IFComp 2020: The Copyright of Silence

Here we have a fictionalized account of the origin of John Cage’s 4’33”, the famous musical piece consisting entirely of silence. As a guest in Cage’s house, you engage him in conversation as he talks about the concept of silence and reads you excerpts from a book he’s writing on the subject.

At first, I didn’t really understand what the work’s attitude towards Cage was. Ultimately, it’s satire, but it doesn’t directly make fun of Cage’s words or ideas, presenting them with genuine quotations when possible. Possibly the author felt they were ludicrous enough taken as-is. At most junctures in the conversation, you have three options: a respectful or even sycophantic response, a rude and mocking response, and saying nothing. Yes, for once, the silent option isn’t just a default to deal with a lack of a decision, but is meaningful and thematic as silence. Whether Cage takes your silence as a polite or rude varies with context.

Anyway, there’s more to it than just dialogue. The house has four rooms, intriguingly shown all at once in a sort of schematic view, four boxes containing text. Your choices are listed in the one representing your current room, while the other rooms merely show the current locations of Cage, his dog, and his parrot, the latter two of which wander about Melbourne-House-Hobbit-style. The dog will make you sneeze if you’re in the same place, and the parrot will attack you viciously, making you scream — things that become relevant when you find the stopwatch, which tells you how long you’ve managed to maintain your silence. Even with that statistic, it isn’t until the epilogue that you find out why you’re timing your silences: if you manage to keep mum for four minutes and thirty three seconds, you can make the legal case that Cage got the idea for his famous piece by hearing you perform it.

This is very difficult to do. Too difficult, in my opinion. This is a game that’s meant to be played repeatedly until you get it right, but even so, it both relies on the player’s willingness to experiment and, through time limits and restrictions on what you can do when, does its best to keep the player from experimenting.

Still, bonus points for including a music toggle in the UI that has no audible effect, presumably for turning the silence on and off.

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