IFComp 2012: Living Will

And finally I get to the browser-based CYOA stuff, but not yet to the Twine: this one’s in Undum, same as last year’s third-place winner, The Play. Spoilers follow the break.

I’ll give this work one thing: it’s formally inventive. The basic idea here is that it’s the memoirs of a tech magnate at the end of his life, framed as a reading of his will and addressed to his heirs. This is a man who moved to the Congo to manage his tantalum mines, and so the story is one of neocolonialism, drastic wealth disparity, and the atrocities of petty warlords. After every couple of paragraphs, you get to click on bits of the text to indicate where the story should go next. As such, no one playthrough yields the whole story. In particular, you get to choose near the beginning which of four characters the listener is, and from that point onward, you get a portion of the story centered around the protagonist’s relationship with that character.

It has roughly the same format as Portal (1986) and Analogue: A Hate Story: the guided search into things past, where nearly all the story is backstory, and you effectively have no way of interacting with the world beyond asking questions. But in those precedents, there was a clear sense of intent behind your clicks. Here, it’s often not at all obvious what a particular hyperlink is supposed to indicate, so you wind up just kind of iterating through the options. Add to this the fact, common to all these backstory games, that you can’t actually affect what happened in the past, and the story doesn’t really feel meaningfully interactive at all. As much as I might like the story underlying it, this is the sort of CYOA that leaves me wondering what the point is, and whether it might be better told as static prose.

I suppose that choosing a character at the beginning is supposed to foster identification with that character, but I didn’t find that very effective. Probably this has something to do with the fact that the player’s chief goal is to learn a backstory that the character should largely already know — Analogue and Portal both sensibly put the player into the role of someone who starts with no idea of what’s happened. But I suppose this can’t be all there is to it, because learning the PC’s backstory over the course of the game is pretty common in IF. Whatever the reason, when the game gave me the opportunity to make legal assaults on other characters’ inheritances at the end of each run-through, I was completely uninterested. I just didn’t care who got the biggest slice of the pie. The interesting part was learning what had passed beforehand.

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