Thursday, October 02, 2008

IFComp '08 Reviews: Freedom

What you are reading is filler space for the RSS feed. What you are reading is not a review. What you are reading contains no spoilers. What you are reading contains no surprises. What you are reading is unbelievably boring. You should click the Read More! link below... unless you want to click this Read Less! link.

And through a lack of planning and observation I slightly under-estimated the RSS feed. But now all should be safe, click past the cut to read the full review.

Short Version: A very short and completely unremarkable game unless you happen to type "about".
Number of Beers Consumed to Cope with Social Anxiety Today: 7
Score: 3

I played entirely through "Freedom" (signed Anonymous) in approximately 15 minutes, all of which I was waiting for some twist. It never happened, there was no joke, no explanation. You start in a barely described, barely implemented apartment, then walk through a barely described and barely implemented city block and check items off a task list. The winning action was completely unclued. Then I read the "about" text:
"Freedom" is intended to create the experience of suffering from social anxiety disorder. It's a sort of "worst case scenario" in that everything a socially anxious person fears comes true; everyone yells at you, everyone hates you, no one cares if you're run down in the middle of the street.


If you're wondering why this game was submitted anonymously, read this note again
Which is neat, this is just the sort of thing IF could achieve wonderfully... except that none of that "worst case scenario" stuff really happens in the game, which leads me to believe that the author's writing was hyper-informed by her condition. The stuff that actually happened in the game happens to me nearly every day-- it's not a worst-case scenario, it's every day life. It is every day life presented so neutrally that no fear, or emotion at all is communicated. But that is what social anxiety is all about: being mortified by every-day encounters, and self-editing to the extreme to compensate.

This work is extremely minimalist, and I did not notice any bugs or spelling errors, but I know the author is capable of fleshing this out, and I really hope she does. If the very same idea were rewritten and the repetitious, maddening gibbering and fearful internal-monologue that really goes on when you are certain that every wayward glance, every exchange with a stranger, every movement is a testament to how horribly things are about to go... and the shape of the text turned into an equation ending in... well... nothing, nothing happens after all. That would perhaps be closer to what the author intended us to feel.

Please, anonymous author. Please, please please rewrite this and really show us the way you see the world, don't hold back. It may be scary, and people may say mean things about it, but it could be cathartic... and at least, then, people will have really heard you.


Gemma Bristow said...

My experience of the game was similar (although you expressed it better). I suffer from social anxiety but didn't recognize, until reading the author's note, that that was what the game was about.

My problem was that the game wasn't well implemented enough to convince me that the interactivity was being restricted on purpose. Being stuck in a room and unable to communicate with NPCs is characteristic of badly implemented IF games. I needed something more, to show me that it was the *PC* who couldn't communicate.

I've never played _Rameses_ by Stephen Bond, but that game's apparently a more successful experiment in the same vein.

Aric said...

Thank you for the response. You pointed out in fine detail a lot of the issues that really made it feel it like it was just railroaded and under-implemented in your review (which, by the way, I really like your site, it seems like good stuff and I look forward to reading more of it).

You pointed out quite astutely that it starts out like many first-IF coding exercises: in your apartment, and many of the actions a player might try produce default library responses or brusque little messages that tell you to ignore the scenery (I had actually missed that debug-mode was left on). For me this had the effect of me preparing for it to be that sort of game, and it was over before I had the chance to adjust that thinking.

As far as Rameses goes, while the PC in that game was indeed strictly incapable of changing the story or navigating significantly within it, his paralysis was tied to the story Bond wanted to tell, the PC ultimately was sabotaging himself by a mix of cowardice and romantic attachments to a past which was almost certainly significantly different than he remembered. It seems to me that the author of "Freedom", on the other hand, was merely attempting to relate a psychological experience instead of assembling a complete narrative. I am not sure to what extent that has been tried before, but it's the first time I've seen it completely outside the context of narrative in IF.

There were some details about this that told me the author really does have a sense about how she could use the medium to convey Social Anxiety in a way that could not be accomplished in static prose. For instance, I don't know if you noticed the roadkill in the middle of the (extraordinarily long! good effect) crosswalk. If you stop to look at it, the light turns green and you run back to the sidewalk. It's a neatly disproportionate moment, that one of the few examinable details of the scenery is a bit of road-kill, which is pretty grim, and stopping to examine it certainly leaves you with not enough time to get across the street. I wish there was more of that, or that it had been played to more effect.