BaoBao

by Cass Khaw & James Persaud

Science Fiction

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
An unusual yet elegant remembering of one's mother, September 12, 2022

BaoBao follows the trope* of a protagonist digging through a computer only to find a surprise AI. Our protagonist is Aiyo. Her mother recently passed away and she now needs to sort through the contents of her computer. Along the way she uncovers an AI.

Gameplay
Gameplay consists of the player rummaging through a directory system on a computer. There are several directories, such as recipes or notes, each of which contain a file named “baobao” and a string of numbers. The other files in the directories are of no interest. The player only makes progress by exploring the baobao files, but when they do an AI intervenes. The AI prevents the player from viewing the file’s contents but instead adds new commands to the home folder that expand the story.

The game also has the option making a cup of tea before returning to the computer. This added some ambience because the protagonist is trying to stay calm, and level minded in the aftermath of her mother’s death. It adds a nice self-reflective approach. And if the player wants to pause the game itself to make some tea, that is fine too.

The game's description is "A young woman is sorting through her deceased mother’s personal computer and finds an AI in her way." If I did not know otherwise, I would not have said to myself "oh wow, I found an AI!" It is more subtle than that. They only part that screamed AI was when (Spoiler - click to show) the game says, “Aiya, don’t try to hide your face. I can see you know. This computer got webcam. Aiyo. No make-up also,” implying that it is Aiyo’s mother, or at least a digital version of her, is present. These interactions are brief and sometimes it can be confusing to keep track of when the AI is addressing the player and when the player is merely experiencing the Aiyo’s thoughts, especially since they are both shown with the same white text formatting. It does not feel like you are interacting with an NPC. While I liked the subtly, this vagueness may disengage players.

Story
Game has some interesting themes on femininity, especially from traditional conventions. Aiyo has vivid memories of her mother and philosophies of beauty. Especially vivid ones are the smell of her mother's perfume or the fancy ornate patterns on her lipstick case the surface as she searches the computer. We learn that her mother was (Spoiler - click to show) always worried about her daughter's chances of finding a decent husband, one that would love her and never have affairs since her own husband had a beautiful girlfriend on the side. That was her main priority for Aiyo. She would often say that Aiyo was not pretty enough and that she should take things like makeup seriously. From the mother's perspective, this was not meant to be mean but to ensure that her daughter found a husband who would love and respect her. From Aiyo’s perspective this was stifling, and she was frustrated over her mother's attempts to find her the perfect lipstick shade colour or pressuring her to diet to maintain a feminine size and figure. These differences in ideologies come to light as the AI reveals more about the mother’s view of her daughter. They begin to come to an understanding.

I kept thinking that baobao is a pretty cool name for an AI until I found the translation. 宝宝 (baobao) is a word from the Chinese language that means baby or treasure and can be used as a term of endearment. The application of the word can vary, but this definition was the bulk of the results I found. So, is the (Spoiler - click to show) AI Aiyo’s mother or is it just a model of her personality and interests? Did her mother intentionally create the AI or was it accidentally formed from the clutter on the computer? There is a lot to consider with intriguing implications. The game ends with (Spoiler - click to show) the AI giving the player full access to every baobao titled file on the computer so that the Aiyo can finally see the parts of her mother that were always hidden, the parts where she genuinely loved her daughter but failed to convey it in life. In death it is as if Aiyo is relearning her mother. The game wraps this up on a graceful note that I found to be memorable.

Visuals
The game keeps it simple with the visuals but uses stylization to create the appearance of a computer screen. For these segments the game has a black screen with green text and blue links. Otherwise, it sticks to white text. The creative part was that the player could choose between clinking on links to navigate the computer or type them in. This added some nice interactivity to an otherwise basic Twine format.

Final thoughts
I really enjoyed this one. It is a thoughtful sci-fi game with a contemplative approach to death and memories. The dynamics between Aiyo and her mother were especially compelling and thoughtful. Throughout their lives they always seemed to clash in values but now Aiyo gets to see the possibility that she was closer to her mother than they both realized. Plus, I liked the cover art.

*Binary by Stephen Granade comes to mind, even though it has a different tone and subject matter.