This is Ludonarrative Scramble! Over the course of a week, I play a handful of (mostly) free, small, indie narrative games (visual novels, IF, text adventures, etc), and talk about them.
This week’s theme: in honor of the 4th of July, games about the American experience
Dev: Mike Ren
Genre: slice-of-life; conversation sim
My Playtime:~5 min; 2/? permutations
When I came across this one, I put it at the top of my “I need to play this,” simply because I think it’s super important to purposefully seek out media created by people with different racial perspectives than your own, race in particular So yes, I very much wanted to play a game about the Asian-American experience.
This one was extremely effective as an interactive piece at distilling an experiential microcosm. The nature of the writing and the way the inner monologue was conveyed through the choices was exceptional at conveying this wasn’t just one conversation. It’s lived experience. Very simply executed and done extremely well, and I’m glad I found it and played it.
Dev: Masha (spellsongs)
My Playtime: ~5 min; 5 playthroughs
I only needed to spend a few minutes with this one to get an idea of what they were going for, and I wasn’t actually going to do a little write-up, at first, because there’s not really a game there. However, as I got to thinking about it, there’s a really interesting skeleton in place. The idea of playing as a demographic without knowing what that demographic is, just to find out at the end could be very interesting, and it seems like the team did a hell of a lot of work on the research side of the game. I know it’s a couple years old, at this point, but if this little team ever decided to come back together to make a fuller game, I think they could do something interesting if they really dived into simulation programming.
Dev: Rachel Burton and Klew Williams
Genre: slice-of-life; text parser
My Playtime: ~30 min
Text parsers can be a really arduous thing to make, so I try to be kind to small teams. This one, however, seems fairly well-constructed once you get the hang of the scaffolding. It looks like they listened to playtesters and release testers and made changes later.
It’s non-linear, drifting you through memories as they come to you, giving you a lovely ethereal quality to everything. You sort of just float.
The one downside to this sort of stream-of-consciousness approach, though, is without the structure of even a semi-linear narrative, it’s hard to know whether you’ve read everything. I don’t know if there’s an “end.” I haven’t quite found it yet, getting caught in some loops, instead. I feel like there’s one clue that might break the loops, but I can’t quite get it to trigger. I don’t know if my assumptions are wrong, there’s something I’m missing, or it’s a flaw in the story.
Either way, this is a very lovely almost journal-like memoir of small town culture and those early feelings of “not right ness” so prevalent in the queer experience.
Genre:drama, slice-of-life; interactive fiction
My Playtime: ~10 min; 2/? endings
Far be it from me to police someone else’s life or perception of the world, but I think it’s almost too dramatic in its portrayal of poverty. Yes, one bad thing can have the ripple of effect of making every other subsequent thing fall apart, but I don’t feel like this one walks the line between a nuanced examination of systemic disenfranchisement and misery porn very well. While I recognize that I’ve been lucky enough to never have lived under the poverty line, I still know what not having money is like, and this doesn’t feel totally authentic to it. I feel like it would benefit from reference to or inclusion of all those tiny, small, needling, incessant things that make poverty so pervasive instead of focusing on one no-good, very bad day.
A case of interesting idea with meh execution, in my opinion, that I actually wouldn’t mind seeing a more robust version that accounts for a more diverse vision of poverty.
Dev: Greg Buchanon et al
Genre: drama, horror?; illustrated interactive fiction
My Playtime: ~1 hr 10 min
I sat on this one, cogitating for a few days, deciding how I feel. I think there’s something tricky about building a story so closely around current events. You know the ending, so the game is carried on the back of the journey. And I just don’t know if it did that for me.
It was a good game. Well-written, very polished, solid art. I don’t want to give the impression that it’s not a good game. Glass is adequately skeezy, the prose has a wonderful sense of poetry, and the narrative, at its core, is a pretty accurate reflection of the modern American ethos. I think where it gets weird for me is in the main character Abigail’s actions in the present. You’re given the ability to make decisions on her behalf which, in this game’s case, is almost a detriment to player immersion. I crafted a character, through decisions, that wouldn’t have found herself in this situation to begin with. I never felt like she ever really believed in what she was doing, even from the superficial angle provided, so whatever disillusionment she felt came across more like that idiot that goes into that haunted house. Like what did you think was going to happen? I found myself really struggling to empathize with her for large sections of game.
The consequences for my direct actions never felt like they rolled out in a distinct way in my play-through. I was constantly defiant, and it never seemed to matter. There was no risk. The text told me, in a way, that her career was at stake, but I never felt like it was. The few times when I thought there was going to be a tangible, dramatic consequence for my actions, it just kind of fizzled.
So while it presents itself with the tonal trappings of horror, it feels more like a David Mamet melodrama. Which isn’t a bad thing, just not what’s on the box. I liked it enough to push through a whole playthrough, but I think I was more enamored with what I imagined it could have been than what it was.