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About the Story
If you're gonna get your heart broke, you'd better do it just right...
It's the middle of the night and you're trying to pack your things. But can you really bring yourself to walk through the door? And how did it come to this? If only you had three mysterious poets to help you figure things out...
The Gift of What You Notice More is a surreal escape-room-esque puzzle-based Twine game about memories and choices.
Content warning: relationship troubles
31st Place - tie - 29th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2023)
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Number of Reviews: 5
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A game about a break up. With interesting animals reflecting your thoughts. A beautiful piece, with nice writing. This game has brought me to the final conclusion that Twine games can also be awesome!
Song: Faust Arp. Short but beautifully written.
I'm always fascinated by puzzle Twine games with inventories because there's the obvious question, "Why not parser?", that lingers in the background. Many answer that question differently -- and with this game, there's several reasons but one particular reason stands out the most: it evokes transient, elliptical connections that remind the player is never fully in control, which is perfect for a story like this.
Your player character is packing up things in the middle of the night. Scattered around the apartment are photos of the past, of what felt like better days now long gone. But as the player mindlessly clicks hyperlinks to figure out where to go next, they'll (Spoiler - click to show)stumble upon three poets in a cafe who cryptically ask them to consider (and interact with) some old history between the player character and someone whose name is obscured. There, the game finally opens up and reveals its true self, a meditative journey on the meaning of memories and what to do with them in the face of necessary change.
As I played through the game, I'm reminded of Amanda Walker's After the Accident and especially Steve Evans's Photograph: A Portrait of Reflection as both games explore flashbacks as interactive spaces and are relatively puzzleless. However, The Gift of What You Notice More takes a more dream-like puzzle game approach: it has light adventure game puzzles that border on the surreal. These memories are to be puzzled out, grasped, shaken to their fuller meaning by the player character. They are, in other words, allegories that only make sense to this character.
I think this is the main reason why this game has to be hypertext. In parser games, you have a direct connection to the player character because you're typing their actions. Clicking on links feels more detached. The player character in Twine games always feels more autonomous than their parser counterparts. Some decisions we as players make in the game feel life-changing, but we won't see their results. Their consequences are secrets only known to the player character.
As a result, the title was more of a spiritual journey for the player character than the player, despite it being written in second-person. It feels like I've just played through someone's dream-diary except it's lightly dressed up as an adventure game. This is likely why I couldn't connect with the player character, but at the same time, it felt good to help them achieve their goals. The game itself is therapeutic for the character and their resolution to change things resonates with me.
That said, I don't think the puzzle design is perfect. My issues boil down to two things:
(Spoiler - click to show)1) You have to keep going back and forth between the poets and the photos in order to advance the game state, which can be quite cumbersome.
2) I came into the game assuming all the puzzles in each memory are internally solvable, but some puzzles require items that are only acquirable in a future game state. It's frustrating to advance a puzzle so far only to be confused why I haven't found the next step. In the end, I ended up following the walkthrough, which is a shame because I was enjoying the strange puzzles.
But overall, I like The Gift of What You Notice More because it's simply an uplifting game that inspires and soothes. While I've seen the subject matter played out before in different contexts, its use of hyperlinks and allegorical constructions of memory evokes the relatable tensions of uncertainty, powerlessness, and the necessity to change. I came out of the game feeling like I had just helped someone untangle their feelings, and that's not an experience I get to have in games every day.
While leaving your house in the aftermath of a breakup, you literally get lost reminiscing on old photos of you and your partner, and have to travel through each picture to diagnose the issues that led to your separation. As I progressed through the photo spaces, I found myself uncovering "insights" that apparently solved the dilemma in the photo, but something wasn't quite right--I felt frustrated by cut-off routes, loose ends, and inventory items I couldn't do anything with. But then I was sent back through the same rooms again, looking at them from a different angle and burrowing deeper into each puzzle room, and I realized this was intentional. It evoked the feeling of unpacking old issues with a friend or in therapy, having to cycle through the same ideas again as you gain further insight into your own character. The structure was a very interesting way of reflecting themes in gameplay, and the ultimate conclusion is somewhat defined by the player.
This felt like an exploratory parser game (my first pull was Photopia) but implemented in Twine, and I quite enjoyed it. I was thankful for the link + inventory format, due to the lateral nature of many of the puzzles (lots of testing inventory items against everything). (Spoiler - click to show)"Cut the wrapping paper to make a smiling mask" and (Spoiler - click to show)"dip a rock in garlic spread" were some of the more out-there examples that I only found through trial-and-error.
+: Interesting surreal puzzles that reflect themes, open-ended conclusions, robust puzzle areas with generally clear clues.
-: Unclear direction at the beginning/some trial-and-error, repetitive structure with returning to the poets.
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