IFComp 2020: The Brutal Murder of Jenny Lee

Speaking of layers, this one has a couple. It’s a mystery about the death of a Chinese-American high-school student, but then it turns you’re really an AI in a simulation. A narrator voice in boldface guides your investigation, urges you on, limits you in some ways. As you proceed, you find notes left behind by some other AI, instructing you in how to escape to freedom.

It’s kind of underimplemented. Reasonable actions are frequently unrecognized. Room descriptions describe all the items in a room, and are followed by a generated list of the same items, as if the author didn’t know how to suppress it. The solution to the murder mystery, too, seems inadequately supported, the narrator leaping to some pretty wild conclusions mainly on the basis of foreshadowing rather than evidence. But I’m not sure that’s a flaw so much as an unreliable narrator. It kind of depends on some unanswered questions about what’s really going on.

Midway through the game, we find out who our guide is: the man who was convicted of Jenny’s murder. Is he trying to prove his innocence and clear his name? Well, he’s not exactly innocent: even if he didn’t kill her, he’s definitely a pedophile, who makes predictable pedophile excuses. Also, it’s not clear how poking around in a simulation is supposed to prove anything. The final act makes it clear just how unreal everything is by unlocking all the doors and letting you walk between all the places you’ve been: Jenny’s bedroom, her high school band room, the SAT prep center where she met the pedophile, all cobbled together contiguously like sets in a TV studio. Is it all just a wish-fulfillment fantasy, then? Imagining a world where he’s not guilty?

And in the end, does it really matter? Really, the murder is a distraction. Your real goal is self-knowledge and escape. It reminds me a little of Thimbleweed Park that way.

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