IF Competition: Channel Surfing

Another IF Comp review, following my format for this comp. There is a cut, then any spoiler-free comments I have, and then spoiler space, and then more detailed feedback that assumes the reader has tried the game.

But first, we have some obligatory filler to try to make sure that the RSS summary does not accidentally contain any review. Filler, filler, la la la…

Okay. Here we go.

The implementation here is pretty sketchy, possibly because the author wasn’t really that interested in the physical setting as much as he was in making a bunch of satirical points about television and American politics (especially the present election). There isn’t a great deal to say about the implementation sketchiness (other than “test more!”), but I do have a few things to say about the political content.









What the content here suggests to me is a relatively young author. The cynicism is the cynicism of the young:

look the world is going to hell in a handbasket
things are worse than they have ever been before
can you believe the degeneracy of the present age

Of course, the world has been going to hell in a handbasket for as long as anyone can remember. Medieval writers are big with the news of coming apocalypse. Juvenal thought people of his day were the stupidest most venal most corrupt beings ever. Jewish prophets weren’t too pleased with their contemporaries. And yet, mysteriously, despite this lamented inexorable downward trend, I would much, much rather live in the present than in any previous era.

This isn’t to say that there’s nothing to dislike about the present day, or about the culture of reality television and game shows, or about modern US politics. But this presentation of the problems is so screamingly over the top that it’s neither funny nor especially telling. I am no fan of reality TV or mindless game shows, but neither do I think they’re bringing on the end of civilization. The presence of positive intellectual influences is more important than the absence of negative or neutral influences; I find it much easier to work up strong feelings about providing students with good teachers and good resources.

What’s more, the simplistic vilification of our political candidates is a cop-out. Yes, it’s true that American politics at the moment involves a great deal of spin, and a great deal of poll-testing of positions. It’s fair to wonder sometimes about whether a candidate’s stated positions have anything to do with his real opinions, or whether they’re synthesized purely for the campaign. It’s true that political advertising is often underhanded in its methods and that it involves obscene amounts of money, especially in a presidential election. It’s true that the media corporations are frighteningly powerful. And yet: if you’re a citizen of a democracy, and you take that position seriously, then you have a responsibility — to inform yourself as well as you can despite the flaws in the system; to make as good a judgment as you can; to vote; afterward, to try to hold your representatives accountable, whether you voted for them or not. That is hard work, and sometimes dispiriting, but it’s impossible to do at all if you’re preoccupied with rage at the process.

I felt that “Channel Surfing” was way too broad-brush even about the political positions I oppose, and I found it easy to dismiss the criticisms of the ones I do agree with.

So: if social and political satire is what you want to do in IF, great! The potential of interactive fiction as a persuasive medium is considerable, and currently underexplored. But your work will be more powerful if more carefully observed and more thoughtful about its message.

And it wouldn’t hurt to remember to make your chairs enterable, your metal cages openable, and your scenery objects extant.

One thought on “IF Competition: Channel Surfing”

  1. I pretty much agree with what you said about the political message of this game, and I agree entirely with the stuff about making it so that it’s actually possible to, well, interact with the fictional world.

    I also think there’s a massive built-in obstacle to success in this game’s concept. If the idea is that the PC is being forced to play pointless, stupid games, then it’s going to take a lot of clever work to get that across while still ensuring that the player is not playing a stupid, pointless game. It’s not necessarily an insurmountable obstacle—I think there are some masters of IF who could pull it off—but it certainly doesn’t make things any easier for a novice IF author. And in this case, of course, there really end up being two stupid pointless games: the ever-popular Guess The Verb, interleaved with several rounds of Type In All These Numbers In Any Order To Receive Chunks Of Exposition.

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