Writers Are Not Strangers

cover (16)

The world is going to end. No-one knows exactly when, but the meteors are definitely coming. Alix, blogger and writer, is going through a tough time.

This is a mid-length choice game. I played through three times and reached three different endings. I’m sure there’s more to see. Each play though took me around 30 to 45 minutes or so.

One of quiet but very significant achievements of this piece is how it maintains player engagement and demands replaying. The start of the game differs significantly. I saw 2 different starts – I wonder whether there are more. The vast majority of choice games will have a pre-amble that the player must re-read each time – it discourages re-plays. This game is clever enough to present Alix’s story afresh right from the outset.

In addition, even though I’m sure it’s done slightly randomly, while there are pinch-points in this game, and the major plot beats still occur, each play through feels fresh. Even on my third time through, I was still seeing alternate pathways and different aspects of the story.

Another interesting aspect of the game is in the choices themselves. While most choices are phrased in the usual way. Alix do this/think this/say this – occasionally they break through the fourth wall and address the reader directly: ‘get on with it!’ or ‘I don’t understand what’s going on with the stories.’. At one point, Alix herself needs the person who watches her to enter some text in the box. It’s all very meta, but, unfortunately (at least for me), it doesn’t completely work and resulted in a confused experience as the reader.

There is a a secondary aspect to this also – as the reader we are presented with fragments of Alix’s writing and expected to rate them – these ratings are acknowledged in the text throughout the game. It’s an interesting way of maintaining player engagement. I want to replay to see the results of my ratings. I play through twice more – firstly giving Alix all 10’s. The second time being pretty brutal, giving her all 1’s. Just to see what impact this has.

The ending I get is different, but I’m not entirely sure whether these significant branchings are resulting from these ratings I make or are as the result of random choices somewhere in the script. I can’t really link the 3 endings I’ve got so far with any of the actions I’ve made. And that’s a problem, I think. I’m guessing that the game wants to make a connection between the reader’s response to the stories, their feedback to the author and the author’s continued actions – but it’s not clear.

As per the title, the text seems to be exploring, at least in a small way, the interaction between reader and writer as well as between the reader and protagonist.

If I have a gripe it is that I am playing the game more for the experience of the structure and the clever branching possibilities. To be honest, I don’t really care all that much about Alix – she comes across as a little….self-involved, and the fact that there’s going to be a meteor which may or may not destroy the entire earth hardly seems to be acknowledged.

This game has something interesting to say about narrative engagement. I see it’s part of a thesis around this. Excellent. It deserves more exploration. 8/10


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