Alternately, maybe he’s just a delusion. The whole mission briefing was told in flashback — it could easily be a false memory. Maybe, just maybe, Alice Ling is nothing more than a dangerous madwoman who hears voices in her head, voices that tell her that Utopia is evil and must be destroyed. But that doesn’t explain where she gets her martial arts skills from.
- I say “gratuitous shower scene” because that phrase has become an idiom, but I suppose it’s not really gratuitous here. It occurs when you go through decontamination on entering the arcology, so it’s not out of place. The clothing you bring with you is removed and a standard-issue Utopia jumpsuit issued standardly in its place, which seems like it’s done at least as much for its psychological impact as for public health issues, and the moment of nudity also seems like an important part of the experience as well — the almighty security guards want you to leave your first encounter with them feeling vulnerable and humiliated. You could even invoke myth here: like Inanna entering the underworld, she gives her garments to the threshold guardian before descending into the perils below. Still, none of this makes it less pervy. [↩]
- I leave it up to the reader to decide what this phrase modifies. [↩]