ParserComp 2022: Kondiac

I recently learned the term “database fiction”. It refers to works like Her Story or Portal (Brad Fregger, 1986) where the player’s main activity is querying a database for more story.

Kondiac is the smallest work of database fiction I’ve ever seen, consisting of “about 9 different pages” according to the author. Each page is an image of a document, mostly containing text with names or other notable keywords you can enter into a search bar to pull up more documents. (I’d be very surprised if it’s actually parsing the input at all.) There’s no definitive ending; you just stop looking for keywords when you’ve satisfied yourself that you’ve learned an Alaskan town’s grisly little secret, which, if you’re genre-savvy enough, could happen the moment you enter the game’s title and see the words “butcher shop”.

And that’s honestly a bit of a problem. The game starts with just a prompt and a photo of a building, with no instruction or orientation to let you know what kind of game it is or what you’re supposed to be doing. By the time you know what you’re looking for, the game is over. Can we really call it a mystery when answers precede questions in the audience’s mind?

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