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About the Story
You're sitting at home, minding your business, when your mom texts you. It's a familiar situation. But when the chat turns nostalgic, how do you reconcile her regrets about how she raised you with your own needs? Do you just indulge her, or do you take this opportunity to forge a deeper relationship with your family and your heritage?
42nd Place (tie) - 26th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2020)
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Number of Reviews: 8
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Mother Tongue tells the story of a character whose mother wants to impart lessons in Tagalog, in the process exploring the ambivalence of what it means for second-generation folks to discover parts of their identity.
I found the framing device of a text conversation very effective; the chat screen and the little moments waiting for a response from the mother help to create a realistic and compelling flow. There’s also good use of subtext to develop the relationship underlying the language lessons.
Though it’s interesting to learn words and grammar in Tagalog, the game’s use of lots of “test” questions makes this sometimes feel more like a language learning app than a game/story. There are great moments where the language lessons serve the narrative, and I wish those had outweighed the more rote testing moments that focus on rule recall.
My childhood best friend was Filipino; born in the Philippines, but moved to the US at a very young age. I would hang out at his house a lot and heard his mom speaking Tagalog quite a bit. I picked up a handful of words, including the curse words, along the way. All that to say that I think this story reached me in a way in might not reach others.
The game is very short and takes places completely over text messages. A mother tries to teach her child her native language, something she regrets not having done sooner. A choice-based game about the decisions immigrants have to make in the name of helping their children fit in to a new country, and children deciding if it is too late or not to connect to their heritage. A simple and heartwarming conversation.
This game had a ton of buzz on Twitter and received a lot of early reviews, so I was interested in playing it.
It turns out to be really good. Raban seems to have a firm grasp of storywriting and interactivity. This is a perfectly well-crafted game, limited only by its relatively small size. I imagine, though, that many judges will be happy to find a quick and enjoyable game with excellent handicraft.
In this game, you are texting with your mother. You come from a family of immigrants, and your mother decides to try and teach you Tagalog over the phone. She quizzes you on your life and choices while trying to introduce you to various grammatical rules which, of course, you could never absorb in a single sitting, but which she seems determined to impart.
This game uses slow text to good effect, which is really rare. I think the keys are having a very short game with well-defined parameters. Here, we know we're in a text message conversation which can't last too long, and the game is advertised as short. The delays are realistic and not too long.
I think the best part of the game is showing the tension between a mother (especially a southeast asian mother), her desires for her American-raised children and the children's own personality and feelings. I think this is great.
+Polish: Very polished.
+Descriptive: The characters really came alive.
+Interactivity: I felt like my choices really mattered.
+Emotional impact: Felt some tension. Worried I'd say the wrong things.
+Would I play again? Sure!
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