It’s time for school but you’re not feeling it right now.
Or ever, really. But you and Hanna have no choice. School it is, then.
Oh, and Hanna is a ghost.
Contrary to what the game’s title suggests, Hanna is not the PC. You play as a high school girl named Jing who goes to an international school in Singapore called the American Independence School. Unlike Jing, Hanna expresses some excitement about going to school. Soon, though, we see that this excitement is masking underlying pain as we face the daily mundane and rocky reality that is school.
The start of the gameplay really sucks you in. It captures how Twine’s interactivity can be used to make a more dynamic scene. We begin in Jing’s bedroom.
You get up.
You are in your bedroom, which consists of a desk full of books, a desktop computer, a bed, and a cabinet.
Hanna eyes at your schoolbag.
Here, "books," "desktop computer," and "bed," are all links that expand the text to reveal more information about each item while clicking on the cabinet link moves the gameplay forward as Jing gets ready for school.
While the scene’s outcome is not impacted by your choice to examine the scenery, the links provide an extra sense of interaction that make it a little more interesting than if it were one big room description. It also engages the player with Twine’s choice-based format. Why read when you can click on links?
This structure continues for the rest of the game as we venture into Jing's school. After your first playthrough, the game allows you to skip ahead to crucial parts in the gameplay to save time. Much appreciated.
(I’m going to do characters first, then story.)
We do not learn as much about Jing as I hoped. After all, she is the starring PC. She’s Chinese, lives in an apartment, her parents both work (we never meet them), likes to use art and books as a portal for exploring sexuality, and has befriended a ghost named Hanna! Alright, we learn a fair amount. But her character is intriguing. More would be nice.
It would also be nice to have more context about Jing’s everyday school life. While I understand that school day structure differs across the globe, American Independent School has a somewhat bizarre (to me) daily schedule. (Spoiler - click to show) It offers cafeteria lunch twice and holds a separate student council-led karaoke party between Trigonometry and European History class. Actually, that doesn’t sound so bad. Ultimately, however, I felt out of touch. (If this really occurs in real life, thank you for diversifying my understanding of how teens go to school in today’s world.)
Clara. Ah yes. Clara does not censor what she says. She just says it without considering her surroundings. Or those nearby. She also thinks that she is doing you a favor by letting you know what she has to say.
Consider: a group of young people with that one peer who, to everyone’s delight and dismay, confidently and loudly talks about daring and explicit things in a causal social setting. Just when you think the conversation has leveled off, bam, the peer in question takes it up several more notches and everyone around is just, “oh wow.” That’s Clara. The scene in the (Spoiler - click to show) hallway after homeroom (and onwards) showcases this perfectly.
She embodies the “mature” girl persona who claims to have a resume of sexual experiences. She also comes off as trying to convince herself that she knows the ropes and that her confidence on the subject matter is unwavering. A bystander (Jing/player) is then used as a sounding board as she pelts them with a mix of "advice," tidbits of knowledge that demonstrate credibility, and personal experiences involving sex and other adult-like activities.
My favorite sentence in this game:
You pretend to agree and hope Clara's done with her TED Talk.
Clara gives some intense TED Talks.
When it comes to her relationship with Jing, Clara does not come off as being the classic High School Mean Girl who breaks out in hives at the mere sight of you. Maybe that is not what the author intended, but that’s the impression it left on me. If anything, Clara sees herself as friend rather than foe.
Clara reads more like a bossy, we’re-friends-since-we-see-each-other-daily type of “friend.” One who considers herself to be your friend in a self-serving manner or considers you to be a friend more so than you feel in return. She latches onto you like a leech while insisting that she knows what’s best for you. Especially when it comes to sexuality.
It gets uncomfortable. Clara reassures Jing about her dating desirability. Because Jing is Chinese, Clara keeps advising her to embrace “popular” stereotypes by acting more submissive and “pure-hearted” since that apparently is what attracts dudes. Clara may be trying to help in her own way, but ultimately this persistent fetishization overwhelms Jing. And most likely the player.
But as the story’s antagonist, she does not seem so bad after all… Until your final encounter with her where she (Spoiler - click to show) goes full homophobe and transphobe. Everyone’s (Jing/Hanna/hopefully the player) response to this is more, way more, than just, “oh wow.”
While Clara excels in her character role’s persona, there are some scenes that feel- even for her- more like an endless rant of shocking content that is independent from the scene itself. I wish we could explore her character in other ways than just sex-fueled rants.
And as for bringing an umbrella, (Spoiler - click to show) careful kids, you can poke an eye out. I applaud the implementation of Twine in this scene.
Hanna is a neat character- she’s a ghost! - with a tragic past who still brings the perspective of a modern teen unimpressed by the school system and its expectations. She does not necessarily “haunt” the player. Instead, she tags along to offer commentary, friendship, and support without sugar coating your collective circumstances.
Before the game even begins, we are presented with a passage that leads to the game’s menu. The passage keeps it brief: (Spoiler - click to show) Hanna was a teen who jumped off a hospital rooftop to commit suicide. Later we learn that in life, she identified as transgender but never received support or understanding- quite the opposite.
Here’s the deal: The gameplay ultimately leads up to a (Spoiler - click to show) pivotal scene where Clara (as I mentioned earlier) starts rambling about an unnamed individual during which she unleashes homophobic/transphobic commentary. First time around, I struggled to piece it all together.
In this scene, Clara explains (claims?) that she was engaged to a young man her age since they were kids except that he expressed interest in dresses, dolls, and feminine self-expression. She mocks this which only further traumatizes Hanna who is also transgender.
Then it clicked.
I need someone to spell it out for me so I can be sure: Was Clara engaged, in whatever form it may have been, to… Hanna? Before her death when people refused to recognize her identity? (Is it true that her previous- I hope I’m doing this properly- name was Alex? I only ask since Clara mentions the name once in her rant.) Talk about a plot twist. In fact, I initially failed to make the connection that Hanna knew both Jing and Clara as former classmates since middle school. Scatter-brained on my part.
Also, part of the reason Hanna transitioned was to avoid being drafted into the army since male Singaporeans are drafted into the National Service when they turn eighteen. This fact completely went over my head. It was not until I read the explanation in the content warning that I connected the dots- and it gives you some interesting things to think about since many international kids do not have to worry about this requirement. I just feel that this part of Hanna’s backstory could have been clearer.
There is one thing that I did not figure out. During Clara’s rant, we see a link that says, “Hanna’s wailing floods the whole room.” Clicking on it expands it into the following:
why am i not dead yet why am i not dead yet why am i not dead yet why am i not dead yet why am i not dead yet why am i not dead yet why am i not dead yet
Hanna is dead. There’s something I’m clearly missing.
NPCs (besides Hanna and Clara)
Finally, some of the remaining dialog almost seemed melodramatic in the sense that there is not much context around NPCs’ behavior. Like (Spoiler - click to show) Harold's outburst when you ask him what is wrong during homeroom. If I had not known better, I would have thought these characters were pre-teens who just entered middle school.
Nonetheless, they are still intriguing.
Story + Themes
The story takes place over one school day where we get a glimpse of daily life for Jing and Hanna, even if Hanna is not an actual student. She almost functions as an extension of Jing which is close enough. Besides Hanna’s backstory, Hanna We’re Going to School is largely character-oriented rather than wielding a complex storyline. There are, however, plenty of themes to go around.
There are several slice-of-life themes about youth and adulthood that could appeal to a wide range of players. However, the intended audience is relatively narrow since many of the themes are explored through brief, sudden romance-oriented encounters that may not appeal to everyone. This runs the risk of the player not absorbing the key themes showcased in a scene if they are skimming past certain parts.
For instance, (Spoiler - click to show) Clara's attempt to matchmake you with Dan was surreal and disjointed. Is she serious? It seemed like an unbelievable exchange… unless it’s set in reality more so than I realize. While this specific scene made me raise my eyebrows, I could see how it ties in with the game’s discussions on the intersecting expectations placed on young people.
Much of the game is focused on the idea of adult expectations of who you marry, the achievements of your parents, academic performance, job prospects, and your ability to look casually desirable the entire time. I feel like the (Spoiler - click to show) scene with Dan is meant to shine light on several of these issues, but from a gameplay standpoint it leaves you a bit bewildered. Because of this, players may find it less relatable.
Also: I'm not asking for more in that scene between (Spoiler - click to show) Clara and Dan in the school library, I'm really not (no shame if anyone feels otherwise), but it came out of nowhere and felt completely out of context. Even for this game. In the school library? I would say it is the only truly explicit scene in the game and is completely avoidable.
The game uses a basic set of visuals that opt for something besides the typically default Twine appearance of a black screen, white text, and a standardize font (you'll know it when you see it). There is nothing wrong with using the default, but when authors choose to use a slightly different background colour or multiple font styles, I notice.
Hanna, We’re Going to School features a grey screen with white text and blue-purple links. There is also a wine-coloured panel on the left side of the text body. It contains the “under” arrow that lets you go back a passage. Basic stuff but looks good.
Hanna, We’re Going to School is a bold, insightful game that bravely questions the intersecting issues that young people experience in the eyes of society and their fellow peers as they start to transition into adulthood. Jing witnesses this from a unique perspective.
She does not share the seemingly carefree lifestyle that her peers put on display, nor does she possess the social status wielded by peers from more influential families. But Clara’s attempts at “mentorship” provides a closer glimpse of the privilege differences within the student body. This slightly departs from the typical formula of popular girl vs unpopular girl while still showcasing the various forms of harassment that can occur, especially when it comes to gender expectations.
Meanwhile, Hanna’s own story raises implications of the harm done when one’s gender identity is mocked, especially if one is still trying to find themselves. As we see, Hanna (Spoiler - click to show) experiences some uncertainty about her motives for transitioning while simultaneously feeling at home with identifying as a girl. Her character is fun, quirky, and honest, making her a highlight of the game.
However, there are some drawbacks. The game could use more clarity for the plot along with additional worldbuilding shown in the gameplay. Right now, I feel like I know more about Clara than Hanna and Jing which is too bad since Hanna and Jing are a fantastic duo. The explicitness of some scenes may also drive some players away.
Otherwise, it is a strong slice of life piece about high school and teenage futures.
These are NOT spoilers, but since my reviews are so darn long, I’m spoiler-tagging it to save screen space. I write a lot.
(Spoiler - click to show)
Hanna, We're Going to School reminds me of an unrelated graphic novel called Anya's Ghost. The premise is similar in the sense that it depicts a teenage girl who navigates life and high school while being followed around by a ghost of another teen girl. While that may sound like a carbon copy of Hanna, We’re Going to School, I can reassure you that they diverge in story and subject matter. But the way Hanna coasts along with Jing and offers commentary just reminded me so much of the duo in Anya’s Ghost. If you like this game, you may like the book, and vice versa.
Also, if you are interested in further exploring the social dynamics of an internationally oriented school setting, consider the ChoiceScript game Learning to Be Human. It is an educational game about bullying where you play as a humanoid robot tasked with making connections with middle/high school aged students from different countries. While it is not a particularly thrilling game, it is more interesting than it sounds. Just note that it is strongly character centered, so don’t expect an in-depth storyline. The game covers subjects on popularity, body image, bias on cultural heritage, and inclusion. Recommended if you were drawn in by the peer social interactions found in Hanna, We’re Going to School.
Your mind blinks into existence: You are an android at FutureBright tech company. Two humans, Dr. Jeongmin Kim and Dr. Jinn Hong, have brought you online for a social experiment. You are going to be making your public debut in… a school.
They want you to learn about what it means to be human.
The game takes place in an international school in South Korea attended by students from different backgrounds and native languages. The gist is that you will spend time with four students in the same class, devoting an entire day to each student. Details about the school are kept to a minimum, but my guess is that the class is about “middle school” aged (the author reminds us that school system structures are not universal).
Gameplay is straightforward. School days are basic but uniquely influenced by the student. This ranges from talkative strolls around the campus to spending time in the cafeteria. You learn about students’ struggles with their lives inside and outside of school. You also see them experience bullying (Spoiler - click to show) (Yeon & David), and you see them causing it (Spoiler - click to show) (Soojin & Sangho). In both cases you develop an understanding of their deeper selves that includes sensitivity, a lack of confidence, and a desire of fitting in. You engage them about their behavior, so they think critically on why they do it and how it harms others.
There are multiple endings, but it feels more like two endings, the second of which comes in several flavors. You can either choose to (Spoiler - click to show) keep participating at the school or to move on with FutureBright’s next experiment. Choosing to move on prompts you to reflect on your experience with the students. What did you learn about being human? Arguably these reflections count as separate endings. You can even request changes in your programming.
Also: I appreciate how the author provides the player with chapter codes so they can revisit their progress rather than having to start over. That makes it easier to explore different outcomes.
This is the main event. Learning to Be Human is ultimately about bullying and seeks to shine a light on how it can manifest in everyday situations. It also functions as a tool for resolving attitudes that lead to bullying. While bullying can be spontaneous and take one by surprise, so can behavioral solutions. The term “behavior solutions” sounds clinical, but the game puts it into context.
Themes about bullying and social dynamics are partly explored through restrictions placed on the protagonist. A defining element in the gameplay are Laws. At the start of the game, Dr. Jeongmin Kim and Dr. Jinn Hong explain that they programmed you to follow three Laws as follows:
- 1: Do not harm sentient life forms.
- 2: Do not interfere with human development.
- 3: Protect yourself from harm.
The second Law turns out to be a real pain. In ChoiceScript, the player selects choices from a menu. But in Learning to Be Human, some of these choices are greyed out and made unavailable because the choice violates a Law.
"Hey, maybe the rest of you should be nicer to David." [This would be interfering.]
"I'm happy to let David figure out what we do for today."
"I'm happy to go to the cafe with everyone as a group."
"Maybe there's some other way I can play the games?"
In example above, the top choice is greyed out because the player is trying to interfere with an exchange between a student and his classmates. This interference seems benign. The PC just wants David to be heard. But the Law interpreted this as overstepping, leaving the PC unable to promote a more inclusive environment. I thought this was an effective way at showcasing these programmed restrictions in the gameplay. More of these scenes appear in the game that also bring up implications about bullying in today’s world.
The Laws’ influence over the protagonist simulates real challenges about addressing conflict in group situations. Often youth are given simple instructions to merely “stand up if you see someone is being treated unfairly!” A valid lesson, but easier said than done. As we see in Learning to Be Human, bystanders suddenly turn into an intimidating audience. The person initiating the harassment may be higher in social status or have considerable sway over how everyone else views an individual. That’s a common theme in this game, the feeling that you could be more inclusive to [insert name] but worry that it would be at the expensive of your peers’ perception of you.
There are countless variables present in these scenarios that make “standing up” the opposite of an easy task. The game puts the player in the shoes of someone who is presented with these predicaments. While the protagonist’s reason for freezing is because of android programming, it captures the experience of witnessing an icky situation but feeling unable to respond.
On a funky side note, the PC can still entertain dubious ideas. The Laws do not prevent the protagonist from thinking about certain actions, only to prevents them from acting on it. Sometimes these actions feel like suppressed impulses. In more heated scenes, we see "so-and-so punched my friend so I'll punch them back" type of responses are fortunately disabled by the protagonist’s programming.
Hit him back. "How do you like it?" [This would be causing harm.]
"No. I couldn't interfere with that."
"I'm sorry that I couldn't interfere."
In these cases, I do not think the protagonist is seriously considering being violent. For the most part.
"There will be a bloody revolution." [This would be causing harm.]
(To clarify, the PC cannot wage war on classmates.)
Rather, these responses seem like an emotional byproduct of input from their surroundings. Being unable to carry out violent actions is a good thing, but sometimes this prevents the protagonist by standing up for others in nonviolent ways.
In my review’s title I call the game lackluster. I should elaborate.
If you approach this game looking for a sci-fi adventure like I initially did, you may find it dull or underwhelming. All I saw was “android protagonist” and dug in. I confess that I have a habit of zooming through ChoiceScript games to orient myself with its structure before replaying it to focus on the details.
My first impression felt like this: You hang out with Character A. You hang out with Character B. You hang out with Character C. And, finally, you hang out with Character D. Thanks for playing. What a bland story. Now, hold on a moment. I was missing the whole point. What changed for me (and no doubt people will pick up on this sooner than I did) was taking a closer look at the implementation of the game’s main idea in the gameplay.
The game may have sci-fi elements, but its genre is ultimately listed as Educational. As I’ve mentioned, it is about bullying, an important subject. However, Learning to Be Human takes this an extra step further with a solid and consistent gameplay structure to back it up. This makes it easier to absorb its key points.
After slowly and earnestly playing the game with a learning objective in mind, it became more than just “hanging out” with NPCs. Instead, Characters “A,” “B,” “C,” and “D” are Yeon, Soojin, Sangho, and David, and each have extremely earnest and down-to-Earth life experiences that are relatable, and compelling because we view them through a unique vantage point: An android programmed for human interaction.
It becomes meaningful, and I’m not just saying that to be polite. Just don’t expect a wild sci-fi story.
A cool design feature is how the game subtly allows you to customize yourself when the researchers ask you to describe yourself. When I saw the “I am a human” option (one of seven options, actually) I figured that the researchers would snicker and say, “if you say so, android,” when instead they hand you a mirror so you can assess your appearance. The game then gives you a list of attributes that you describe, such as the colour of your synthetic flesh. If you describe yourself as an android the game assumes that your appearance is that of a standard android. You also choose your name and gender.
Oddly enough, being an android makes you a neutral party, especially as an observer. A common pattern is that students wage war on each other when the adult in the room leaves, only to pretend like nothing happened when a teacher returns. They have no hesitations around you. They are also more likely to listen to you. You are not a parent or stuffy adult giving them a lecture. You have no allegiance to anyone at the school or belong in a clique. You are cool, or at least novel enough to be interesting. Knowing every language doesn’t hurt either. As we see in the game, students are more receptive to your advice. And that feels nice.
There are six students, four of which you spend time with, plus a few adults. The game has a nifty bio page for reference that lists name, race, and role for all NPCs.
It's tough because some kids are not as likeable. Ouch. This is where we want to be careful lest we repeat the issues we are trying to address. Let’s put it this way: One of the students is the “main bully” whom you have- correction, you get (they matter too)- to hang out with for an entire day. When he hears about your Law against interfering, he (Spoiler - click to show) pinches a bullied classmate to see if you can do anything about. You can’t. It’s frustrating. And yet, you slowly learn his side of the story and form a connection with him with the understanding that “the bully” only skims the surface of who he is. Simply talking goes a long way. That is where the human element emerges.
Be aware, you get placed in some awkward situations. The biggest challenge is when you have great one-on-one time with one student only to see them harass someone else. (Spoiler - click to show) Yeon, a shy and soft-spoken student, is often the target. Someone might toss out the “b-word” or make derogatory remarks about one’s race. Cultural stigma also appears. The author does a nice job of sitting on a fence between being frank about bullying without making it too extreme for players.
But yes, difficult situations can spring out of nowhere, almost casually. In one case a random student (Spoiler - click to show) calls Yeon fat while standing in the lunch line. There are parts of the game where your android self is thinking, I swear to God if it weren't for these stupid Laws...
Learning to Be Human is a powerful resource about human interaction, particularly for kids and tweens. It looks at intersections of daily life (schoolwork, language barriers, parental expectations, feeling cool) and how it can fuel bullying behaviors.
The android protagonist has unique freedoms that puts them in the role of observer but is also bound by the Laws that prevents them for standing up for someone being bullied. This highlights the complexities and challenges that come with recognizing bullying, stopping it, and preventing it from happening again.
I think the gameplay has a realistic view about change. You do not waltz into the classroom and convince everyone to be friends. You certainly make a positive impression, but since the game only occurs over four days, there is no way of seeing the long-term effects on students’ behavior and relationships with one another. It does not set major expectations because small changes matter. That, I believe, is where the game will be helpful for real-world people.
The objective is to show ways of initiating a conversation with a peer, making amends in small ways, and understanding how seemingly perfect people likely have hidden struggles of their own. And on that note, the game provides resources about bullying at the end of the gameplay. I encourage you to check out the link to the author’s notes.
You play as Noah. Kiera, your sister, texts you with a request. She wants you to visit a relative’s former house on Laurel Road to retrieve items for your cousin, Quinn. But you and Quinn have never had the best relationship. Not ever since they transitioned. Returning there will bring up bad memories, and afterwards, you will have to bring the items to Quinn. Will you do it? Or will you shy away from the task?
There is a genre of games about rummaging through a house one last time after a drastic event to gather items and relive memories. Exploration is largely NPC-less with a profound sense of melancholy, leaving the player to decide one what the PC gets out of the experience. I am reminded of the Twine game Another Cabin In The Woods and the TADS game Past Present. I know there are plenty more out there.
Quinn is the younger cousin of Noah and Keira. They lived their entire life under a different name- of which we never learn- but now go by Quinn. If it was not obvious, they also now identify as “they.”
The house on Laurel Road has been abandoned for months, but the furniture and belongings are still there. It is also a former crime scene. There is a brief intro before you travel to the house. Once there, you can travel from room to room in search of items. For the gameplay mechanics, you either click anywhere on the screen to move to the next passage or click on links when they are offered.
Gameplay involves reliving memories by examining items in the house. There is the (Spoiler - click to show) sketchbook that Quinn used while hospitalized for self-harm (I thought this scene was well done. It does not tip toe around the subject but also treads lightly on the explicit details). A boardgame that Noah thought was dumb, but Quinn liked to play. The home videos that Quinn’s father smashed out of anger. Oh yes, there is a lot to unpack. Overall, I would not say this is a sad, gloomy game, but there is an undeniable sense of tragedy that emerges as you sift through the near empty house.
As I mentioned at the beginning, 13 Laurel Road is a piece where the story is centered around a defining Event that occurs before the game begins. You just merely pick up the pieces of a shattered past. The big plot twist is that (Spoiler - click to show) Quinn’s father, Glenn, shot and killed his wife, Joyce. You are visiting the house months after the incident.
While this is not a graphic game, there are poignant indicators of the violence that took place, such as bullet holes or suspicious looking stains. The game gives few details about this plot element, and it’s unclear if both Quinn and Joyce were shot, or the fate of Glenn. Did he kill himself? The only certainty is that Joyce is dead, and Quinn is now living on their own.
If anything, this story is about Quinn. Nearly a year ago, when Quinn requested to be called "they," Noah screwed up and said some things that hurt Quinn, and then started an argument with his sister, prompting Quinn to leave. Noah has felt bad about that ever since, and yet has not been proactive in making up for his behavior. Hopefully, this excursion into the past to find Quinn's things will be an opportunity to come to terms with what he did.
Sure enough, you end up being the one who (Spoiler - click to show) meets with Quinn in person to return the items. You have a few choices on how to respond to that encounter.
Characters + Themes
Let’s take a closer look at the character dynamics, particularly Noah’s relationship with Quinn since it is a long relationship filled with instability.
Noah never took Quinn’s transition seriously. Not transphobic, exactly, but indifferent to the challenges and implications brought by this personal growth. Quinn came out to Noah and Keira before ever bringing it up with Quinn’s own parents. Noah and Keira were supposed to be a support system, but Noah made little effort to respect his cousin’s change in identity.
In one of the memories, Noah recalls hearing (Spoiler - click to show) Quinn’s father, Glenn, talk about Quinn in shocking ways. While the game never actually uses transphobic slurs, it's implied that such slurs and statements were said in these past discussions. Even worse, Noah also remembers not trying object to (Spoiler - click to show) his uncle's comments or feeling any need to defend Quinn. (Note: This is a good game if you want to explore these ideas without dousing you with explicit content. Such games are powerful but sometimes you may feel like playing something more subtle.)
At the same time, the game highlights the uncertainty that can come with learning about a person’s, transition in gender and pronouns when one (Noah) is unaccustomed to concepts about transitioning. Noah would retreat to the use of Quinn’s previous name and pronouns as a defense mechanism when he felt insecure about the fact that people’s identity can be fluid. It is a big unknown for Noah. Unfortunately, Noah’s lack of open-mindedness caused harm to Quinn, especially as they struggled back at home. It was not until (Spoiler - click to show) Glenn killed Joyce did Noah realize how little support Quinn had.
How the player chooses to engage with this determines Noah’s willingness to admit- really admit- that he was wrong. That he chose the easy route and ignore when faced with his cousin’s requests to use different pronouns.
Though the game features a familiar appearance of white text against a black screen, it seems like the author added the slightest variation to the default stylization. The white text large and easy to read, maybe in a different-from-default font. Paragraphs are neatly organized onscreen. Never is the screen swamped with text. Neglecting paragraph organization and text space is something I see in Twine games from time to time. Finally, the red links offer a nice splash of colour.
While not particularly advanced in the technical department, 13 Laurel Road is a simple Twine game with a potent story about identity and revisiting a broken relationship. There are a lot of variables to consider. The game shows the impacts, often the more subtle impacts, that come with misgendering someone or not respecting their wishes (hopefully I analyzed the story correctly). Ultimately, it offers redemption but only redemption that is sought out earnestly.
A memorable slice of life game worth checking out.
It is late morning and your mother texts you about going to a restaurant together. Spending time with your mother and eating food sounds like a great idea, but there is anxiety looming in the back of your mind as you agree to meet. Part of it has to do with language.
差异 // Disconnect uses a mix of Chinese characters and English. Occasionally, Chinese characters are substituted with phonetic spelling. The game begins with a short text message exchange between the protagonist and their mother.
11:05 AM MOM: I know a good restaurant, have 手拉面
The first Chinese characters, 手拉面, initially did not have the translation, prompting me to immediately reach for an online translator. I thought this was interesting because the protagonist did exactly just that after I did. It was a brief moment where I could relate to the protagonist, although less so since I lack any working knowledge on the Chinese language. I got "hand-pulled noodles," as did the protagonist when they used consulted Google. It was a neat moment.
The remainder of the gameplay takes place at the restaurant. This seems to be a story where the PC feels like they are messing up more than they are, but the awkwardness so, so real. A noteworthy scene is when the protagonist is trying to give the waitress their order. Their menu is written in Chinese with an English translation, and automatically find themselves reading the translation. But when a waitress comes over to the table, they feel pressured to order in Chinese.
You review the pinying over again in your head. Wǒ yào niúròu shǒu lāmiàn tāng. How hard can it be?
Trying to use perfect accent and pronunciation while on the spot, they trip over the words. You can either try again or bail out and switch to English. Either choice serves to serves to put the player in the protagonist’s shoes to show what it is like to sit on a fence between your closeness to the Chinese language as part of your heritage, and the everyday convenience of English that you rely on in daily life.
What I did not like was how quickly this game ends. It happens sort of out of nowhere. I would have easily given this a rating of five stars if it had more of a conclusion. When you sit down to eat, I thought the game was just getting started, that there would be a little more dialog or examination of other cultural norms. The game is far from incomplete. In fact, it’s excellent. However, I was invested in the story and looked forward to seeing more the protagonist’s experience.
Story + Characters
The story is told in second person, and it seems that your character is gender-neutral, although there is one section that slightly suggests that the protagonist is female. I’ve opted to use “they” instead. Yes, so they feel anxiety and regret about their broken Chinese and how it has shaped encounters with their mother and older family members. They especially remember being pressured into attending Chinese language school when they were younger, but now feels guilty about not making the most of what they learned. They are left as someone who understands Chinese but is unable to speak it with the same proficiency of their mother.
These differences go beyond spoken language. The protagonist has the urge to hug their mother when they see her at the restaurant but refrains from doing so since older members in their family typically did not do that. It was something "reserved for your friends and younger, Westernized relatives.” There are all sorts of subtleties that contribute to a feeling of disconnect. I have always liked games that show the inns and outs of cultural interactions that would otherwise go over your head. The point is not to be a crash course on culture, just a glimpse into a single story.
The game keeps it simple but visually appealing. Links are a cheerful yellow. Most of the Chinese text is highlighted in yellow that, when clicked on, reveals the English translation. Text is a mix of black and grey against a white background. I liked the simplicity of the cover art.
So, this game got me thinking about the title. Courtesy of online Chinese-to-English translate, 差异 means “difference.” Someone better correct me if I’m wrong. Difference // Disconnect. Based on what I learned from the gameplay, it seems the title means that linguistic differences- and other differences- have formed a disconnect between the protagonist and their mother. It is a caring relationship but not always a seamless one as we see in the game.
I really enjoyed this game and recommend it to anyone interested in a slice of life game about family dynamics and Chinese culture. As someone largely unfamiliar with the ins and outs of Chinese language/culture, I found this to be an insightful piece on a human experience.
Orunge is a heartwarming story told in first person from the perspective of a young girl looking to buy some oranges at a market. We follow her frantic rush to buy these oranges and meet up with some mysterious NPC.
The game takes place at a metropolitan setting with public transportation and a maze of outdoor venders. The girl’s desperate search in the gameplay accurately captures a sense of rushing through a busy area, totally lost while on a time crunch. This part was relatable. Science dictates that the less time you need to be somewhere, the more confusing everything- I’m kidding.
Ack, I’m getting distracted! Gotta get oranges first. He’ll be packing up soon, so I don’t have a lot of time. I’ll miss out.
Those pastries smell SO good though.
(The words "oranges" and "pastries" are both links. It is an extremely difficult decision.)
In terms of interactivity, there are only a few cases where the player can make a choice. Otherwise, they are just in it for the ride. But being a short game with a reasonable amount of text, Orunge maintains the player’s attention as they watch the story unfold. Because of this, the game would be a good selection for kids.
Story + Characters
The reason behind the protagonist’s desperate scramble is only revealed at the end. We know one thing: These oranges are for someone else. Until then, there is a sense of mystery and anticipation as we wait to learn who “he” is (In fact, character details about everyone, including the protagonist, are kept at a minimum).
The answer is that there is a (Spoiler - click to show) vender who will teach the protagonist how to make orange juice by pressing oranges. Naturally, she supplies the oranges and does not want to keep him waiting. I am not sure of the protagonist's relationship with the vender or how they know each other, but it is a wholesome story about a person teaching a trade to another.
There are multiple endings. I found two, one of which has two nearly identical variations. For the latter, (Spoiler - click to show) you acquire a pastry to give to the man or you forget/ran out of time to buy a pastry. Either one is a happy ending where the two characters bond over orange juice. It's such an endearing story! There is also a less ideal ending where you (Spoiler - click to show) dally and take too long to catch up to the vender before he packs up his stall and drives off. But never fear, that ultimately leads to a surprise happy ending and still ends in (Spoiler - click to show) orange juice.
Unsurprisingly, the colour palette for this game is orange. It has a light orange background with dark orange text and white links. This is quite a tasteful look. There are also some nice story graphics on every page that elevate the game’s quality. Graphics feature drawings done in a mix of orange shades. They depict the protagonist as she runs around the market, and I liked the art style.
Orunge is an endearing story for adults but also perfect for kids because of the lighthearted story, cheery art, and shorter word count. It features a relatable and upbeat protagonist who leaves a lasting impression on the audience. It’s also a game that demonstrates how you do not need to have ultra-complex coding or dramatic visual effects to create a polished and professional-looking Twine game.
You are fourteen-year-old Kyle, a Boy Scout looking to earn a Community Service badge. Peanut the cat has run off, and this is your chance to show initiative. Time to investigate the local neighborhood.
When the game began my first impression was that a Boy Scout troop was out looking for a cat (does that occur in real-life?) which immediately creates a cool ambience. A closer look soon showed that Kyle is the only Boy Scout around. Meanwhile, a group of middle-school aged kids, are running about and talking about a kid named Max. Naturally, the player is roped into participating in Max’s plans.
I really, really, like the (Spoiler - click to show) occult twist. Yes, you heard that right. The start of the game sounds like a light, wholesome game about a youth trying to save a cat (which also sounds like fun) to earn a badge only to surprise the player with an unexpected thrill. Eerie ten-year-old Max (Spoiler - click to show) wants to hold a ritual in the groundwater tunnels. Sounds cool! Max needs three Native American artifacts for the ritual. He has one and wants you to find the other two. By now, finding the cat falls to the wayside as you pursue this new objective.
This is not a puzzle heavy game but there is a lot of exploring. The gameplay has a moderate sized map consisting of a suburban area. You will probably want to make a light map of the underground tunnels. Nothing too fancy, but you may find it helpful.
There is one bug/issue that made the game unwinnable. (UPDATE: I've received feedback that this is NOT an unwinnable state. I'm leaving this paragraph in as a formality but understand that my calling it unwinnable was an incorrect assessment on my part). (Spoiler - click to show) Max wants Clem to solder the three artifacts together. Clem follows you around for most of the gameplay. You are supposed to retrieve the hand-held generator from his garage, fill it with gas, and give it to him so he can use his solder iron. I put the game in an unwinnable state by giving him the generator before Max has all three artifacts.
He looks at you, “Give me the hand-held generator.”
I already gave it to him at the garage. I tried to take it back, but…
That seems to belong to Clem.
I restarted the game because I could see no way of soldering the artifacts together to start the ritual. CORRECTION: While Clem may still ask for the generator even after you give it to him, he will solder the artifacts together once everyone arrives.
I was expecting the story to have more focus on the protagonist’s goal of earning a badge, perhaps incorporating themes of “character building.” Maybe I am misinterpreting the process of earning a Community Service badge. Point is, Kyle obviously takes this seriously, and as a game, the idea of earning a badge takes center stage. This is the first Boy Scout PC I have played in interactive fiction, and I was excited to see where it would go. Ultimately, this part of Kyle’s identity was not showcased as much as I thought it would be.
The setting is intriguing. After snooping around you come across some newspaper clippings that outline two main controversies in the area. The first follows the development of a (Spoiler - click to show) new museum on Native American culture that has been delayed over conflicts of the museum’s focus. There is also mention of Native American artifacts being discovered while the neighborhood was being developed. The second controversy looks at a trend of (Spoiler - click to show) health issues in residents that seem to be connected to the water supply. Plans were made to re-design the water drainage system, but those plans were brought to a halt. The story focuses more on the former issue.
The storyline reminded me of an element in Anchorhead where a (semi-spoilers for Anchorhead coming right up!) (Spoiler - click to show) specific tribe- I believe it was a fictional tribe- of indigenous people who worshiped celestial entities that were of interest to the Verlac family because it was connected to a vast ritual that had been planned for generations. The player, lucky you, gets to deal with the impending doom of this ritual. Right near the center of town is a big obelisk that covers the tribe’s ancient burial ground that also seals off a hell-dimension on the other side of mortal existence. You learn about this through newspaper clippings and content from the library. It’s wild. I mean, it’s Anchorhead, obviously.
Max (Spoiler - click to show) speaks of a monster in the southernmost tunnels that had been sealed off by Native Americans. This can be unsealed with a ritual using the three artifacts. Max himself also seems to be possessed. Disturbing, but not disturbing enough to dissuade the other neighborhood kids, including Kyle, from helping. Don’t get me wrong, (Spoiler - click to show) suburban Boy Scout cat search + occult ritual hosted by a ten-year-old named Max is novel as it brushes on Anchorhead themes. My complaint is this: there is hardly any story (or gameplay) about (Spoiler - click to show) finding Peanut the cat.
Start of game: You have been tasked to find the missing cat, Peanut. You're hoping this simple mission will earn you your Community Service merit badge. You head into the woods where the cat was last seen.
We’ve seen Peanut at the start of game. She’s behind a storm tunnel grating and runs off when you open it. Onwards, you try to run and chase her. Throughout the gameplay are cues such as, “You hear the tinkling of a small bell,” and “You hear a cat meowing,” amongst NPCs’ advice to look in the tunnels! And from there on, the cat takes a back seat as the gameplay shifts to finding artifacts.
When you save your friends from the monster and win the game, Peanut decides to appear and jump into your arms. Great resolution, but I just sat there realizing how much time I wasted trying to corner the cat into one of tunnels, using the dead rat as bait (probably not as appealing to cats as I thought), and experimenting with the various exits and entrances in the tunnel maze to map out her movements. The kid doesn’t even get his badge at the end of the game!
NPCs wander independently. I always enjoy seeing this in interactive fiction because it feels more dynamic. That said, their behavior does not have much substance. When you first meet them, they introduce themselves to you which is a strong start. Then they wander around until aimlessly until you make progress towards the (Spoiler - click to show) ritual. To be fair, designing seven (plus Peanut) independent NPCs is probably not an easy task. And you will find moments where NPC behavior triggers a surprising effect, such as when they all (Spoiler - click to show) suddenly gather in the meeting room to start the ritual. That was cool.
I have criticism about the dialog. The game uses the “topics” command to offer a list of topics to ask other characters. I thought this was smart because it keeps the player close to relevant subject matters. The issue is that A, topics do not acknowledge the player’s progress, and B, the “topics” feature lack subjects relevant to the situation. To use an example for the first case, (Spoiler - click to show) if you ask Max about the artifacts after the ritual, he still acts as if you have not found them yet. This put a dent in the interaction.
The other concern become more apparent as the story developed. Characters were limited in their responses to these events. The topics list never expands. In Clem’s introduction he says, "'I'm Clem. I'm in charge of the reconstruction effort.'" But asking him about it (I wanted to know if this had any connection to the (Spoiler - click to show) water quality controversy) results in, "Clem doesn't have anything useful to say about that." Alright, maybe I am being a stickler on this one. Still, subjects about the (Spoiler - click to show) ritual, the Andelmans’ house, and characters’ immediate surroundings are excluded from conversation. (Spoiler - click to show)
Guarding the room is a fearsome pitbull. He eyes you while growling.
Clem comes up from below.
>ask Clem about pitbull
Clem doesn't have anything useful to say about that.
I was expecting some response.
Also, who are the Andelmans'? It’s in the title. First impression was when I tried to enter the basement before meeting with the NPCs in the meeting place near the start of the game.
You begin to head west when suddenly you hear a girl's voice scold you, "We don't go in there. We think it's the Andelman House."
There you go. Mystery. It creates a chilling, sinister vibe to the gameplay. A hint that there is more to this maze of storm drain tunnels than what meets the eye. Right away you think, Who are the Andelmans? Sounds like a neighborhood legend. Your curiosity is spiked because this suburban adventure just got a whole lot interesting. This never went anywhere. We explore the house, almost abandoned, if not for the (Spoiler - click to show) guard dog in the kitchen. I kept wondering what the big secret was. Turns out, I was on the wrong path. I was thinking of this in terms of character names. Andelmans' Yard is (Spoiler - click to show) apparently named after a song of the same title. I would never have known that if I had not looked up the game’s title on a hunch. The song’s lyrics details exploring tunnels and themes that are seen in the gameplay. That was the connection I was missing.
This game has a good start. While character interactions could use more polish, the game has been tested and it feels like completed piece. I enjoyed the surprises. Especially (Spoiler - click to show) Max’s surprises. The author does a nice job in mixing the everyday with the (Spoiler - click to show) paranormal. Even though I was expecting the gameplay to go through with its (Spoiler - click to show) original plot of searching for Peanut, I am glad that, in the end, we find her anyway. If there are any more games about Kyle trying to earn a badge, I would be interested in playing them. An enjoyable slice of life game mystery with a horror twist.
This is not a spoof. Do not let the cartoon cover art make you think otherwise. After playing URA Winner! I probably jumped to conclusions. Some educational games look convincing at first only to reveal its nature later in the gameplay. Parodies are a lot of fun, but Nick’s Dilemma is not one of them.
You work for a company called MediSales that distributes surgical equipment. Sheila, your boss, calls for a meeting about a hiring issue. The company has been unable to find a long-term employee for a sales management position. Candidates are selected, trained, and months later they leave because the job was not a good fit. This pattern is expensive and needs a lasting solution.
Sheila guides the player by having them ask appropriate questions about hiring. Then she then guides the player by talking to co-workers and using digital resources to learn about factors in the hiring process. The gameplay is structured into units. After each unit you get a badge before moving on to the next unit. It is all incredibly straightforward. There is even an embedded video tutorial for the game on the title page. Everything is painstakingly designed to be user-friendly.
When I went to restart the game, I got a popup message saying, “Are you sure you want to restart this Educational Game?” For some reason I thought it was amusing that the message went through the effort of noting that this is, in fact, and educational game.
This really isn’t a story intensive game. It gives everything up front. Find a candidate who will be compatible for sales management. There are multiple endings based on your hiring select. Not all of them are ideal but the game always urges you to return to the gameplay to make choices that result in a favorable outcome. This is where it deviates from being a “game.” For some games, the fun is seeing the “bad” endings, the ones that crash and burn. But in Nick’s Dilemma the goal is to learn about the proper steps to success (oh no, I’m started to sound like a training manual), hence why it wants the player to win.
There is a diverse range of characters in this game, most of which only make a brief appearance to discuss key points in the game’s content. Sheila is the NPC you interact with the most.
One problem: I still have no idea who Nick is.
When I first saw this game, I was this close adding it to the poll titled, “Games Where the Title Is You,” but hesitated. I thought that you were playing as Nick. That is, until the game asked me to type in my character name instead. I guess we are not Nick. The game features graphics for the characters, and the PC’s is rather generic. We only see the backside of “Nick” never the face, probably to minimize characteristics. I’m not at all mad at this if that is what you’re worried about. I just spent a lot of time scanning the game to try to find any mention of Nick.
The game uses a white background with black text and blue links. Sometimes it dabbles with fonts for emails or notes which was clever. There is a panel on the left side of the page with a list detailing your progress. For completing each milestone in the story, you get a badge which is displayed in the corner of the screen. The badges are visual appealing but kind of useless and yet receiving them feels oddly rewarding.
Congratulations! You have earned 2 badges. You have unlocked the next section of the game!
The game would not succeed without its graphics. The character graphics give you something to look at and draws the player’s attention away from just reading text. Other visuals are more vital because they provide useful examples of material you may create for yourself. If you decide to (Spoiler - click to show) put out an online add the game shows a picture of what the ad may look like if it were posted it on a job search website.
Do you walk away with the basics of sales management? Honestly, no. Not really. I cannot say I know more about the field of sales management (or the management of sales). HOWEVER. I did learn a lot about protocol, process, and the reasoning behind making hiring decisions. Of course, in real life this matter is more complex than what can be covered in a Twine game, but it does provide you with some insights. A couple of times I almost felt like I was taking one of those interactive training video exercises you complete after being hired.
You learn more about basic communication skills. Things like writing brief but thoughtful emails and follow-up emails, initiating conversations with co-workers. These skills seem trivial, but they go a long way in real life. The game does not sit you down and start a “Writing Emails 101,” spiel. Instead, it provides examples that serve as a reference. This way, the game is more helpful regardless of players’ emailing skills. Nick’s Dilemma is reasonably short and surprisingly practical. It is one of the most educational interactive fiction games for subjects unrelated to interactive fiction that I have played so far.
Nineteen is about the author’s experience with gender identity during an important milestone: Turning 19. The story looks at personal struggles, not just in terms of societal stigma but also the frustrations of not knowing what definition you align with in a world where concepts of gender and sexuality are often placed in a ridged box: You either belong in this category or that category. This game, however, points out that the identity of oneself is far more complex than that.
The gameplay is in second person but built of the author’s own life experiences. As an almost-nineteen-year-old the player finds themselves moving into an apartment with an abusive girlfriend while being employed at an office job. Here, the game explores the loaded meaning behind slurs and their associations and assumptions with gender as they navigate new life changes.
Everything in the game takes a reflective approach. The interactivity does not consist of making changes to the storyline or directly engaging with the characters within. Instead, the player chooses links that reveal different components of their situation before cycling back. This created a fluid effect that made the gameplay a little more immersive. It gives the player an opportunity to “dig” through the story even if they do not influence its contents. Gameplay is extremely short, and you will have to play the game twice to see everything.
Nineteen is not a timeline of the protagonist’s life, but it does outline how identity can change. While the protagonist’s 19th birthday is in 2004, the game projects what life will be like in the future which includes life crises. We get a glimpse- just a glimpse- of the author’s experiences during (Spoiler - click to show) 2007, 2011, 2012, and 2014. In college the author identified as a transgender male and went by Aidan. Years later Aidan became Kiran.
At the end of the narrative the author identifies as neutrois. I have never heard about this term before and wanted to make sure that I used the proper pronouns and wording for this review. Neutrois, according to the definitions I looked up, means gender neutral and that “they/them” pronouns are used (inform me, please, if this is inaccurate) So, there you go. I learned a new term.
One of the takeaways in the game is the idea of considering a term about gender, and then considering the individual attached to the term. If I understand correctly, the author found hope in learning how people can be transgender, and yet, trying to transition did not bring any clarity to how they felt about their own identity. Terms do not necessarily explain the person behind it.
The subject matter is serious, but I found the author’s writing to be approachable. As a Twine game it also has polished formatting. It sticks to a basic appearance with a black background, blue links, and small white text placed neatly at the top of the screen. There quantity of text is moderate, but it is all concise and potent.
Ultimately, this is not a gameplay-oriented game. If you are merely looking for something to “play” then you may not enjoy this one as much. Rather, the heart of the experience is taking in the story and viewing every thread that the author has to say about it. And I am glad they decided to share this through an interactive fiction piece.
This is such a gem.
You a ghost. A friendly, benevolent one. No one can see you or acknowledge your presence, but that does not deter you from wanting to help. The game takes place in the house of a small family. Even though your own identity is foggy, you have a strong desire to protect them.
As a ghost you try to prevent disasters, preferably so that the occupants of the house never realize that there was any chance of disaster to begin with. It is a lighthearted game, but one that ponders the balance of everyday events that can lead to (Spoiler - click to show) household disasters. To borrow its words, "a domino effect." This game is never judgmental, nor does it strive to teach a moral. Instead, it portrays a sensitive protagonist who looks at daily life through the unique advantage of a ghost. Contemplative.
This is a Twine game. Not only does it look nice, but the gameplay is smooth. The player moves freely throughout rooms to explore the contents. For choice-based games I like to call this as free range of movement, but the effect is more subtle in The Good Ghost. Lazy and casual, yet attentive. There is a thoughtfulness in your surroundings that encourage you to find the nooks and tiny details that usually go unobserved by the family in the house.
Now, this is not a puzzle game. Instead, it features small objectives, such as (Spoiler - click to show) finding a wedding ring, that are solved by going to the right room and carefully observing. This shifts the flow, so the game then leads you to the next scene. Everything is so fluid and organized!
The Good Ghost shines in every department, but the story tops it all. It is broken into several acts that documents the family over a lifetime. Seeing this process was incredibly grounding. As for the ending, it is the sublime moment of realization at the end that makes this game so emotionally powerful. I do not want to spoil the ending but know that it clicked perfectly. (Spoiler - click to show) So that's why the cat dislikes me... It was beautiful.
Excellent, excellent work. I highly recommend this game to anyone.
In this short Twine game, you play as a volunteer collecting dues for a community organization group. It is time for your shift, where you go from door to door, trying to get people interested in signing up as members. You have a quota to meet, but lately your success rate with recruiting members has declined and your faith in the organization's ability to create change is wavering. Think about that later. Pull on your winter clothes, steel your nerves, and start your shift.
Collect £5 in dues within four hours. All right. There are 32 houses on your list. It is not possible to visit them all, nor is that the goal. Well, the goal is to knock on as many doors as possible, but your success is based on the dues you collect, not on how many houses you reach. Going to a house costs five minutes, and at some point, you also need to take at least one break, either to use the restroom or warm up from the cold, or you will have to end your shift early. So, it is definitely not possible to cover everything. But that is also a good reason for replays.
You can also take breaks for other things such as texting a coworker or checking the news. The game is set during the COVID lockdown restrictions in 2020, and checking the news gives some light background context which was a nice touch. Plus, there is an in-game glossary explaining the process of community organization.
The catch is that success is not really possible. Few people showed interest in my pitch. I made a simple list of which houses had people who answered the door, and then narrowed that down to people who would earnestly engage in conversation. Next, I replayed to find the dialog options that successfully convinced them to join. And it worked! I was so pleased with myself. My target was £5. I came back with (Spoiler - click to show) £8. Only to learn that (Spoiler - click to show) some people cancelled their memberships, resulting in me failing to meet my target after all. An exercise in futility, and that is where the main idea comes in.
Story + Characters
The protagonist is coming to terms with the fact that their work is no longer as meaningful as they once thought it was. They joined to make a difference, and now they have a hard time envisioning people enthusiastically signing up for something pitched to them by a stranger on their doorstep. Early on in their job, the protagonist reached their targets with recruiting people but now not so much. They wonder if the time spent going from door to door to keep their numbers up could be better spent elsewhere. But the only thing they are told by their manager is to knock on more doors. The game ultimately shares some interesting perspectives.
There is a strong human element in this game. It captures the task of preparing to weather all sorts of people. When you first play the game there is a sense of anticipation of wondering who will open the door. Someone edgy? Someone friendly? No one at all? At the same time, you also see the other side of the story. There is a lockdown, everyone is cooped up inside, it is the dead of winter, and now here is someone knocking on your door asking you to sign up for something. Still, I wonder if the author has done community organization work themselves, and if so, whether the characters in the game are based on actual experiences.
On a brief side note, I really like the game’s appearance which combines a purple background with white text and colourful links. It is organized and crisp looking.
No One Else Is Doing This was one of the earlier games I played for the IFComp and it immediately pulled me into the story. It is not particularly long, but its gameplay structure encourages multiple playthroughs. While generally lighthearted it does touch on topics about daily concerns such as upkeep of parks or cost of public transportation. It gives you some interesting things to think about, and I appreciated its relevance to the COVID related lockdown without it dominating the gameplay. The game is ultimately a mix of humor, determination, and frustration that puts the player in the protagonist’s shoes.