Friday, October 9, 2015

IFCOMP'15: A Figure Met in a Shaded Wood, Michael Thomet

The subtitle of this is "A game about fortune telling and choices in video games." and the experience cleaves pretty close to it, except for the "game" part.

The commanding metaphor's tenor and vehicle are obvious, but I felt some ironic digs at other elements of video-games as well.

The thinly veiled Renaissance Italy where a vagabond wanders around, enters a clearing in the woods and has their fortune told, would probably be a reference to the thin fantasy settings that many RPGs take place. The choices, only three, leading up to the fortune-telling part in the clearing stretch rather comfortably on the "Self-interest - Altruism" axis, a perennial favorite of lazy RPG designers.

Now, I can't help but also wonder if that "video games" in the subtitle doesn't pointedly exclude text games. If so, the criticism I'm imagining would not be self-reflexively pointed at the very medium the author's chosen for it - and I think I'm okay with that. I believe that working interactively with text provides something much more fine-grained and suggestive to the people that are going to interact with it later, something that makes many graphical games with choices (especially the aforementioned RPGs) look like dull, clumsy slot-machines by comparison.

In the guise of the vagabond's life-path laid bare in the cards, AFMIASW also asks questions about the progression of a narrative where different choices would seemingly lead to different outcomes, including choices made apparently at random, like the manner in which the vagabond decides to shuffle the cards before the telling, and made simply, it seemed to me, to let the player see to what different outcome they could lead.

(There are lots of choices like that in many games, even choices meaningful by design, but made mindlessly by a tired/jaded/idly curious player who simply wants to see what more juice they can squeeze out of the game.)

Also, there's a certain, pretty creepily effective, metafictional moment at one point.

Now, I have a couple of criticisms, however. The entire experience is rather on the nose. It seems to care more about squarely making a point (directly or by implication) than doing that through engagement with the narrative. The subject matter is actually well-suited to the themes, but the writing was simply not up to par for me. There were a number of typos, like "sustinance" and "glistenes", also some grammatically and/or stylistically confusing sentences like these:

Looking down the path, the vagabond spies a light from the side of the path, flickering but warm. (you can't feel warmth from a light that you barely see) 
The vagabond walks along until they spy a figure, cloaked in shrouds and playing at something in their hands. After a moment's pause, the figure looks up, and a haggard voice emanates from the black void of the cloak. (playing at something? shrouds, plural? The haggard voice from a black void is also quite pushing the adjectival envelope, as well as the spying, again. I'm reminded of another game, not Tarot fortune-telling, that sort of spoils the atmosphere.)
 Too captivated to move, time seems to stretch out as the anticipation makes the vagabond lose nearly all sense of their self. (Grammatical agreement problem. Is time too captivated to move, or is it in fact the vagabond. Also, the whole sentence sort of trundles along rather heavily.)

These are symptomatic. Now, the whole thing is really short, so it's not that much of a problem, but still, it adds to my impression that AFMIASW doesn't really care about the narrative much. Still, I found some food for thought here.

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