+ = x

by Chandler Groover profile

Science Fiction
2018

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
As mysterious as a blank card, March 27, 2021
by Victor Gijsbers (The Netherlands)

[Note: this review was written in 2018 during the competition. I have now played more Chandler Groover games, especially the brilliant Eat Me. Also, I believe that Groover wasn't impressed by most interpretations of his game, this one included, so possibly it misses the point!]

Chandler Groover has been a massively productive author in the past few years; but I have been a massively absent reader in those same years, so I canít compare +=x to his other games. (The only Groover game Iíve played is Rape, Pillage, Makane, which has few obvious connections with the current effort.) I originally thought that I would be in a good position to compare +=x to the 1994 game <a game=1z2lxiqua980sedk>+=3</a>, but the affinities between these games end with the title. Conclusion: Iím going into this game like a blank card into a fortune telling machine. What will be written on me?

The production values of +=x are high, from the very nice cover art to the smart drag-and-drop interface. We quickly catch on to the fact that Groover is exploring a sort of inverse of the standard choice-based pitfall of Ďfake choicesí: instead of differently looking choices that in fact lead to the same text, +=x gives us identical looking choices that do not lead to the same text. Itís a nice idea, and it suggests a world in which we are mere playthings of some nameless force we cannot comprehend. It reminds me of nothing so much as of a great passage near the beginning of Pratchett and Gaimanís Good Omens:

God does not play dice with the universe; He plays an ineffable game of His own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players (i.e. everybody), to being involved in an obscure and complex variant of poker in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a Dealer who wonít tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time.

Thatís exactly what +=x is, right down to the blank cards. Although in this case, if we are diligent and perceptive enough, or just read the spoilers on the forum, we find out that the dealer is not, perhaps, a personal God. For in the source code of the game, we find this hidden message:
Here I sit amongst the cogs, amongst the code, dealing my cards. Some say that Iím a wizard, and some say Iím a machine. I strike two lines, and those two lines determine what I mean. And what I mean is time, and what I mean by time is space, and what I mean by space is who and how and in what place. Itís faster to travel by not traveling. Itís faster to be when you already are. All it takes is a shift in the continuum to make something near turn into something far. And to make something far become something nearby. To move through the galaxy, just multiply. One atom, one hour, one lifetime displaced, and everything as it exists is erased, replaced by another existence equal to the fuel that I burn when I dip my quill pen. Again, Iíll deal another card. Again, Iíll strike another line. These equations are games in the game Iím inside. Now youíre down too inside the text, where numbers crunch, bullfinches nest. We are the stars, the universe, Alpha Centauri, Betelgeuse. Wherever you or I might be, youíre here right now, and youíre with me.

There is a sense, then, in which the two lines are time and space Ė the + symbol being, of course, not only a symbol of arithmetic but also the basic form taken by a space-time diagram; and the wizard that determines our fates is revealed as the cold, blind, merely calculating laws of nature. We are not the masters of our fate, +=x seems to tell us; we are merely what everything is, playthings in the hands of underlying forces that care about neither us nor meaning. This universe may be beautiful, but it is a beauty cold and austere. It is not human. No wonder, then, that the characters in the game are not truly human, but indeed characters, to be replaced at a momentís notice by the characters of mathematics: + = x

The game surely contains enough ambiguity to support interpretations different from the one I have just given, but this is one way to make sense of it. Interesting, yes. Compelling in its portrayal of the universe, certainly not. We have free will, mathematics is best thought of as a human activity, and there cannot be a universe without meaning. Call me a humanist, but I resist being equalised.