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About the Story
The incident began in 1705 at Blackrock Township in the Province of Massachusetts Bay in the house of the Rev. Steadfast Hopkins.
8th Place, La Petite Mort - EctoComp 2016
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Number of Reviews: 4
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(Disclosure: I participated in EctoComp 2016.)
The Curious Incident at Blackrock Township is a short Twine story about a witch trial in colonial North America, told entirely through snippets from contemporary and later documents.
Historical fiction seems to be a comparatively rare genre in IF, which makes me all the happier when I find a game that lets me immerse myself in an alien time period. Witch trials are a concept that's hard to screw up when it comes to good drama, and I'm always a fan of the "found document" gimmick, which is used excellently here.
I'm not a historian of 17th century America, but the story feels well-researched. My only major nitpick with the storyline is that (Spoiler - click to show)I find it hard to believe that Ezola would be allowed to go free for denouncing Hopkins; to me it seems more likely that they would both have been executed. That said, again, I'm not an expert on witch trials, and perhaps that has indeed happened. (As a minor nitpick, I also find it hard to believe that a Puritan would name one of his children "Diffidence".)
The documents, both contemporary and those of later historians, are well-written and catch an authentic tone. Some of the 17th century spelling felt hokey to me, even taking into consideration the lack of standardised English spelling in that era. (I'm particularly dubious about the spelling "tortor" for "torture".) However, that seems like something that would be difficult to get right in a 3-hour time span - and, to repeat myself, perhaps some of the weirder spellings come straight out of actual documents from the time.
Ezola's character is nicely sketched in a brief space. The horrors are hinted at in a matter-of-fact way, making them stick in the mind better than any melodrama or explicit gore could have done. While many of the passages just have a single link leading to the next one, there is a reasonable amount of interactivity for such a short story.
For all that, I came away feeling vaguely unsatisfied. It felt like the game simply didn't add much to distinguish itself from other witch-hunt stories. The hints in some endings that (Spoiler - click to show)Ezola was indeed a witch is a twist that has been done before. There is some interesting potential in the concept that the player gets to influence events that are already set down by historians and should thus be immutable, but this isn't really given much emphasis in the text.
Well worth playing: for starters, it's a setting and genre that is relatively rare in IF, with a dark, interesting and well-written (my misgivings about some of the archaic spelling aside) story. At the end of the day, though, it feels like there could have been more meat on it.
The Curious Incident is a witch-hunting incident narrated entirely through secondhand accounts. One might draw an obvious parallel between this and Arthur Miller's play The Crucible, but where the play puts the reader (or viewer) right in the action of the moment, here we dip in and out, switching between narration and secondhand research. Historical records are interspersed with academic accounts, and branching points are incorporated similar to how The Domovoi did it. This indirect style works well, especially when one of the branches imply that the nature of the main character is ambiguous.
As another reviewer has commented, it is particularly ironic that the reader gets to choose how the story goes. Who's to say what happened? Who's to say who was truly to blame? In the end, does that really matter, if the outcome remains unchanged?
(Spoiler - click to show)One thing I feel would improve this game is pacing. There was scant buildup to the manifestation of the curse itself (not just the context of it) that the ending felt premature; I would have liked more detail on how the curse started manifesting, but this may be at odds at the matter of fact style of the rest of the game.
I liked the concept and was interested by both the subject matter and the hyperlink format of exploring various story routes, but didn't find it particularly engaging, as it felt a lot more impersonal than the other IF games I've played, which usually put you in one of the character's shoes.
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