Tentacles Growing Everywhere (Squinky)

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Tentacles Growing Everywhere is the story of three young tentacled aliens who are just transitioning into their lifeform’s version of puberty.

The primary mechanic is one of editing posts: each of the three protagonists keeps a blog, and you’re in the role of helping them write, sometimes deciding what to take out and what to leave in place — which puts this story in perhaps a very small genre with a few other interactive epistolary pieces. I happen to be quite fond of this form, which explores both what someone is thinking and what they’re willing to write down about their thoughts, and Tentacles uses it to good effect as the characters fuss over how their friends might interpret their adventures, whether it’s a good idea to give one another advice, and so on.

These interactive passages are interspersed with excerpts from a “helpful” guidebook to puberty, written in the same faux-casual voice so often employed for this purpose. Here’s its guidance about being bullied:

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Overall the story is pretty linear: there are some choices to make, but I don’t have the impression that they have more than a local effect on the story (if there’s major branching available, I missed that fact). Even so, there’s a fair bit of text here — 77 pages, with your current page number clearly visible as you play. It’s a novella-sized interactive read, with each protagonist having their own plot arc, though they have a fair amount of interplay as well.

Each of the protagonists is struggling in some respect with their lifeform’s equivalent of gender — a sort of hormonal self-sorting into one of three categories — and their sexuality; the story relates some of the feelings around recognizing oneself as trans or genderqueer, and touches more lightly on the possibility of being entirely asexual. There’s a suggestion, too, that the gender-like-categories are supposed to correspond to introversion/extroversion or perhaps other aspects of social and intellectual functioning.

At the same time, Tentacles envisions a world where the gender-equivalent differentiation is something that the species has deliberately chosen to adopt for itself: at one time, the species was not so differentiated, but they decided through technology to regulate their citizens into different physical and psychological molds, the better to assign them to particular walks of life. Job sorting and gender sorting are both imposed from above based on some premise that this will make society more “efficient”, while in practice both prevent a full expression of who these individuals naturally are.

At one point the story offers us this bit of metacommentary:

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I’ve occasionally found some of Squinky’s other work to be a bit on-the-nose to be as emotionally effective as I wanted (see the last paragraph of my coverage of Life Flashes By, e.g., or my struggles with Impostor Syndrome). In contrast Tentacles really worked for me. Partly this is because the protagonists are speaking almost entirely from a position of confusion, allowing them to explore issues without seeming to preach about it. Partly it’s because the multiple voices made the work feel richer and more fictional. Partly I think Squinky’s simply gotten technically stronger at writing character voices and sketching individual incidents that convey personality. I related especially to the part of the narrative in which one of the characters goes to a movie with a friend, isn’t sure if the event is supposed to be a date, kind of doesn’t want it to be a date, and yet is weirdly disappointed when nothing date-like happens. Being annoyed by the irrational nature of my own crushes was a big feature of my own early adolescence.

Anyway, I would say Tentacles does fulfill the aim of being unique and original. Funny, charming, meaty enough to play for a fair length of time, attractive, not at all difficult; and underneath some general questions about why it’s to our advantage to let ourselves be sorted into any kind of box, whether that’s by gender or by job or by social/neurological functioning.

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