by Sangita V Nuli


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The opposite of blotting out grief, January 15, 2023
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: IFComp 2022

The author's two entries in IFComp are interesting bookends: in US Route 160, you're fleeing a dislikable fiance, and here, well, someone you like dies. I found US Route 160 to be the more evocative of the two. Perhaps it's my general dislike for Texture, even when using my finger on a phone. I seem to let the dialog box drop in just the wrong place, and it breaks immersion for me. So this may have colored things. More importantly, perhaps another reason INK didn't resonate as much with me was I never felt the lost of a fiancee, and my family's marriages aren't terribly happy. The closest I've got is losing longtime pets, and what happened to the protagonist reminded me of having my life dented for a while. But fortunately things snapped back. My experience was to have some cat beds lying around, so I could look at them a bit, or have a cupboard full of toys. I didn't work at the desk where one cat snuck behind one day and died for a while. So I spent time and emotion avoiding parts of my living area. In that respect, I was like the protagonist who saw ink in places where their fiancee had been. But I guess a cat only takes up so much of the bed. And also my cats were old. So I never had that sudden shock of loss.

And I may be stony about all of this. But I hope I appreciate the agent that spreads the ink: a letter from your fiancee, after she's died. It's not lost in a corner but found while walking around. It seems like it should be just the thing you need, an unexpected gift, something you should be very happy about. But it winds up driving you crazy. You can't even open it, until you do, and things get worse. Then people around you give you the standard advice, and there's always the overtone of "boy, you're going a bit crazier than you need, eh?" I see how this could parallel the anxiety of getting an email from a friend you've lost contact with, whether you still like them or not.

The image of ink spreading and making its own space is potentially powerful, but it seems IFComp has a few games about grief and loss, and I'm very worried that my opinion of them is based on whichever I play first, or what mood I'm in when I play. In this case, INK was one of the later entries I looked at. So it feels dismissive to say "yes yes I know already losing stuff sucks and I don't know how to get over that and you know I don't and I know you know I don't" and so forth" but I can't stop thinking it. Then it happens to me, and I'm on the other side, and of course people don't understand. I remember misplacing something. I realize I missed it and still do. I don't care that I managed to deal with it. But dealing sucked and sucked energy. And so I get all that (I think).

Still, games about general social isolation are more my jam. The frustration and deep thought feel more productive for me, and I recognize that bias, and while INK establishes grief makes it hard to be constructive, it hits a wall with me. It feels like it overplays its hand a bit by the end. I don't know what's missing. Perhaps the choices between giving in and not giving in feel too binary and abstract, given how the ink takes over. Or perhaps I (still) don't have the proper life experience to appreciate this, yet. But I do have a corner of my heart that fears being able to appreciate this a bit too fully, and maybe I'm deciding not to look at it, like the protagonist avoids looking at the letter, for a while.