Death by Lightning

by Chase Capener


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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A raw and searing experience, January 7, 2023
by Jim Nelson (San Francisco)

Adapted from a review on

This browser-based game uses a 1980s color scheme and pixelated typeface, with a rather small window for text beneath a static image of a house or hut embedded in a snowbank. Game navigation is simplicity itself: Up/down keys move the cursor, and Z selects a choice or continues reading. No authoring system is listed, so I assume this is a home-brew effort. I found no bugs and the game played smoothly for me every iteration through it.

The game’s epigram is a quote from Japanese poet Shumpo Soki (“My sword leans against the sky. / With its polished blade I’ll behead / The Buddha and all of his saints”) before its opening proper:

"You are a man being sexually penetrated in a hut in the alps. … You are being entered, no doubt about that. You could use more lube."

Soon thoughts turn to the man penetrating you:

"Time for reflection: You don’t have the capacity to kill."

This casual swinging between mood, tension, and tone persists throughout the game. The choices offered tend to fall between the static and the dynamic, negotiation versus lashing out, security versus risk-taking.

The author lists Death by Lightning as experimental, “a repository for writing my thoughts; made unconsciously.” The prose flows into unforeseen territory like water seeking its own level. It’s intensely personal, an invitation into a consciousness, yet the reader is kept at arm’s length at all moments, as though instinctively self-protective. This is a raw and searching text, but not a confessional one.

That self-protectiveness is what keeps the narrator a touch too distant and unindividuated. Sometimes the abstractions do beg the player to stick with them. (“What sort of closeness do you have with the command of your insurgency?” is perhaps the one line in the game I have to question outright.) The ambiguity works against the game to some degree, but it is an artistic effect, and it’s used to its fullest here.

None of the prose is throwaway, though. The author managed to form several concrete scenes in my mind, impressive when limited to an interface all of five lines, 18 characters wide, presenting one sentence at a time. With each brief passage displayed in solitude, and having to press a key to see the next, the effect is of reading a long poem through a sleeve revealing only one line at a time. That focus shapes into a deliberative effect, and that’s impressive too.

Returning to Soki’s poem, it should be noted it’s a jisei, a Japanese death poem penned to convey an “‘ah, now I see’ moment.” Marilynne Robinson offers an analysis of Soki’s death bed declaration relevant to Death by Lightning:

"His meaning is not that he has rejected his belief but that he will move beyond the forms in which it has been known to him in life."

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Andrew Schultz, January 10, 2023 - Reply
Som um, welcome to the reviewer side of things! I mean, you've already been writing them on intfic, but it's cool to see you pulling stuff over to IFDB.

I certainly felt I was missing stuff from DbL and this review filled in a few holes, so I appreciate it very much.
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