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About the Story
A day like many others.
26th Place - 19th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2013)
IF Comp 2013: Dad vs Unicorn (PaperBlurt)
This is a rather grim short about a dysfunctional father/son relationship. A lot of work has gone into the presentation: the fonts, the colors, the drawings all pull together in a consistent way, like a children’s book, but with distinctly un-children’s-book content. I wouldn’t really call it fun, but it’s also not trying to be fun...
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Number of Reviews: 6
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This short narrative is not badly done; it is a successful exploration of culturally normative masculine gender identity.
This is essentially a twine or hypertext game, concerning a linear story line told from three different perspectives. The third perspective (that of the unicorn) is an "unlockable"--once you've played through as either of the two starting characters (father or son) you can play as the unicorn. Unfortunately, the Unicorn and the Father both present the same macho/bully/entitled male gender identity, so there wasn't as much variation here as there seemed.
The actual writing is fairly good, although the story could have benefited from better characterization. The father's final, binary, choice seems superfluous/gamest and not in keeping with the plot. I had no sense from reading his narrative that he'd be even possibly be willing to make the more noble of the two choices. In that moment, it was clear that I was the player and not the character, which was out of keeping with the experience so far. This game is very linear; you do not get to change the perspective or behavior of the character you are playing as.
Ultimately this game says something meaningful about gender identity, particularly as it applies to American masculine identity, but the message is hindered by the actual mechanics and style. The tone seems to suggest you can make meaningful decisions (and you do have one choice, at the end, depending on your character), but the choices do not seem particularly illuminating or realistic.
I think of the 3 narratives the son is the strongest. It features the feelings, emotions, and thoughts in a way that felt real. I found the character to be irritating and not particularly sympathetic, but still well-written. To be clear, I think the author succeeded at portraying an unlikable character in a sympathetic way, which is a success.
The story for the father was much harder to appreciate. The father is a parody of American fatherhood, and didn't feel real or even vaguely sympathetic. I suppose the final choice in his narrative could feel real, depending on how you viewed him or how realistic you believe the stereotype of American fatherhood is, but it felt empty and meaningless. Choice for the sake of choice.
The unicorn worked better as a portrayal of bullying male macho masculinity; there is no attempt at humanizing or making the unicorn sympathetic, so I didn't feel any disconnect with his actions and the narrative.
I think this is a good story, and the graphics are fun. I would suggest improving the father character, but on the whole, I thought this was a successful game.
The first two parts of the story were quite well written. A father neglecting his son, a son feeling misunderstood by his father, both parts ending in a surreal moment. So I expected a solution to the appearance of the unicorn -- was it a metaphor? But I was disappointed. (Spoiler - click to show)The third part describes the unicorn embarking upon a destructive romp, maybe the author wants to show how air-built castles can crash when the truth is revealed, but this approach will not work for everyone. These passages make use of a vulgar language, which was way too extreme for my taste. Conclusively there is not much time wasted if you check it out, but do not expect a philosophical statement.
(I wrote the original version of this review in my blog upon the game's initial 2013 IFComp release.)
This is a short (ten minutes) CYOA Twine piece about a small-minded masculinity-conscious dad, his overweight and troubled son and how they are eventually attacked by a unicorn. I can let on about the unicorn attack because it's in the blurb of the game and also strongly implied by the title in the first place. I found the experience mildly unpleasant and lacking some other resonance to sufficiently make up for that. The game has swearing, sexual content and violence.
Dad vs. Unicorn carries the fire of anger, manifest as sarcastic energy, and it uses highly crafted minimal prose which is sometimes hard to follow due to its frequent stylistic omission of the verb to be or other sentence-launching entities. This wasn't the first ten-minute Twine game I'd played brandishing the particular combination of anger, swearing, sexual politics and characters throwing their entrails around, and my reaction to each such game tends to be half instinct, and half – if I have ideas about what I think the game was on about – what I think the game was on about.
I read Dad vs. Unicorn as a short assault on traditional ideas of masculinity and how they can screw people up. You can click your way through either the dad's thoughts as he prepares a manly BBQ or his son's thoughts as he looks for his dad around the house. The dad's recollections show how boxed in he is in his thoughts and how disappointed he is in his unmasculine son. The son's recollections are a series of vignettes about being embarrassed or shamed. Both stories lead to the encounter with the unicorn, who kills someone, and you get to pick who dies. After those two experiences you can play from the unicorn's point of view, where you discover that he's not just literally a dickhead, but figuratively one, too. Hypermasculinity leads only to stupid destruction, perhaps?
The dad has only small thoughts and appears to have stopped evolving completely, which obviously isn't impossible, but makes me feel that the pervading angriness is the game's main point, since games in which you can choose which person to play usually use that opportunity to let you experience varying perspectives.
The act of writing about this game showed me I took more from it than I thought I did, but it felt too much like having one angry note yelled at me.
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