Windhammer Prize 2015: After the Flag Fell (Felicity Banks)

The 2015 Windhammer Prize is now running, which means you can download and play any of the 16 PDF gamebooks entered; if you play a reasonable number of them, you may also judge the competition by submitting a list of your top three favorites. (Full details are at the judging site.)

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After the Flag Fell tells the story of the life of Peter Lalor, an Australian rebel and politician of whose life story I was embarrassingly ignorant before playing this game. As a piece of historical fiction, it’s pretty light: it serves up an intense-ish scene of battle and wounding and possible amputation at the beginning, but then backs off into a much more summary mode for recounting subsequent events, while allowing very wide branching of Lalor’s life. You can get married or not; you can enter politics (as the real Lalor did); you can run away and hide among Aboriginal peoples. One of the more sustained exchanges after the initial battle involves your romance with another character, and this is portrayed in a highly stylized fashion.

Even for a Windhammer book, this is a short piece. It uses only 63 of its permitted 100 nodes. Of those one is a choiceless introduction, one is a bit that isn’t reachable from anywhere and exists (I think) only to throw people off about how the romance plot might go, and four are easter egg nodes that contain authorial commentary. Brevity is fine, but in this case it also reflects a kind of oversimplification in the story’s later stages. Though the opening of the book suggests that it wants to explore why Lalor behaved the way he did and his effect on Australian history, the segments that deal with the political realities of his age are the briefest and least developed. For example:

“Forgive my impudence, sir, but are you sure you want to prevent women from voting? Your people elected you because they believed you would uphold democratic values.”

I refused to risk the good life I had. Letting women vote was too much.
Go to Page 38.

Under the circumstances, I signed the bill to let women have the vote.
Go to Page 26.

Presenting the situation so starkly gives little sense of how the contemporary people felt about this issue, what ideology (justified or not) might have supported each side, how the politicians were motivated, and how Lalor compared with his colleagues on the issue. So we’re left really only with our own inclinations on whether female suffrage is a good thing, and some of these choices felt to me a bit like “Do you like sexism Y/N?”

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