Reviews by Kastel

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LAKE Adventure, by B.J. Best

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
IFComp 2023: LAKE ADVENTURE, October 10, 2023
by Kastel
Related reviews: ifcomp2023

This game is an antidote for those obsessed with personal histories and their ultimate meaning.

We first learn that this game was originally created in 1993 by a thirteen-year-old Eddie Hughes. It was rediscovered by a forty-year-old Ed Hughes in 2020, and the version we have includes his thoughtful commentary. Hughes has also helpfully provided us with maps of the game in the form of his old math notebook. And as we'll learn later, the game is a recreation of the old lake house and the time he and his good friend Richard spent at the lake.

As the player progresses through the game, the author seems to gain and lose interest in a work he was once obsessed with but now barely remembers. Hughes laughs and apologizes for his younger self's antics -- a fully realized house with descriptive rooms like More Halls is very funny -- but the player will almost immediately encounter oddities. They can't go to his sister's room -- in the maps provided, it's blotted out. (Spoiler - click to show)Why are we collecting memory shards? The more we traverse, the more personal this game becomes.

Itís very tempting to compare it to B.J. Bestís other old-IF-in-IF work, And Then You Come to a House Not Unlike the Previous One. Not only are they reminiscences of the past via interactive fiction but they relate to the relevance of the past and interactive fiction in our present. That work is, however, a coming-of-age relationship between two adolescents. We are playing the game with someone who is reflecting on his youth.

Instead, the game is more like Drew Cookís Repeat the Ending as both include fictional commentary and also look to the past for meaning. In Cook's game, we find an affirmation of interactive fiction as a mode of artistic expression. We leave that game emotional and hopeful for Cook's growth.

In Hughes's game, we find nothing.

What remains of LAKE ADVENTURE is an adventure game full of bad memories not worth revisiting. Hughes doesn't want to remember (Spoiler - click to show)how heartbroken he was over his sister's death from leukemia nor does he want to think about Richard's death after drifting apart for so long. But the past has caught up with him and won't let go.

The finale gives me dread, especially since it felt like I was roped into relive his trauma. I wonder what went through the minds of young and old Eddie. Why did they put me through this torment? I guess they just didn't know what they were getting into -- and that's the really terrifying thing about rediscovering memories: we don't know what's going to come out of it.

This game is my nightmare. It goes against my beliefs about the importance of memories and traumas in autobiographical works, but I cannot simply look away from it. I know I have to stare at its truth because it is after all naive to believe that uncovering and reliving memories is unconditionally good for you. It can harm you. It can compound your trauma. It makes you remember what you've rightfully forgotten. You become an empty shell, begging "ancient history" to fill you with something, but all you've really done is widen the hole in your heart.

LAKE ADVENTURE is a tragedy for Ed Hughes and people like me who seek comfort in introspection. We can only relive the past for so long before it hurts us in our most vulnerable. Only through forgetting some memories can we find real meaning in our personal histories.

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The Gift of What You Notice More, by Xavid and Zan

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
IFComp 2023: The Gift of What You Notice More, October 9, 2023
by Kastel
Related reviews: ifcomp2023

I'm always fascinated by puzzle Twine games with inventories because there's the obvious question, "Why not parser?", that lingers in the background. Many answer that question differently -- and with this game, there's several reasons but one particular reason stands out the most: it evokes transient, elliptical connections that remind the player is never fully in control, which is perfect for a story like this.

Your player character is packing up things in the middle of the night. Scattered around the apartment are photos of the past, of what felt like better days now long gone. But as the player mindlessly clicks hyperlinks to figure out where to go next, they'll (Spoiler - click to show)stumble upon three poets in a cafe who cryptically ask them to consider (and interact with) some old history between the player character and someone whose name is obscured. There, the game finally opens up and reveals its true self, a meditative journey on the meaning of memories and what to do with them in the face of necessary change.

As I played through the game, I'm reminded of Amanda Walker's After the Accident and especially Steve Evans's Photograph: A Portrait of Reflection as both games explore flashbacks as interactive spaces and are relatively puzzleless. However, The Gift of What You Notice More takes a more dream-like puzzle game approach: it has light adventure game puzzles that border on the surreal. These memories are to be puzzled out, grasped, shaken to their fuller meaning by the player character. They are, in other words, allegories that only make sense to this character.

I think this is the main reason why this game has to be hypertext. In parser games, you have a direct connection to the player character because you're typing their actions. Clicking on links feels more detached. The player character in Twine games always feels more autonomous than their parser counterparts. Some decisions we as players make in the game feel life-changing, but we won't see their results. Their consequences are secrets only known to the player character.

As a result, the title was more of a spiritual journey for the player character than the player, despite it being written in second-person. It feels like I've just played through someone's dream-diary except it's lightly dressed up as an adventure game. This is likely why I couldn't connect with the player character, but at the same time, it felt good to help them achieve their goals. The game itself is therapeutic for the character and their resolution to change things resonates with me.

That said, I don't think the puzzle design is perfect. My issues boil down to two things:

(Spoiler - click to show)1) You have to keep going back and forth between the poets and the photos in order to advance the game state, which can be quite cumbersome.

2) I came into the game assuming all the puzzles in each memory are internally solvable, but some puzzles require items that are only acquirable in a future game state. It's frustrating to advance a puzzle so far only to be confused why I haven't found the next step. In the end, I ended up following the walkthrough, which is a shame because I was enjoying the strange puzzles.


But overall, I like The Gift of What You Notice More because it's simply an uplifting game that inspires and soothes. While I've seen the subject matter played out before in different contexts, its use of hyperlinks and allegorical constructions of memory evokes the relatable tensions of uncertainty, powerlessness, and the necessity to change. I came out of the game feeling like I had just helped someone untangle their feelings, and that's not an experience I get to have in games every day.

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Dr Ludwig and the Devil, by SV Linwood

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
IFComp 2023: Dr Ludwig and the Devil, October 9, 2023
by Kastel
Related reviews: ifcomp2023

If someone asked me which parser games with puzzles would be good for beginners, I would wait until the clock struck midnight, laugh like a mad scientist on the Discord voice call, and point to this game.

Dr. Ludwig's only goal was to create life, but his repeated failures had led him to seek help from the Devil. But as the Grand Grimoire warned, beware of the Devil's contract and look for any loopholes! He's not going to sell his soul right just when he's on the verge of a new scientific discovery -- that would suck.

Much of the comedy plays with the popular imagination of the mad scientist and the 1931 Frankenstein movie. For instance, the Torch and Pitchfork Society tried to make Dr. Ludwig sign a reasonable charter to be a less annoying and more cordial neighbor. But Dr. Ludwig refused, preferring to get excited about picking up shovels ("The shovel was mine! All mine!"). The problems the characters face are also very similar to our own: queer love, lack of free time, and the question of unionization for better working conditions. These playful gestures aren't profound or anything, but they're certainly very funny.

Not only is the humor quite enjoyable, but it also alleviates the usual frustration that comes with parser titles. It follows the wisdom of other beginner-friendly games like *Lost Pig*: instead of punishing you with error messages, it rewards you with some musings of Ludwig. The overall map is also quite small and the hint system is convenient and easy to use.

What makes the game stand out is how the game juggles conversational mechanics with puzzles. Most of the puzzles are classic object-hunting puzzles, but they're gated behind conversation topics. The game is thus able to carefully drip the most relevant information to the player at appropriate moments. I find this approach refreshing since most new players feel overwhelmed by the many moving parts of parser games. Though it sacrifices mechanical depth, later puzzles build on earlier ones and this helps keep the story moving forward.

It's impressive that Dr. Ludwig and the Devil has somehow managed to appeal to both the sensibilities of new and experienced players. Everyone will probably enjoy it because the puzzles, implementation, and writing are consistently high quality. It captures what makes puzzle parser games so much fun in a matter of an hour and a bit more.

I hope this isn't the end of Dr. Ludwig. He's such a compelling character that I would love to see him take on more genre movie cliches. As the youngsters would say, let him cook.

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Assembly, by Ben Kirwin

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
IFComp 2023: Assembly, October 9, 2023
by Kastel
Related reviews: ifcomp2023

This game is a box of good ideas.

All of the puzzles revolve around following IKEA instruction manuals in interesting ways. They don't test your general puzzle-solving skills but rather how well you understand the logic of the world. If you're able to internalize it, solving the puzzles feels effortless.

Every eureka moment I had deepened my appreciation of this game. It understood and exploited the greatest strength of text-only games: the ability to conjure up truly strange images. The fact it was all my doing made it better. And I also thought the gimmick didn't wear out its welcome either; it was explored just enough to feel satisfying and to keep the narrative moving forward.

While the game was never going to focus on the story, the writing and the action were quite engaging. I was curious about the world and the tantalizing little details we got seem to evoke a larger cosmology.

Assembly is a humble work of genius. For such a simple conceit, the game unfolds in so many surprising ways and I can't stress enough how clever the game is. It's a clean and refined game that's easy to get into unlike the furniture it's inspired by.

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Xanthippe's Last Night with Socrates, by Victor Gijsbers

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
IFComp 2023: Xanthippe's Last Night with Socrates, October 7, 2023
by Kastel
Related reviews: ifcomp2023

We know little about Socrates. We know even less about Xanthippe, the second wife of Socrates. And yet, here is a story that imagines their last romantic night together before the esteemed philosopher took the hemlock.

As historical fiction, it teeters on the edge of implausibility. As an homage to the philosophy of Socrates, it is deeply Platonic and not very Socratic. But as a fantasy that disrupts our popular notions of the past, it does the job quite well.

On the Dedication page, Gijsbers writes that we'll never know who Xanthippe is or what she's like. However, it is possible to "complicate our idea of her; reimagine her; give her a voice that is necessarily our own voice." Putting on the mask of Xanthippe (and Socrates by extension) in the theater of interactive fiction brings them back to life and lets us "dwell in possibility". They speak with our voices, of course, but "the dead do not resent us." Instead, they will recognize this dialog between Xanthippe and Socrates as necessary "for our sake".

Keeping in the spirit of relevance, the game revels in our current vernacular of love-making: Xanthippe calls Socrates her "big man" and may choose to stroke his cheek. She wants to fulfill her marital duties and the player can make her pounce on poor Socrates. It is no wonder then that Gijsbers's version of Socrates often shudders at her actions. Grumpy at first glance, he is actually vulnerable to Xanthippe's sensuality. He becomes apologetic after a fit of rage and even uncertain of his own beliefs when he talks to her -- a far cry from the popular image of the individualistic Socrates from Plato's Apology. But it's also later revealed that (Spoiler - click to show)both characters lead adulterous lives because they can't help it. Socrates even gets a feminist lecture from Xanthippe about the sex workers he's involved with because they might not be consenting figures. As a result, their relationship has the baggage of most contemporary amours, but they choose to stay together in Socrates's final hours. Their love transcends time and space itself. I imagine their affection is strong enough to melt even the most stoic of hearts.

This is only possible because we have a rigid conception of the Ancient Greek world. We read in Plato's Phaedo that Socrates drinks the hemlock because he believes in his own philosophy and is first and foremost an Athenian citizen. A simple shift in this narrative changes everything. Socrates is not the ubermensch of Platonic philosophy in this story; he is someone who loves Xanthippe in his own way and he owes his life and death to her. Everything in Phaedo, from the Forms to the immortality of the soul, is attributed to his love for Xanthippe. She is his muse and, echoing Stephen Granade's romantic masterpiece of age and death, he "will not let her go". This work reframes everything we know about Socrates and his philosophy into a love ode for Xanthippe.

It's ahistorical and improbable, but the fantasy in Xanthippe's Last Night with Socrates is so strong that I want to believe in it. Those amorous embraces between those two characters we'll never know feel so real to me because I know it's fiction. The dialectical tensions between anachronisms and the quasi-historical details only speak to a higher understanding on why the love of wisdom feels so empty.

Perhaps, Socrates never loved Sophia. Xanthippe is a "horny cow" who sees Socrates as a "beast" that knows how to make her feel good. She's a far more beautiful figure than wisdom herself.

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Citizen Makane, by Perry Simm (as "The Reverend")

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
IFComp 2023: Citizen Makane, October 7, 2023
by Kastel
Related reviews: ifcomp2023

Citizen Makane may be the best (Spoiler - click to show)deckbuilding adventure game based on The Incredible Erotic Adventures of Stiffy Makane.

After an eerily familiar dream, you have awakened (Spoiler - click to show)to a world where the male sex has been wiped out. Students, milkwomen, passersby -- they're all eager to find out how stiff Stiffy Makane really is. (Spoiler - click to show)Even scientists are interested in your sexual prowess because it may provide insights into human evolution.

Just one small problem: (Spoiler - click to show)you haven't worked your genitalia in at least 267 years.

To get you back up to speed, the game gives you some simple adventure game objectives. You help (and bang) people: a librarian (Spoiler - click to show)wants to expand her collection of taboo books; a priestess (Spoiler - click to show)believes the chalice has been stolen by a beloved philanthropist; and the milkwomen (Spoiler - click to show)want to extract your male milk and sell it on the market. These tasks may or may not be available depending on the day, but there are no deadlines in the game.

However, some missions are gated based on your (Spoiler - click to show)sexual stamina level. (Spoiler - click to show)If you try something intense from the start, you'll only make a mess and embarrass yourself. You gotta start slow: (Spoiler - click to show)wait for a woman to look at you as you travel between town, engage in a conversation, and bring out your (Spoiler - click to show)deckbuilder. Much like real sex, the game involves collecting and using cards that are scattered around town and hidden in quests. You can wield three cards at a time during an encounter; each card can be submissive or dominant and there are ratings that indicate the amount of pleasure you versus what your partner get. (Spoiler - click to show)The goal is to simultaneous orgasm (and maybe a little more!), but the beginning is an exercise on humility -- you may have to ejaculate before your partner even feels anything. As long as you don't make a mess of yourself, you'll earn EXP. The more skilled you are at pleasuring each other, the more EXP -- just like how I remember my RPGs.

The entire game had me laughing and enthralled from start to finish. I really enjoyed the witty writing: it never gets old because it keeps juggling different kinds of sex jokes and the comedic timing is varied enough. The prose is also clean and the plot always moves forward, especially if you know how to optimize the sex gains. Honestly, I can't get enough of the raunchy and amusing writing.

But by the end of the game, I became somehow emotionally invested in this strange setting and (Spoiler - click to show)the relationship between the two main characters. For a game that revels in bawdiness, I didn't expect such tender and emotional writing. In retrospect, it makes a lot of sense: (Spoiler - click to show)this game has foreshadowed that it'll be tackling uncomfortable misogyny present in the original Stiffy Makane and other adult games. No matter how many consenting women there are in this game, we cannot undo Makane's shooting of Pamela. Not only do we see it in the introduction, but in certain sexual encounters, our player character tries to go on a date with one of his liaisons, only to be rebuffed because she's only interested in his technology. He can only relate with a partner through sex and that's why he's so lonely. And the final action the player might be the best answer to his unquenchable longing because it respects him and the history of the Stiffy Makane games. Perhaps, the ribaldry makes the few nice scenes even sweeter. It adds emotional weight to the overall message about sex and turns the game into a fascinating character study of one of the best characters interactive fiction has to offer.

Citizen Makane is an incredible game that lives up to its name. I had so much fun that I wished the game was longer and more substantial, but I knew that brevity and polish made for the best stuff. Orson Welles would have been so honored to have such a wonderful game named after his mediocre movie.

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One King to Loot them All, by Onno Brouwer

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
IFComp 2023: One King to Loot Them All, October 7, 2023
by Kastel
Related reviews: ifcomp2023

High-octane action doesn't lend itself well to adventure game engines designed for exploration and puzzles. Indeed, it's almost impossible to imagine parser games without some exploration and puzzling.

But this game presents an alternative and perhaps more exciting approach to interactivity. Originally made for the Single Choice Jam, its spartan design allows no room for superfluous commands for players to get stuck on. You are a barbarian who's taken over the kingdom, not some lowly adventurer. You have no need for the standard Inform 7 verbs: you don't open chests, you > loot them. You > smite any instances of downtime, > regard the rich textual descriptions, and > march toward the antagonist for one final showdown. And if you simply want to indulge in the spectacle, you can switch on and off the story mode at any point in the game.

You are the One King to Loot Them All.

Your interest in this game begins and ends in how interested you are in the spectacle of sword-and-sorcery stories. The game abandons any pretense of more conventional interactive fiction sensibilities; it instead revels in the genre as a pastiche. Love it or hate it, all the cliches are there. It will not attempt to subvert the genre or go beyond. The game simply asks for your commitment to roleplaying as this barbarian king.

This straightforward approach to storytelling may be too old-fashioned for many people, but adapting it to a parser work makes the story refreshing to me. Like Plundered Hearts, the game seems uninterested in IF works before it -- the implementer was unaware of Treasures of a Slaver's Kingdom weeks after they started developing the game and the only influence it had was on the help system -- but it's definitely infatuated with the sword-and-sorcery genre and is more than happy to learn from it. The stories of Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian and C.L. Moore's Jirel of Joiry are all about escalating tension. They're always in danger, but once they've killed their enemies, more will appear -- and there will be more bloodshed. Only when they've slain everyone will they finally put down their swords and axes. I can't imagine how much effort it would take to adapt these conventions to the Inform 7 engine, but it's definitely worth the effort. Scenes feel seamless as you encounter one obstacle after another. Your actions are always purposeful and move the story forward. And the descriptions feel authentic to anyone who's read their fair share of sword-and-sorcery works. Playing it brought back fond memories of immersing myself in the world of pulp fiction.

But it's more than that: when I type in the words and read the player character swooping the corpses away, I feel like I'm actually interacting with the story. I'm brought into the power fantasy not just as a macho hunk, but as someone who can meaningfully change the state of the game world. To borrow from Jimmy Maher's appraisal of Plundered Hearts, it's close to the "Infocom ideal of interactive fiction" because there's a "narrative urgency" that pushes players and events to move forward. It's interactive and fiction the way I thought of those terms: there's a lot of action going on and we, the players, have to interact with it.

One King to Loot Them All is therefore not just an orthodox version of sword-and-sorcery fiction. It may open up new avenues for interactive fiction as a medium, perhaps taking a cue from a recent review of Plundered Hearts that brought up the notion of "story-forward games" from another review. We can > seize these opportunities if we dare to break this paradigm and try something different. They don't have to be a minority. The promise of interactive fiction is still great, and I look forward to seeing more works with action-heavy plots like this terrific game.

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My Pseudo-Dementia Exhibition, by Naomi Norbez (call me Bez, he/they)

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
IFComp 2023: My Pseudo-Dementia Exhibition, October 6, 2023
by Kastel
Related reviews: ifcomp2023

(cw: abuse from parents and institutions, mental health, suicide)

Bez realized he's having difficulty remembering things.

This made him feel like he wasn't in control of his life. After an unspecified traumatic incident ("my mother did something terrible to me (which I am not ready to discuss fully yet)"), he tried to end his life. He was sent the ER, later psych ward, and finally through several residential treatment facilities for a total of 14 months. During his time there, he learned that he was suffering from pseudodementia, a range of psychiatric conditions that results in symptoms similar to dementia but is thankfully reversible on treatment.

But 14 months is a long time. This game -- or shall I say, museum exhibition -- charts his time in these facilities as he struggles to recover from pseudodementia and the abuses of mental health institutions.

In lieu of memoir conventions where we simply read scenes like a novel, Bez has selected notebooks, a few photographs, rants scribbled on notebooks, young adult literature, and so on for all of us to see. They are mundane items, but they mean a lot to him. Each object has a powerful history that is detailed on the plaques. Unlike most museum exhibitions, the plaques offer a deluge of text and sometimes hyperlinks to a .txt file explaining the significance of the item to Bez. After we're done contemplating, we move onto the next room and read more text.

As we navigate through this curated history of objects, we learn that Bez was unable to return home after his time in residential care because his abusive father refused to allow him to return. He was reluctantly moved between different residential facilities and each exhibit room represents the length of time he spent in each one. Every step brings him closer to the "real world", but the facilities differ in quality. The first residential facility allowed Bez to connect with a neurologist who believed he had pseudodementia and even tried to accommodate his gender identity. The second consistently misgendered him. There are also different levels of care that he must undergo, resulting in limbo and long waits.

In return, stickers declaring his pronouns become more prominent on his notebooks and folders. More and more objects clarify and deepen his own understanding of who he is, but the end of the exhibition reminds us that there's still a long way to go: (Spoiler - click to show)"Recovery is not a destination you can reach; itís a mountain you can choose to climb."

After writing my thoughts on the guestbook, I thought I had little to say about this game. It was a sweet and poignant time capsule. But I kept returning to it because this autobiography has emotional weight. The objects have so much potency that they feel as important as the historical artifacts I've seen in museums; Bez's folders are just as compelling as a cannon recovered from the Battle of Waterloo. And like other exhibitions, this game has taught me about the inner workings of mental health institutions in the US and how patients are treated especially in regards to gender-affirming care. I really appreciate how honest Bez's depictions are.

And parts of the game resonate with me because my life changed after I contracted COVID-19. While I never suffered memory loss, I was (and still am) constantly tired and could only maintain a "normal" life by following certain routines. I 100% share Bez's thoughts on recovery.

My Pseudo-Dementia Exhibition is a gorgeously personal exhibit that is worth visiting at least once. Although it deals with some painful subjects, it hugs you and reminds you to keep living beyond your doubts. And as you learn to recover, every object you interact with along the way is special and important -- you should take note of it.

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Gestures Towards Divinity, by Charm Cochran

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
IFComp 2023: Gestures Towards Divinity, October 5, 2023
by Kastel
Related reviews: ifcomp2023

The works of Francis Bacon evoke different reactions for good reason. He inspires controversy and awe. But as the game's blurb points out, "This game is not about him."

We are first introduced to him through plaques explaining his overall life story and his triptychs. As we view his works, the middle panel beckons us to LOOK CLOSER. We accidentally enter these paintings and emerge into his strange, surrealistic visions. There, depending on which triptych we've gone through, we can talk to a Fury, George Dyer, and Dyer's corpse.

The entire game revolves around exhausting conversation trees between these characters in the artworks and the people in the gallery. By asking around, we'll learn about what Bacon has thought about life, art, God, the soul, love, and some more. While it may remind players of Emily Short's influential Galatea, this game is mechanically far simpler: you'll be switching back and forth between different characters to unlock new topics to talk about.

While the gameplay was tedious, I couldn't satisfy my curiosity. I wanted to know more about Francis Bacon's art and how people understood them. Why are people so drawn and repelled toward his works? Is there some deeper meaning or could it simply be nothing at all? What was his relationship with Dyer? Why did he paint the Fury like that? Is the painting of the corpse just shock art or is there more to it?

As we ask these questions to different people, we begin to get a portrait of an artist from different perspectives. One fan sees him as a surrealist artist capable of subversion and bold new ideas. A detractor, on the other hand, finds his work too grotesque and even opportunistic. But those who are close to him -- the models of his work -- see him as (Spoiler - click to show)someone who craves masochistic pleasure and forced his partners to replace for his long-lost desire. He desires violence upon himself. For those who remain unconvinced and decide to investigate the question of Bacon's intentions even further, (Spoiler - click to show)you'll have the opportunity to "talk" to his self-portrait at the end of the game. He doesn't respond to anything you ask him because he seems too interested in himself as an artist. But you can tell him *who* he is, and he screams, implying you taught him something he didn't realize he had all along. At any point in the game, we can leave the gallery and get on with our lives.

Whether you dug through every topic or not, the game suspends its judgment on Bacon's art. We are left with our own voices to find out how we feel about his work. In my case, I wasn't aware he was a real figure until I started writing this review and I found his work beautiful. But his actions are inexcusable to me: he was an incorrigible, abusive artist who profited from people's misery for the sake of art. At the same time, he's been dead for so long that I don't have an ethical problem with his work being seen all over the world. Other people could disagree with me and that's fine.

This game is not about Francis Bacon the artist. It's about how the people inside and outside his works are affected by them.

When we ask people and the subject matter questions about Bacon's art and philosophy, we're actually teasing out something else entirely: our lives. Bacon is simply an author-function; his biographical details don't really matter. His works are the real focal point. What's more important is what we take away from it, and that journey is always meaningful.

As for me, his works and this game embody the sadder parts of queer desire. What we desire is often taboo because we cannot decouple love and dehumanization from our thinking. Losing it hurts even more because we can't talk about what we've lost. Shame and fear drive us into abstraction, into talking about nothing else because words and gestures no longer reflect our state of mind.

Is it so wrong for us to seek it?

Gestures Towards Divinity, like other works of art, cannot answer that question. All we can do is enter the game and explore it. Perhaps, we could chance upon some important truth that even their creators don't know -- or we don't. Satisfying or lacking, they are all we have.

Whatever the case, our personal answers we find are always gesturing toward something. Our curiosity is what makes art divine to us.

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DICK MCBUTTS GETS KICKED IN THE NUTS, by Damon L. Wakes (as "Hubert Janus")

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
IFComp 2023: DICK MCBUTTS GETS KICKED IN THE NUTS, October 4, 2023
by Kastel
Related reviews: ifcomp2023

DICK MCBUTTS GETS KICKED IN THE NUTS is about a guy named Dick McButts who gets kicked in the nuts. That's the entire story in a nutshell. However, questions remain: How did Dick McButts get kicked in the nuts? Who did this? Where? Why?

These pertinent questions deserve to be answered by the most curious players of interactive fiction. While I recognize that people may feel uncomfortable about this game, this is actually a witty work that plays with the expectations and mediums of interactive fiction. It rewards curiosity and good faith with tons and tons of silly humor. In fact, it's most interesting when we realize it's having a deep conversation with us about how it's using the craft of interactive fiction to achieve its one goal.

But it sure doesn't mind giving players a bad first impression. Unlucky players with less patience may stumble upon a colorful bonanza riddled with typos and punctuation. They will be forced to read the epic highs and lows of the nut-kicking saga between Dick McButts, Adolf Hitler, and, of course, Darth Vader. Their session ends all of a sudden, with a red hyperlink that goes to nowhere.

If those players keep at it, or -- as in my case -- get lucky the first time, they'll get a more normal-looking page. If we pop up the Twine editor and look up the game's code, we can marvel at the Freudian symbiology and also uncover a script that can randomly put any player into two different game states: the aforementioned battle royale with Darth Vader and the calmer and more fleshed out DICK MCBUTTS GETS KICKED IN THE NUTS scenario.

The Dick McButts in the latter scenario is calmer and more intelligent. Unfortunately, he's also aware of the game's title and hates it. He wants to avoid this terrible fate. There are many scenes where the player must choose between two ridiculous options: one option is the correct one and the other choice results with Dick McButts getting kicked in the nuts. McButts may lament all he wants, but he'll soon be chased by cyborgs with impressive hydraulic legs ready to deliver the final blow. At one point, (Spoiler - click to show)a time-traveling Hitler materializes into existence and McButts simply has to deal with it. And somehow, the absurdity keeps on escalating from there: (Spoiler - click to show)Chapter 2 begins, Fanny McTits doesn't want her nips to be flipped, and the ending defies explanations. This whole scenario is a cinematic romp full of crude humor -- and I loved it!

But I understand why people might be put off by this game: it's just a one-note joke, nothing more and nothing less. The game is so proud of this that it refuses to consider alternative ideas. That approach will ruffle many people's feathers and it's almost certain it'll win the Golden Banana of Discord.

At the same time, I also find its commitment to this one single joke inspiring and ballsy. This title was a creative shitpost with a surprising amount of depth thrown at an unsuspecting public. Everyone may choose to laugh at it or with it. Those who laugh with it will find deep within the game a genuine appreciation for what makes interactive fiction fun and engaging: the choices, the little snippets of text revealed, the comedic timing... all in service of a nutty joke. The real comedy comes not from the copious amounts of immature humor; it comes from the fact that someone has dedicated their passion to the craft of interactive fiction to make a bombastic work about jokes about genitalia. The fact the author is willing to hide that makes the work even funnier to me.

DICK MCBUTTS GETS KICKED IN THE NUTS is delightfully juvenile because it encourages curiosity into its one-note joke. I am left with questions like "Why?" and "How?" because it's so strange and weird. It leaves an impact on me, not so different from getting kicked in the nuts. But instead of cowering in pain, I am crying with laughter at how much effort the author had to put into this game. I won't be able to get up for a while and that's okay.

Sometimes, you gotta let the pain do its thing. It's part of the joke.

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