IFComp 2016: Mirror and Queen

Spoilers follow the break.

Here’s another one that pushes at the boundaries of what we call “interactive fiction”. The whole thing is basically one big dialogue prompt, a table of inputs and replies presented as a divination. As the queen, you ask your reflection about whatever you want by typing in topics, and it replies in riddles, flowery yet terse:

Circumscribe a demon with silver. Bait it with blood. Your grimoires are instructive in their steps. Mages labored for ages to construct the arcane alphabet whose letters burn and blister on the pages in your library. Alchemic bonds distilled. They thought they could imprison their familiars behind glass. O Queen, you are wiser. You know that what you buy is but an evening’s audience.

An impressive assortment of inputs are handled, although I’m pretty sure it takes advantage of oracular vagueness to cheat a bit. And although you’re free to type whatever you want, the replies tend to push the conversation in certain directions: power, magic, darkness, death, beauty. After a few exchanges, it becomes clear (if you haven’t already figured it out from the title) that this is a dark revisionist take on the story of Snow White, told from the villain’s viewpoint, and this suggests additional topics to ask about. (Is there something about that story that inspires dialogue system experiments?)

The weird thing is that nothing happens. You don’t advance the plot. There’s no goal to pursue, no secret sequence of topics that ends the game in victory. You just ask questions and get replies, which have no effect. Some (all?) topics can provoke multiple different responses, but the author discourages repeating queries to the point of exhaustion by simply refusing to accept the same input twice in a row. And that’s pretty much it for structure. After fifty turns, regardless of what’s been said, the evening’s audience arbitrarily ends and the fairy tale resumes, an ending that feels less like an ending and more like a signal that you’ve received the recommended dosage of this experiment and can safely move on without insulting the author. There are other goal-free IF art pieces out there, environments you explore purely for exploring’s sake, but this one is peculiar for providing a story-free experience that happens in the middle of a story.

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