IFComp 2016: Rite of Passage

Spoilers follow the break.

This is a fairly brutal look at childhood. It takes the form of a series of diary entries written by a schoolboy over the course of four years, from the ages 10 through 13. Each entry ends in a choice, or occasionally two choices in succession. The choices don’t always correspond to decisions on the part of the player character — sometimes you just decide how the PC felt about something that happened. That’s because what you’re really choosing here isn’t primarily the sequence of events, but what kind of person the PC is becoming.

Your choices affect personality along several axes: how friendly you are, how confident, how gullible. These variables aren’t exposed to the player until the very end, though, and even then just barely. Sometimes, especially toward the end, options that go against the personality you’ve created are crossed out and unselectable, like in Depression Quest, letting you know what the full range of possibility was while limiting you. Sometimes I was even reduced to just one thing I could do.

The story takes advantage of this. The limitation of your choices reflects the fact that the PC isn’t in control of his life, and doesn’t choose the influences on him. The story starts fairly gentle, making friends and pursuing your hobbies, but as time goes on, your classmates become progressively more and more horrible towards each other, and there isn’t really anything you can do about it. In one branch, a girl is even driven to suicide. (Possibly this happens in all branches, and your choices only determine whether or not you’re still keeping a diary when it happens.) Your decisions determine where you stand in this situation, but there don’t seem to be any good options: basically, you’re either a bully or a victim. And you don’t even have absolute control over which. On my first play-through, I was distraught to discover that, without intending it, I had thrown in my lot with the bullies, and any options to even as much as sympathize internally with the victims were crossed out. To my mind, this is a fairly compelling piece of interactive rhetoric, illustrating how people can become evil without consciously intending to do so.

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