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This review is for the entire Robyn Saga, which is told in four parts. They were uploaded to IFDB but then deleted, and are currently available on the ifarchive under "unprocessed." They're meant to be played in the following order: The Elevator, The Box, The Diary, The Prism.
But I don't think I can recommend that anyone should play them.
These games are transgressive, pornographic, scatological. They feature abuse, kidnapping, torture. Both children and adults are victimized. Both children and adults are abusers. If they had content warnings, those warnings would have to list just about everything under the sun. These games are in the same territory as the Marquis de Sade's writing.
I don't find transgressive media enjoyable in any conventional sense. It disturbs me. But I feel like I have to confront it. I seek out books and movies about horrible things. No matter how disturbing, they are still only books and movies. Fiction is the safest way to experience these horrible things. And I've consumed enough transgressive media to actually become rather picky about it. I don't care for de Sade; he might write about terrible stuff, but he exaggerates ridiculously. Octave Mirbeau's The Torture Garden and Lautreamont's Maldoror are more my style.
I'm providing this background about my own tastes to explain why I played the Robyn Saga, and to explain that my negative reaction is not a reaction against transgressive media in general. In fact, when I first learned about these games, I was excited to think that someone might be pushing interactive fiction in such an extreme direction.
But then I played the games, and I couldn't bring myself to finish the last one.
This was a good experience for me to have. It made me realize that there's another layer to the whole transgressive media thing that I hadn't perceived before. As I said, fiction is a safe way to explore horrible ideas. Whatever someone may write in a book, the words are just words on a page. With a movie like Begotten, you know that it's scripted and the actors are consenting and everything is fake.
For that matter, you can even take away the fictional element sometimes. You can read Albert Fish's letters, and they will turn your stomach, but they are still inert letters. There's a boundary in place. The text itself creates that boundary.
Well, with interactive fiction, that boundary is stripped away. Especially with indie games like the Robyn Saga, where "indie" means that anyone -- anyone -- can make a game. Usually we think that this is good. Game developing tools are accessible to everyone! Yes, well, imagine if Albert Fish had made a Twine game and released it onto IFDB.
The Robyn Saga is written well enough, but not that well. It has a philosophical slant in places, but more often it feels as though you're reading about someone's personal fetishes. These fetishes become more and more grotesque. Was the author writing this because they wanted to legitimately explore the material, or because it turned them on?
I cannot say. I do not know. The games never establish trust with the reader. Never. You are on unstable ground the entire time, and then you reach The Prism. This game requires a password to unlock. When you unlock it, what you get is erratic text, sexually charged and violent, completely unhinged. It calls itself a "child porn simulator."
This is where I bailed. Oh, did I bail. As quickly as my little mouse could drag over to close the browser window.
Now, I have to say that if the Robyn Saga is truly an intellectual exercise, then wow was it a success at plunging into the most depraved depths. But if the author was writing about their own fetishes, using Twine as an outlet... then I don't want to know what The Prism contains.
Based on how carefully the first three games were structured, I am inclined to think that the Robyn Saga is well intentioned. Actually, I'm almost positive. But still... some doubt remains. And since interactive fiction can throw anything at you, from text to images to video, I now realize that I cannot tolerate even the smallest doubt. I don't have to trust Albert Fish to read his letters. I do have to trust a game designer to play a Twine game.
I'd like to see transgressive games being created. But an author writing one will need to tread very, very carefully -- much more carefully than they would when writing a book.
FWIW, this game seems to be gone - but it has been uploaded into the archive, so it's currently in the UNPROCESSED directory, for anyone interested.