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Nothing motivates a man like a woman's change of status, November 22, 2008
The most unique thing about Jeremy Freese's _Violet_ is its wholeness. The author uses an unusual technique of casting the titular NPC as a voice intentionally willed to exist inside the male* protagonist's own head. Not only does his constantly keeping in mind "what would Violet say?" show his feelings for Violet and his current motivation, but the technique allows an in-game character to comment on both action-based gameplay and out-of-world game messages without breaking mimesis. Even the about-the-game portions of the work called up by the CREDITS or ABOUT commands are cast as a letter from an ostensibly real-world Violet to the author's friends, we the player. The pervasive use of this technique lends the work a visceral force usually reserved for true stories.
A secondary effect of the same technique suckers puzzle-adverse players into playing a puzzle-based game to completion. Myself spent over 15 minutes with _Violet_ before realizing it is not, in fact, a conversation-based work. Conversation through NPC commentary is merely a veneer. The initial tasks in the game are so easy they would rightly be called a basic I-F tutorial rather than a puzzle. By the time the player recognizes the true nature of the gameplay, a desire to see how it all ends has taken over. Besides, surely just getting settled enough to begin writing a dissertation couldn't take much longer, could it?
Well as it turns out, our protagonist is unfortunately very good at sabotaging himself, and the lengths to which he must go become increasingly outlandish and embarrassing. It's something of a trick that, even when Violet herself finally comes on stage to laugh a little at us, the author has avoided making the player feel like a buffoon even as he (and we) makes one of the player-character. The player-character isn't properly named, or even solidly gendered, and the work is in second person, all of which invites conflation of the player with the player-character. But it doesn't matter. Perhaps it's because the work itself reinforces the bemused absurdity of it all (such as the scenes outside the window), or perhaps it's because we believe enough in the protagonist's mission by then so that, by hook or by crook, we'll accomplish our goals and worry about our dignity later. However it's done, it's done well.
Narrative techniques for the problems specific to interaction fiction still inhabit a realm of rumor and black magic, passed between individuals who may never meet. Because the novelty of computer games is front-loaded and cooly intellectual, they can be acceptably reviewed unfinished. Because a story reveals its heart near the end, it must light a fire in the player after basic mastery settles in but before repetition does the same. And because so frequently a video game's first on-stage character teaches gameplay throughout, such a character cannot play a significant part in the story precisely because of that world-straddling status -- thus breaking a rule of static fiction about characters introduced early. But Violet, true to her status as a sufficiently awesome girlfriend, does exactly this. Even as her imagined voice ostensibly encourages her boyfriend to complete his task for the warm rewards, she encourages us to complete ours for the same. It is this solution that raises Freese's magic out of the blackness of grues, and into a spectrum a little more colorful.
* Or female, as the player may change, only, the player-character's gender.