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About the Story
A girl has gone missing and He has set out to find her. Join Him on an adventure through fantastical and strange worlds in an effort to find the one closest to Him.
53rd place - 27th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2021)
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Number of Reviews: 6
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I feel like surreal pieces, perhaps always, but especially in the case of this game, are really more about the author expressing something or working through something important to them in a way that only they fully understand. These kinds of stories are like the songs you hear on the radio with a catchy tune and lyrics that you can sing along with, but when you really listen to the words you have no idea what the song is about.
This is a well enough written and implemented, short choice-based piece, but I didn't think there was enough to me to grab on to in the story for me to come away with a lasting impression. I could easily see the characters and bits of conversation having meaning for the author, but I think the average reader will not know what to do with this. Surreal pieces like this need to have very well-defined themes and/or symbolism, punctuated with moments of clarity, so that even though it seems like you've been tossed in the middle of Wonderland, you can still ascertain what the author is trying to say. Perhaps some lines of angry or poignant dialogue that pull together the last few pages of haziness into some philosophical point. For me this piece was lacking enough of those elements to give me something to get out of it.
Here is a fairly short story about a man looking for someone who has been missing. He wanders through several dream-like settings and talks to several NPCs to get information. Most of the descriptions and dialogue sound as though they are meant to be symbolic, and that the character’s journey is an allegory. He visits place that have words like “Indecision” and “Realization” in their names. At one point, Alice in Wonderland shows up. He has to ask one girl if he can have her essence. Later, one of the girls he has met tells him he must release them from the hold he has on them. At the end of his search, he is finally forced to accept a difficult truth. It is vague and a little surreal at times. I don't believe that just because a piece of writing sounds like it is open to interpretation necessarily indicates that deeper meaning is present. I think that sometimes authors just go from one idea to the next without having thought about how it fits together. I personally did not feel there was anything to gain by thinking about what this story might be saying.
A heavily introspective, noir-styled choice-based game about a guy searching for a girl against a backdrop of surreal landscapes (presumably projections of his inner states) while encountering a succession of enigmatic women (presumably the splintered subconscious impressions of the one he is searching for). The story is narrated in the third person present throughout; we witness our reverentially capitalised protagonist (he is a He) from a distance as he works his way through (presumably) whatever persona trauma it is that has led him to retreat into the sanctuary of his mind; the viewpoint seems a deliberate means to dissociate himself from that trauma. Probably.
There’s a lot of presumption there and that’s because, really, this game invites it: it is, in parts, wilfully obscure. The whole thing feels rich in allegory, but it’s never quite clear what the allegory is or what, fundamentally, is going on aside from the central narrative thread of Him seeking the missing Her.
Interesting stuff happens. Characters come and go. One dreamlike location leads to another. The whole thing is divided into acts that shunt us ever onwards, bewilderingly, towards the climax and a denouement, of sorts. There are a number of literary quotations throughout that seem suitably apposite in their place, but, in hindsight, don’t cast much light on proceedings. It’s all rather perplexing.
However, in spite of the obscurity there is actually a lot I like about this game. The writing is good throughout: the prose is moody and evocative and just off-kilter enough to lend a slightly unsettling atmosphere to the whole, and the characters are interesting and their differing personalities distinctly drawn. I did enjoy the story overall. The implementation in Twine is effective: an appropriately subdued black and white theme and sporadic sound effects which could be easily missed (I did miss them, before I played with sound on the second time round), as well as an inventory system and continually updating list of ‘people of interest’. I found myself engaged and entertained throughout. I found a few minor typos and there are a number of bugs, also reported by others, that meant I became trapped in a loop and had to restart on three occasions (once during conversation at the bar, another at the mine and a third time when looking up things in the inventory followed by consulting the ‘people of interest list’). I was also able to seemingly use an object before discovering it on a couple of occasions: ((Spoiler - click to show)the phone and the beer, both of which I could trade for pills before they were in my inventory). I hope these minor wrinkles will be ironed out in a post-comp release.
One wonders, with something like this, if the obscurity is explained by the private nature of the work (this is a personal story that only the author could truly understand), or if it is merely affected (it’s just an authorial device to make a more interesting story). The latter seems less forgivable and, I suspect, it the case here – it feels like a deliberate stylistic decision to make the story difficult to decipher in this sort of way and, I think, it is only a partially successful one. Ambiguity and allegory are fine but only if the reader can have some confidence that, overall, they know what is going on; a little more exposition is generally required before an audience becomes sufficiently engaged to fill in the detail for themselves rather than letting it simply wash over them as most players would with this (and as, ultimately, I did).
As it stands, An Aside About Everything feels as though it is about everything and nothing. That’s a pity, as some considerable skill has gone into this piece, and it is worthy of a player’s attention. But it would benefit from a layer of enigma being stripped away; a shade less obscure and it would be a solid four-star game. As it stands, it’s a respectable if slightly disappointing three stars from me.
This is a Twine game with multiple worlds that all seem to represent the same allegory. Each world contains 4 women, who travel with you, and the worlds have symbolic meaning.
Simultaneously, you're searching for a woman, with an inventory of items and a mental retreat called 'the void'. Your character's name is He, and her name is She.
The game is not too long, but it is quite dense allegorically. One gets the sense that everything has deep inner meaning. However, I had difficulty teasing it out. Given the names and the quotations, the game seems to have originally been in Italian, and while the translation is generally good, it can be difficult to get 'vague but powerful prose' to work right across language barriers, and in this game I wasn't drawn in emotionally by the prose.
+Polish: It had a few cool systems. I was able to create a bug early on that I think exists in some of my own Twine games where clicking on the inventory when you're already in a sub-routine with its own 'return' link will trap you in a loop forever, but besides that it seemed generally smooth.
+Descriptiveness: While the characters are vague, the description of the strange smog and the computers was vivid.
-Interactivity: It was hard to grasp what to do or what mattered. I went to the void a lot, but did it matter? I bought three pills and took one, but did it change anything?
-Emotional impact: Like I said earlier, I wasn't really drawn into this game.
+Would I play again? There are a few key points I'd like to revisit and understand better.
An Aside About Everything seemed to promise a universal message and maybe didn't quite follow through on it, but it was still quite worthwhile. You're some nameless man or, more precisely, Him. You want to find a woman, whose last name is an initial. This reminds me of an admonishment from Geoffrey Braithwaite, the protagonist of Julian Barnes's Flaubert's Parrot. Rule 8 in particular: "8. No novels in which the narrator, or any of the characters, is identified simply by an initial letter. Still they go on doing it!"
Now I may or may not have started my own writings with a character named A. and later, when I was feeling adventurous, J. But AAAE started this off with a main character named Him and K, so along with the title, it felt like it was swinging for the fences with someone generally-named. It never quite got there, and the conclusion, though pleasant, didn't feel earth-shattering. But it had enough for enjoyment.
You, as He, start off in the sort of dingy detective office Geoffrey Braithwaite, again, might cluck at if he played lots of text adventures, parser or twine. It's in The Void, though, and you can escape to it at any time and return to the Outer Ring and, later, the Inner Ring. Along the way you meet a bunch of women who give you information about K. Why they know this, it's not clear, but they seem to have nothing better to do. One has an assortment of pills that give different emotions. You have to find four weird objects to give her to get all the pills, but then, you only get to take one pill at the end, which is kind of a bummer. I have a chance to take mind-altering drugs I never would in real life, and it's taken away from me for .... a revelation that, apparently, the journey is more important than the goal! This is nice, but it belies the game's initial ambition. Perhaps the narrator needs to learn this sort of thing along the way.
But this is sniping on my part. Looking back, it makes sense. He uses four women to get at the woman he really wants, and he has to realize he's been using them, and he has to admit he went about things in the wrong way and didn't deserve K's attention. So it all neatly folds together. And if I knew the ending was coming, I was surprised to remember things I'd looked long and hard for until they weren't worth it for themselves. But I realized things on the way, and I realized I realized things on the way. It just felt a bit blunt.
My adventures where I found this in real life were far less supernatural. For instance, I remembered books I loved as a kid and picked them off with city library intra-branch loan, and tracking down everything by an author or everything in a series was a rewarding sort of adventure, and AAAE felt like that. But it wasn't having the books so much as going through the process of finding what I wanted quickly and no longer missing it or worrying I was missing something big. And of course these books weren't perfect, but they were worth finding, and doing so encouraged me to tackle bigger projects and not be upset about what I missed.
Or there was that BASIC game programming book I remembered a year ago. Another BASIC book tipped me off to vague memories, and I followed the trail until I saw a cover I recognized. Then a friend tipped me off there was a sequel, which I built up in my mind until finally I just went through with it. The programs that seemed so profound, and they seemed, well, pretty cheap, and the sequel objectively wasn't much more. And I couldn't blame myself for not typing them out, or I recognized the coding was weak, and I realized I'd even remembered some as far more complex than they were. It was something I thought I had to find, though I didn't really. But when I found it, it was good enough. (The books, by the way, are by David Ahl.)
Him's realization reminded me of this and more. I don't know if I stayed fully tuned in for AAAE, but part of that was that I was connecting to His experience. And His being able to manipulate women to get what he wanted paralleled a Julian Barnes (again) short story where a person slowly got everything he wanted and asked to be truly happy and then was left with just his life. AAAE felt like that, though it took longer to get there and didn't have the same punch. I don't really remember whom you need to manipulate, and for what, beyond Luna. But it had enough for a good, positive think.