IFComp 2023: Dysfluent

Ah, one of my favorite themes: failures of communication! This piece shows us a mundane day in the life of a person with a severe stuttering problem. I suppose it can be put in the same broad category as Depression Quest, down to the way it plays with links: it doesn’t gray them out the way DQ famously does, but any option that involves talking gets colored green, yellow, or red, depending on how difficult the player character anticipates it will be to get the words out.

It’s a good conceit, providing a general pattern for nicely concrete and informed choices. But I found I grew annoyed with the game very quickly, because of one thing: the use of timed pauses. I’m starting to regard this capability of Twine as a bug, like support for the BLINK tag in old browsers. But I’m not just being grumpy about something I generally dislike here: even if you don’t mind pauses in general, you’ll probably agree that, like any feature, it can be overused. By any standard, this game uses way, way too many pauses. It’s singularly determined to not let you just read the words fluently. But wait, isn’t that in keeping with the game’s themes? It’s all about the sensation of blockage in verbal communication. Maybe the impatience the player experiences with its text output is a deliberate effect.

But that doesn’t make it good. The game encourages replay to make different choices and try for Achievements, which strikes me as a particularly bad place to have pauses, making you wait to see text that you’ve largely already seen. But after my first playthrough, I discovered that you can disable the pauses — not in the game’s “Options” menu, where I’d be more inclined to look for such a feature, but under “Extras”. I strongly recommend turning it off from the get-go for the best experience, even if it isn’t the experience the author intended.

If the author reads this post, they’ll probably be disappointed about how it’s dominated by discussion of the text pauses. This is only fair: I was disappointed about how they dominated the experience of the game.

1 Comment so far

  1. Jack Brounstein on 24 Oct 2023

    If you found the pauses in Dysfluent annoying, wait until you get to My Brother; The Parasite.

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