IF Comp Reviewing Info

It’s IF Comp time again, and you know what that means. I will be publishing some reviews of games!

To prevent spread of spoilers to judges who don’t want them, I’ve temporarily set my syndication to summary rather than having it post full-length content. I will also be following my standard reviewing template, which is to start with some general discussion, and then save spoilers (if any) for after an additional spoiler jump.

Anyone who submits something to IF Comp deserves a baseline level of respect due to going to the effort to make something and having the generosity to share it and the courage to invite feedback. I do my best to review courteously and constructively, and reveal applicable biases, such as having seen a pre-release version of something, or being a non-fan of the genre it belongs to.

Conversely, detailed criticism from me does not mean I hate you or hate your game; on the contrary, I am most likely to go into loads of detail about games that I thought had some merit or contributed in some way to our understanding of what interactive stories can do. Reviews can fill a lot of different functions, from providing guidance to players to cheerleading for new authors to feedback for old hands to self-revelation on the part of the reviewer. I probably do a little of each of those things, but what I’m most interested in is contributing to a conversation about interactive storytelling as a whole — a conversation that has always been strong in the IF community and that has only grown as the barriers around the trad parser IF community have come down a bit.

I review as many games as I can, subject to the following constraints:

a) it has to run on Mac OS X.

b) if it’s a parser-based game, it has to mention the existence of beta-testers somewhere I can find. (I do type ABOUT, HELP, CREDITS, etc., looking for this.) I waive this requirement for choice-based work, though I still think it’s best to have your work tested; it’s not impossible even for a Twine piece to contain bugs.

c) I don’t guarantee that I will play all of every game I review. Competition reviewing in the IF community is traditionally a bit different from reviewing in other contexts, and one of the differences is that it’s generally considered acceptable to leave a game unfinished and say why you didn’t get through it, much like producing a reader report on a slush pile.

Not finishing a game has historically happened for a wide range of reasons, some reasonably objective: the game took longer than 2 hours to play, I got stuck and there was no walkthrough (or following the walkthrough didn’t work), I ran into a major bug that either was or appeared to be game-breaking. There are also more subjective reasons that boil down to “I am finding this really unpleasant and I want to stop now.” Once I quit a game because it asked me to hit another character in a kind of domestic violence scenario, and it happened that I was in the middle of helping someone close to me leave an abusive partner and was not in a headspace to be roleplaying People Who Hit Loved Ones. Comp reviewing is not a commitment to blindly put yourself through anything and everything the comp sends your way.

In case you would like to ignore my reviews of uncompleted games, I will indicate whether I did or did not finish a particular work.

d) some years I cannot get through everything; I’m doing this in spare time around other full-time work, and writing long reviews of dozens of games is time-consuming stuff.

If you’re an author, it is fine, and not a violation of the public discussion rules, to email me about what I have written about your game. If you feel I’ve misrepresented a matter of fact, if you tell me privately and I agree with you, I’ll be more than happy to put up a retraction or correction. If you just want to chat more about what I said or ask for a private clarification, that is also fine.

However, please do not respond with a comment on the blog while the competition is still running. Doing so counts as public discussion and can get you disqualified, so if I notice an author comment on a review while the comp is running, I’ll assume it’s a rules misunderstanding and remove the comment for your own protection. Still, it’s better if you don’t get yourself into that situation to start with.

Likewise, I get one or two emails a year from authors who are sad/frustrated/anxious because I haven’t written up their game yet. Please don’t do that. I empathize with the desire for feedback. Seriously, I really understand. Back in the day when I used to enter the comp myself, it allowed no public discussion by anyone until the comp ended, so you had about six nail-biting weeks of radio silence and then on midnight of judging day suddenly there came a deluge of hundreds of K of Usenet messages that you stayed up all night reading…

However, pinging me to complain that I haven’t done your review yet doesn’t really accomplish anything other than to make me grumpy, especially if (as is often the case) I’m already burning some midnight oil to get this thing done. If I don’t get to it at all, there’s probably a reason that email would not resolve.

Best of luck, all, and thanks to the authors for making this happen! I’m really excited to see what this year brings.

3 thoughts on “IF Comp Reviewing Info”

  1. Emily, I just want to say that you’re my hero for all the work you do in the IF world – reviewing, writing, creating, thinking. Thank you for all of it.

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