IF for certain moods, and a couple of IntroComp games

This was originally just going to be a post about IntroComp — I wrote it up a little while ago and scheduled it. But the post as originally written now feels slightly tone-deaf; I’m feeling a bit emotionally drained and stressed by the past week in American politics, and I know a lot of my friends are too. So if you’re in a similar place:

If you could use something warm and fuzzy to play right now:

  • S. Woodson’s Beautiful Dreamer and Magical Makeover are gentle but engaging fantasy.
  • Many of Ryan Veeder’s works are playful in a cozy way, especially Dial C for Cupcakes.
  • Brendan Patrick Hennessy’s work is full of teenagers figuring out how to treat each other better, and is also frequently very funny. If you haven’t played the four-part Known Unknowns, now might be a good time for that.
  • Steph Cherrywell‘s games are full of young women winning out and having adventures.
  • Tentacles Growing Everywhere (Dietrich Squinkifer) is a short-ish game about alien puberty that I found pretty sympathetic.

If you need something smart and funny:

  • Reigns: Her Majesty is all about female negotiations of power, and the accommodations made to deal with it.

If you need something visceral about trauma and survival:

If you need something about the long game of politics and the role of women:

  • Liza Daly’s Harmonia is a story about utopianism and the experience of women, past and present.

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Life in a Northern Town (People + Places, Spring Thing 2018)

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From Spring Thing 2018, Life in a Northern Town is what sometimes gets called dynamic fiction as a subset of interactive fiction: a piece in which, for most characters, you’re never making a single choice that changes an outcome or modifies the shape of a narrative. (Brianna’s chapter, in inklewriter, is an exception: she has actual agency over who she chooses to engage with. But the vast, vast majority of this story is about people making dangerous decisions while the player has no opportunity to intervene or prevent them from doing so.)

For most of the elements, a majority of the clicks are click-to-continue options, and some of the sub-stories in the piece are presented in formats such as groups of images on Instagram, where branching would be very hard to arrange. Other elements are told in Twine or on WordPress, eight different people’s perspectives on the same story — though it’s not really trying for a mimetic effect here. It’s not ARG-ishly pretending to actually be the blogs of all these people. Here and there, images are included, especially on the Instagram segments, but elsewhere it’s almost all text, including the largest chunk of the story which is presented in unstyled Twine.

Still, it’s not the same story it would have been if it had been written into a book. The work of reading it is part of the point, for one thing. This is a story about labor, and the labor is recaptured in the way of reading.

For another, the dynamic-fiction presentation fractures the temporal sequence of scenes, especially in the Twine segments. Often there will be a short scene of dialogue between characters, and then clicking through a link will reveal another beat in the same conversation, another interaction, which might be chronologically before or after the first. It doesn’t really matter how they’re joined up, temporally. I never found this to be confusing. Rather, it gave me a sense that I was getting the overall impression of the interaction and then a couple of other key moments from that interaction, in the same way I might when going over a memory in my head. A handful of times the revealed secondary beat actually overturns the sense of the initial interaction.

So I can see reasons for the way it’s presented, but this is a long piece of work — took me some hours to read, and I’m a pretty fast reader — and by the end I would really have appreciated a more comfortable, less laborious reading experience. Other markers are missing, too: there aren’t chapter breaks, so sometimes the story ratchets forward to a new scene or location without an explicit division. There’s no progress indicator, either, which I really miss when I’ve got a multi-hour work on my hands.

Something like this stands or falls on the quality of its writing. In my initial encounter with the first of its linked stories, “Dangerous Work”, I was a little discouraged by the styling and structure — of course it’s not always the case, but standard, unformatted blue-and-white-on-black Twine sometimes goes with low-effort authoring. But I found myself continuing to read screen after screen, connecting with the luckless protagonist and her precarious life in and around Minneapolis.

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Spy EYE (The Marino Family, Spring Thing 2018)

Screen Shot 2018-04-15 at 1.06.05 PM.pngFrom Spring Thing 2018, Spy EYE is a continuation of the Mrs. Wobbles series (Mysterious Floor; Parrot the Pirate; Switcheroo). Like the earlier pieces in the series, it’s an Undum work that tells a part-fantasy, part-reality story about children in foster care. (I also highly recommend Lucian Smith’s guest post about Switcheroo.)

In this case, the protagonists are a Latinx brother and sister whose parents are missing, and the story revolves around going to look for them and rescue them.The story lets you play as either Juan (the older brother) or Ichel (the younger sister), and they have different takes on whether to expect their parents back any time soon. That touch reminded me of a few other stories where the choice of viewpoint character is meant to shed some light on a family situation — Stephen Granade’s Common Ground, most notably.

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IF Comp 2017, Belatedly

Screen Shot 2017-10-14 at 2.35.53 PMIF Comp is on, and you have another month or so to play and rate the games. This year’s selection of games is properly enormous — a record-breaking 79 entries. (The ceiling used to be in the region of 50, so this is a big jump.) That collection includes a rich selection of parser and choice-based games in many different styles; reappearances by some established authors alongside plenty of new names;  and three translations of Chinese interactive fiction, which I think may be a first for the Comp. I see lots of fantasy, horror, and SF as well as slice-of-life; not as much mystery as there are in some years.

If you want a look, here are some resources for you:

The Short Game podcast provides an introduction to the competition, including explaining what the competition is for people who aren’t familiar with it at all.

This post breaks down the games by genre and play style, while this subforum at the intfiction forum has discussion threads for many of the individual games.

Some blogs running reviews wind up on Planet-IF. This thread also allows people to link to their own reviews.

This year, the Comp allows judges not only to leave ratings but to add a few lines of feedback to the author. That’s a nice option if you have something private to say or don’t want to write a full review — authors very much value getting responses to their work — though please remember to be polite and constructive, and mind the guidelines for judges.

 

Spring Thing 2017: Balefires Burning

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Balefires Burning is a Twine story about a girl nearing the age of initiation in a village that practices witchcraft. She is in love with a young man who, though not a blood relative, is off-limits for other reasons of clan tradition. The text (as shown) is formatted like poetry, which initially felt a bit self-important, especially when I encountered dialogue arranged that way. This put me off the first time I tried the piece.

On a second try, I got used to the format as I read, and came to see it as representing the narrator’s ritual-inflected perspective on the world, where everything that happens is keyed into traditional practices and calendars. Meanwhile, the writing also accomplishes quite a bit else with its space — communicating the protagonist’s problem, introducing half a dozen or so additional characters, getting us familiar with the setting, suggesting the natural beauty of this world.

The piece feels very influenced by young adult genre fiction (and I notice the game is tagged as “teen fiction”). I found myself wishing for just a bit more edge to the fantasy in a couple of respects.

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