consciousness hologram

by Kit Riemer profile

Science Fiction
2018

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
An actual legit review (I liked this game), May 22, 2021

I'm still thinking about "consciousness hologram" days after I finished playing it. Which means that it was probably a success.

This game feels like a callback to an earlier era of twine. It echoes a lot of the stylistic elements present in porpentine's work, especially howling dogs. The opening was especially reminiscent: you play as some person living in a vaguely futuristic controlled environment (a Martian pyramid habitat), being fed synthesized semi-foods, with heavy suggestions that you live in a simulation.

As with howling dogs, the basic mechanic is a progression over several days, where on each day you wake up in your room and do stuff to escape your despair. Unlike with howling dogs, there is a quite bit more "freedom" for the player character (but not necessarily for the player): they can visit different areas of the habitat, try to contact various acquaintances, and eventually exit for a walk on the surface. But most of these choices are proscribed in some way, either by the AIs that run the habitat or the protagonist's own mental state. This is a story about depression, after all. So the story ends up being mostly linear, with a few major choices that are not necessarily marked as such until near the ending. There are multiple endings, but I haven't replayed to try to see them.

I had some trouble getting past the first day: (Spoiler - click to show)I visited the archive room first before visiting James' old room and the air filter, so I didn't know what to do with the code. I didn't realize that I had to go back to the archive and try to view James' files again.

There is a lot going on in the game. Multiple narrators talk in different fonts and colors. The writing is sometimes obscure in the way that twine games circa 2012 often were. Random physical objects are imbued with both metaphorical meaning and power within the game universe. Links-as-character-actions are mixed with pure hypertext. Everything is interspersed with thematically relevant quotes from utilitarian writers, transhumanists, and the like. It's great at establishing a sense of tension and anxiety, and overwhelming the reader with a kaleidoscope of ideas, but makes the main narrative a bit hard to follow.

As explained in the afterword, the main rhetorical angle here is kind of a reductio ad absurdum of the transhumanist utopia. It's fully automated luxury space communism, but people aren't happier, because they are still lonely and isolated and don't have a reason to live. Some of the transhumanist quotes seem to be placed in a way to show the absurdity or horror inherent in these ideas. "Wireheadding" is a concept that's played around a bit; (Spoiler - click to show) the Martian habitat has extensively used brain stimulation techniques to make people happier and to reduce aggression, but it only succeeded in the latter; depression and suicide (or "opting out") are ever-present plagues. You later discover that your friend James had committed suicide in an attempt to attack the system. But at the end of the story, in the ending I reached, there's still a sense of hope. Even though you're just living in a simulation, because you managed to connect with at least one other person.

Overall, I think this story worked for me partly because I'm predisposed to enjoy the "early 2010s twine" aesthetic. "Thought provoking" is a vague and generic descriptor, but this game really did make me think about its ideas. I'm not sure if I agree with it at the end, but it was worth experiencing.