Reviews by Sam Kabo Ashwell
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Dreams are difficult material for a writer; most often, literary dreams are just narrative laziness or cowardice, and resemble actual dreams very little. apple, however, attains a sort of Lynchian semi-coherence -- a faint shadow of the senseless power of actual dreams, but about as good as can be expected in a waking state.
The author was in his teens when he wrote this, and there's a definite adolescent feel to the whole thing: Tarantino-slickness, transgressive (though not porny) sex everywhere, the cool-meta vibe that Hollywood went frantic over in the late 90s and early aughts. It's very much a beast of that era, back when school shootings evoked controversy rather than resignation.
It's not much of a game; the interactivity is slight, more about engagement and focus-changing than about altering the course of events. There are one or two cool use-of-medium tricks in here -- as when the narrative turns into a TV script -- but they come across as throwaway and irrelevant. There are great big textdumps. At the time, to a sceptic, it would have looked like the logical extension of the malign influence of Photopia: short stories trivially dressed up as IF, cheap pressing of the audience's buttons. Formal purists, people who see the game/puzzle aspect of IF as essential, are basically going to hate this.
What's striking about apple is that it does a pretty decent job of representing a sense of the dreamlike: fractured hints of narrative, a looming feeling of inevitability, a lurching unease. It's not perfect at this, it's not even great; but it's good.
Related reviews: stiffy makane, theory, sex, aif, character portrait, guilt, art, freud
Nemesis Macana is one of those games, like 9:05, that takes less time to play than it does to describe, and which is better-described by playing it. So, the rest of this is going in spoiler-space, and you can come back once you've played it. Oh, right, and it's a Stiffy Makane game, so there will be penises. Consider this your penis warning.
(Spoiler - click to show)Formally speaking, it's not much of a game, and probably better thought of as a character portrait. The great majority of its text comes in the form of the Manifesto, a rambling and uninteractive document in which the fictional author (a sort of sexual Raskolnikov) lays out his tormented position on art, sex, and Stiffy Makane's rightful position at the pinnacle of IF, interlarded with philosophical references and worrying tangents about his girlfriend. The game proper is very short, linear and lightly implemented (albeit with a few gems of parser response here and there), but thick with entertainingly overwrought prose; its basic form roughly mirrors the original Erotic Adventures of Stiffy Makane.
Since The Undiscovered Country, Stiffy Makane has been a character whose purpose is to wade through a morass of references, to which he is blithely indifferent due to his monomaniacal (but totally unconflicted) focus on sex. The narrator of Nemesis, on the other hand, is heavily invested in Art and has a deep, conflicted loathing of sex. His name is a portmanteau of Shakespeare and Melville (the pale-assed Stiffy plays Moby Dick to Herman's lunatic Ahab); his sexual attitudes are a munge of Victorian propriety, wretched Freud (literal castration? Really?) and overblown, inconsistent towers of theory built upon these.
To a large extent, the game is a parable about the fundamentally neurotic nature of totalising theories, particularly of aesthetics or sex. It's also , like The Undiscovered Country, a critique of the basic crapness of AIF as pornography, the attitude Stephen Bond described as "an inner belief that eroticism, including auto-eroticism, is dirty and shameful; and this no doubt also accounts for the puerile and fucked-up attitude of so much of their Wankstoffe>". (You might also read it as arguing that it's senseless to try and make porn into something artistically valid; Schudspeer's porn stylings are ludicrously unarousing precisely because he's trying to make them worthy of the Bard. Bonus points for the use of the word 'vulva', by the way; there are worse terms for it, I ween, but none quite so horribly suitable.)
Much of my reaction was, oh man, are we even still talking about this? This isn't the 70s, so why do we get a fictional world that works according to Freud's stupid logic? Didn't that go out along with rectal thermometers turning you gay? (When first announced, it was widely assumed that the self-aggrandising Schudspeer was the sockpuppet of a troll; the portrait is too conspicuously hyperbolic to be plausible as sincere.) Then I recalled that we live in an age in which the political apparatus of the most advanced nation on Earth can be distracted for weeks debating whether contraception transforms women into slatterns of Beelzebub. So, okay, the past isn't dead, it's just really creepy. Creepier than Stiffy Makane.
The ending is interesting mostly because the choice you're offered is meaningless, a flip of the coin; either way, you're still the same fucked-up person and nothing has really changed. There's a direct reference to the art-or-love choice in Blue Lacuna, which the game implicitly rejects: in the loveless world of Schudspeer there can be no good art, no good sex, precisely because he's so committed to the idea of their necessary antagonism.
So: if ridiculously over-lyrical prose and fucked-up POVs amuse you, this is a fine way to spend the few minutes it'll take to reach its climax. Shakespeare it ain't, but an engaging creation nonetheless.
Related reviews: bondage, food, lesbian, bdsm, kink, pornographic, CYOA, AIF, sex
What you get out of Encyclopedia Fuckme is largely going to depend on your reaction to its particular kinks: chacun a son gout. Normally, the polite thing to do here would be to list the particular kinks involved, but this would probably be spoilerish; it's a fundamentally transgressive piece, and the tension of not knowing what shit it's going to pull next is a great deal of the point. Still: this is not one of those Anthropy games in which lesbian BDSM smut is merely a mild aesthetic theme. You have been warned. (As someone who is not all that into most of its kinks, I ultimately found it more charming than offensive or gross, but it is possible that the Internet has jaded me.)
Its purpose is clearly pornographic, in that it appears designed to get someone off. It doesn't take itself very seriously, and it aims to squick you out by running roughshod over your boundaries, but (contrast Stiffy Makane: The Undiscovered Country) these seem in service to its pornographic aims, not a negation of them. It's largely about how being forced outside comfort zones gets people hot. The writing is headlong, hard-breathing and frantic, throughout: a great many of the choices are unpunctuated speech in all-caps, and the protagonist's conflicting motives of horniness and self-preservation are... not exactly understated.
As CYOA goes, it is very linear; up until the end, basically all your options remerge into the same central track. Many of the choices conspicuously make no difference. There's more than one ending, but the mechanics that distinguish them are not conspicuous from play. Its game-like aspects, then, are all about the surface, about employing the promise of interactivity as a tool to foster engagement. There's obviously some content-form relation here, although this is getting to be a rather old saw: yeah, the game is controlling, we get it.
Related reviews: aif, pornography, how not to do it, discordian, sex, eris
Kallisti is the game I most love to hate. There are few pleasures in IF more deliciously guilty than introducing Kallisti to someone and watching their jaw drop. Most bad IF is just boring; it's rare to find one where every piece of text makes you flinch.
Synopsis: sophisticated-yet-rugged Gustav seduces sophisticated-yet-virginal Katie in a stilted and stalkerish conversation. In the second scene, they have pretentious, mildly kinky sex. The third scene, the strongest, shortest and least interactive, descends into the surreal.
It wants to be darkly significance-laden, cosmopolitan and erotic, something in a European arthouse idiom. To put things mildly, it doesn't work. In part this is because it's trying to do a lot of things that are quite difficult: nobody has succeeded, for instance, at making IF that works as both literature and porn (and most are too sensible to try). But it can't really be credited even as a heroic failure.
It tries to be dark and smouldering, and comes across as creepy and pathetic. It tries to be elegant, stylish and sophisticated, but feels flowery and sophomoric. When it tries to be deep it's laughable and when it tries to be funny it's flat. It routinely presents weary cliches as dazzling insights. The writing transcends the merely awful: there is something painfully wrong with almost every sentence. Here and there, as is usually the case when someone overwrites at length, there's a phrase that would be quite good in another context. But it's far more fruitful as a source for entertainingly awful quotations. ("I am called Katie, I work here, as you know.")
It's unlikely to function as pornography, either, even to people unbesquicked by the predator-and-virgin premise; the overwriting and the pseudo-intellectualism get in the way. Elements that could be handwaved in conventional AIF, like the unnatural-feeling seduction, look a lot worse when you're invited to consider them as literature. It's possible that it might appeal to someone who liked intellectualism as an aesthetic fantasy element but was utterly indifferent to its substance. But I'd guess that "pondering socio-sexuality as he grazed his teeth over her pert mounds" is a bonerkill for most people. And it lingers too long over physical details and uses too many AIF conventions to make it plausible that it's not meant to be porny.
It's technically competent and player-friendly, for the most part, although the pacing is far too ponderous in the first scene. (Long, awkward pauses make sense in conversation games like Galatea or Shadows on the Mirror; in a scene that's meant to be spontaneously witty and intense, they're a much bigger problem.) I've never made it past the first scene without exploiting one of the rare bugs. (You can repeatedly pat Katie on the ass, presumably raising her Seducedness score every time, until after a few dozen iterations she stops slapping you and falls into your arms.) The broader implied setting is evoked fairly well, even if the actual prose used to describe it is cringe-inducing. It does some sensible things to distinguish story text from parser responses, but manages to make this come across as a lazy affectation.
It frames itself as a Discordian work, but takes itself much too seriously to be credible as one. It's worth contrasting against Mentula Macanus: Apocolocyntosis, another sex-driven Discordian piece which tries to do rather less and accomplishes a great deal more.
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