The Hole Man

by E.Z. Poschman


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A wacky search-for-your-self adventure, April 15, 2022
by DB (Columbus, OH)
Related reviews: Spring Thing 2022

A surreal, crazy quilt entry in Spring Thing 2022. The Hole Man is often playful or bizarre though not always very cohesive, as one might expect of a crazy quilt. It's clear the author had quite a time writing it all, taking us on a tour of a wandering mind and showing us what weird, wonderful stuff they've conjured up, peppered with observations, insights, jokes, and literary allusions. That's one of the more pleasurable uses of writing after all, and probably what makes this game most commendable rather than a reliance on complicated puzzles or technical wizardry. The game's informal, fun tone of writing always kept me chuckling and wanting to see what the author would come up with next. I enjoyed it with a mallsoft/easy listening vaporwave soundtrack playing alongside that was not included as part of the experience and may have influenced my reading, just FYI, and you might find that sort of soundtrack fits too. The Hole Man is a bazaar of the bizarre (to borrow another allusion) with sights to behold and bedazzle.

As the reader traverses The Hole Man's different connected worlds, they will meet Wise Men (as far as I saw, always men, and always The X Man-- a parallel with the protagonist's position as The Hole Man) who each offer their thoughts on a subject. (Spoiler - click to show)The Go Man offers some thoughts on games, The Servant Man offers some thoughts on the dependency of belief systems on non-belief, The Slaughter Man offers thoughts on food production & horror, etc. Maybe I'm just picky, but some of their offerings came across as a little pat to me or somehow not fully explored. Some of The Hole Man's Wise Men offer more eloquent or stronger positions than others, granted, but I won't spell them all out here without a spoiler tag beyond saying your mileage may vary. With a spoiler tag, however: (Spoiler - click to show)I think it seems unlikely The Slaughter Man was read through by a vegan (those gingerbread people were sentient, man!) or The Servant Man by an atheist, for example, (also, nitpick, in the instance where the object of worship demonstrably exists, we're talking not necessarily about believers, but followers... but that's a fine hair to split I suppose and my own hill, not the author's) or that the author would really be satisfied if I were to pick up a piece of paper and just write my own ending to the game as suggested by The Go Man (I would have missed a lot of the game that way as he was the first I encountered). Perhaps they're good fodder for a forum thread somewhere and the starting point for some good conversations though.

After hearing any one Wise Man's thesis, the player is offered a chance to take the place of the man they were listening to. That seemed to me at first blush like a distraction from the goal of rediscovering and reclaiming the protagonist's own body in a game that's made of distractions and sideways steps, but it is suggested any time you meet one of these men that they are "like you," based on some bit of description, so maybe any one of these is actually secretly the same person that was heading for jury duty before having their body stolen at the start of the game. Indeed, that seems to be the suggestion of the epilogue, sort of like the game is structured as a big personality test. As a test of this sort, I think it matters less how exactingly structured the arguments of any one Wise Man are because what unvoiced disagreements seem to suggest then would be more like, "This position isn't the right one for me," assuming a player is trying to find the "right" one rather than simply collecting them all (although actually the latter option is the game's more valorized one).

On a technical note, most nodes in the story that I saw do not change text upon revisiting, meaning that links lead to experiencing the same scenery, descriptions, and events every time. This goes uncommented on by the text itself, but is pretty much forgivable given the scope of the game and the understanding that because the goal isn't related to solving puzzles around different locations, tracking state in each of them is not so much a priority of the player either.

Although I've said most of the locations are disjointed by the "crazy quilt" nature of the game's setup, they do share at least one major theme through it all as far as I could tell. They all portray a kind of search for the self through consumerism. The "soul" (or "the person/body with accompanying attitudes," such as it is; the text agnostically suggests such a place as Limbo exists, but goes a long way in not committing itself to any one understanding of a soul as part of a specific or pre-conceived notion of afterlife) is lost in a mall. The player wanders through The Hole Man looking out on mall shops or department stores, exploring their contents, commenting on the sale or creation of art products, watching rituals of consumption, etc. all while trying to discover and listen to single Wise Men generally defined by their primary vocation expound upon their pet subject in mostly one-way conversations, thereafter offering up their positions in the market as a path to a new self. (Spoiler - click to show)Even "Reason. Patience. Acceptance. Things you can't put on a store shelf, and that you can't wrap up in a box" are still explicitly packaged along an assembly line by elves in The Kind Man's workshop, for example, awaiting their consumption (or, parallel with the game's other major choices, awaiting bestowal upon the seeker by a Wise Man). While my guess is that the author may not have intended The Hole Man as an allegory about the search for self-identity necessarily through consumerism or vocation outright, and The Hole Man may be better enjoyed as the exploration of an eclectic intellect for entertainment purposes with personality test style epilogues, I think that the idea sitting under the surface there unengaged or uncriticized (for as far as I played through anyway) kept it from going deeper than it might have in some of its analyses. Each of the selves available on offer in The Hole Man is prefabricated and can be selected like a different brand of cereal off a shelf, made "just for you"; at the same time each is also explicitly treated as a collectible commodity.

For purposes of this review, I did cut my playthrough short a bit by accepting the role of The Kind Man. The epilogue wrapped up with a neat moral and posed a bit of a quandary to think about, which was a fitting ending. I don't think I have time while trying to play all of the other entries (Spring Thing has 47 this year) to go back and try to get what the blurb says is 12 different endings with a perhaps hidden 13th if you collect all 12, but I may return and revisit later just to let my mind wander along with the author's again and see what other spectacles await me there.