Reviews by Andrew Schultz

IFComp 2020

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You Couldn't Have Done That, by Ann Hugo

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Autism and helplessness, November 17, 2021
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: IFComp 2020

YCHDT's blurb spells things out pretty quickly. The title, however, is more fungible. And I wondered: there were so many ways to say it. Was the main character saying it to someone else? Were they hurt? Impressed? Was someone else saying it to them? Did the main character lash out unacceptably? Things seemed ugly any which way. I pictured a hugely dramatic resolution at the end. There was none, and I think YCHDT worked better without it.

Because as it turns out, there's another possibility, namely that (Spoiler - click to show)you don't feel able to do what you want to do, or what other people would have no problem doing, or what people expect of you, and people don't quite get why you can't.

This is built up through the story. It's your first day at a new job. You're given relatively remedial tasks (which you enjoy, and which some people might find weird you enjoy) and introduced to your coworkers. One is actually friendly, and one is surface-friendly, focused on "fixing you up," making you more "presentable," "exciting," etc. I've had this from people even though I'm not autistic (oh hi, gun nuts in my horrible old Boy Scout troop 2 years younger than me,) and there's no way to push back without seeming confrontational, and you suspect they just have more experience in a shouting match. They'll say "you need to ..." without asking what you'd ultimately like, or want. Perhaps they're just being oblivious, and it takes a lot more data to consign them to "seriously not worth listening to" territory. Of course there are things that let you blow someone off immediately, but bad actors don't have to be a genius to train themselves to avoid that. So they make themselves minimally tolerable and have something prepared if someone does lash out. We learn to deal with this as we grow older.

But it's hard to! We make a lot of bad guesses, whether or not we are autistic. And I can't speak scientifically whether autism means you start with more to learn, or it's harder to learn and retain what you learn. Just--being stuck in a situation where someone says "I was trying to help" and wasn't, or if they ask you an obvious question and you're too frozen to answer, maybe because you're worried they have a cruel follow-up, hurts. Maybe you realise there's a Hobson's Choice and it's tough to pick the less awful way. It doesn't have to happen often. But having it happen all the time must hurt terribly, whether or not people say "Gee, don't you learn?" whether it's due to actual learned helplessness or autism.

As someone who just didn't get the power games people played with dialogue and was conscious of that, this struck a nerve. But I was able to bounce back from this reading and some memories. I've had my share of people I had to back away from because their jokes are superficially friendly, or they start with self-deprecation to "justify" insulting someone later. Or they, being a bit narcissistic, expect constant brief verbal encouragement to continue their long rant.

And it's weird. The best response may be "oh" and look away. But it also may be the worst response. And the difference may be subtle gestures you're not aware of. I certainly felt, well, the narrator should be able to bounce back from the violations of personal space, etc., from their coworker. They deserve to. But they didn't. And this was all done with a lack of melodrama. It says a lot beyond autism to me, as it's about helplessness in general and not wanting to let people spoil your victories, big or small, that you should enjoy and be proud of.

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What the Bus?, by Emery Joyce

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
Weird public transport in real life: bad. In twine: good., November 16, 2021
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: IFComp 2020

In real life, we don't want our public transport to be exciting. We want it to be there and relatively on time. And in Chicago, it is. Just as in Boston, it's not perfect, but you can access arrival times and expected trip times on your phone. Train and bus routes intersect. You don't want to make too much contact with your fellow bus riders, except to ask if that book they're reading and you've heard about is any good. And so forth.

Yet what with COVID, I think I've had serious withdrawal. I never particularly enjoyed driving, especially in traffic. On the bus or train, there's time to sit and think of weird stuff or even look for something new on that route you've been down a hundred or even a thousand times before. Or there's that fear (or, if life's been particularly boring, hope) a three-transfer trip out to a suburb you can only locate on a map will get very, very weird indeed. There's that wonder, just where does bus route X go? I still enjoy seeing maps where buses with numbers over 300 sprawl to obscure suburbs. Though really, about the weirdest thing that ever happened to me was that a Pace bus out to Elk Grove had to pay a highway toll. This seemed like a violation of some economic principle or other.

What the Bus goes beyond that, in the safety of your own home--or maybe even if you are on the bus! It's about as adventurous and odd as public transport can be. It has good smattering of random text about what's going on around you, or where your GPS thinks you are (Las Vegas, Bhutan, and so forth.) And it doesn't start weird, but it gets that way once your original public transport is delayed. You start off with choices between the Yellow and Purple lines and wind up, if you're careful, on the Orange Vanilla, Chartreuse or Calico lines. The background changes to your train's color. Two choices have identical text but give radically different endings--of which there are only ten, but given how some game branches cycle, you need to make a few maps, even with that nice undo feature.

I suspect that a huge chunk of this game is natural to residents of Boston. And yet, it feels very weird to me. The Red, Yellow, Orange Blue and Purple lines all exist in Chicago, but not like that! The buses have different numbers. So it would be odd and mysterious even written straight-up. But it's a good weird. I've certainly had nightmares about public transport not going where it should, and this brought them back with a smile.

What the Bus offers nothing in the way of profound philosophy, but it doesn't have to. It's quite accessible, since it has UNDO commands, so you can knock off the ten endings pretty quickly. There is no grand reveal, just the satisfaction of seeing it all. I have to admit, 24 hours after playing it, I don't remember the endings--most of my time after playing was spent in memories of wrong buses taken, times I'd walked to a connecting bus to save time, or just barely managing to sneak in my second free transfer two hours after paying my first fare on a two-hour circular trip.

All this is fun for me, and I miss it, but it's probably not so exciting to make a game of. I was surprised What the Bus brought so much uncertainty and wonder back, especially of times before I got used to my now-favorite bus route as it went over a highway or past some once-mysterious business I finally Googled one day. I have to admit, I don't remember the endings all that well. But that just means the confusion will be fresh and wonderful if I ever pull it up again. It's the sort of game that fills a niche if not a huge need, and you're glad someone did it and did it well. I think anyone will enjoy the humor, but those who appreciate public transport despite all its faults will like it a bit more.

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