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About the Story
you can’t take the burden of it anymore, no matter how strong your love is for her. but how do you tell the person you love that you can’t – or won’t – love them anymore?
in between the lies, baggage, and still-open wounds, is she still worth fighting for?
it's up to you to find out.
47th Place - 28th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2022)
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Number of Reviews: 7
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In this choice-based game you play as a heart-broken and suspicious off-again-on-again girlfriend. Your girlfriend is texting with someone else, a lot, and you want to get to the bottom of it.
This game features the dreaded timed-text, and it is more dreaded in this game than in any game I've played before. In some games the timing of the text is fast enough that it doesn't bother me, or it is used sparingly in optimal places in the story. But in this story it is used on every page for every line and it is slow, even for a slow reader like myself. I actually took to loading a new page, then playing with my phone for a few minutes waiting for all the text to load before going back to it.
Then on Turn 11 (so says the debugger), the game glitched due to a coding error, popped up a debugger menu and, at least on my tablet, prevented me from finishing the game. I'm pretty sure I was near the end anyway, and as good as the writing was, I just wasn't interested in the story. Not that it was heartfelt, it just wasn't anything I hadn't read before. Nothing there to really engage me.
So, the pet peeves first. I wouldn't do this if IWYWD didn't have a lot to offer, because I try to avoid beatdown-style reviews. The first peeve? A title in all lower case. I'm a bit like the cranky narrator of Julian Barnes's Flaubert's Parrot, here, as I've seen this sort of thing before, and it never ends well (though the ALL CAPS entries recently have been more than respectable,) and I immediately cringe at this sort of thing, expecting--and getting profanity later. (Small spoiler: it's not so gratuitous, as I have some sympathy for both characters in this work.) I'm still going to ALL CAPS its acronym in the review, though, so there.
The second sin? Timed text. Lots of it. I did my usual regex zapping with \(live:.*?\), and Notepad++ said "757 replacements." That's at least 15 minutes of pauses, assuming one second per pause, and it was often more. Running up against IFComp's judging period didn't help, either. That's not IWYWD's fault. But it does add a lot of bloat to people who want to get through it and explore different things to try, if the end could've been changed, and so forth. Because undoing doesn't give you a free pass back through the timed text.
But I'll tell you what. I bucked up and got through it. Because it was worth it. During the timed text, I did some exercises with my rudimentary equipment I have at home. I can't do this all the time, and I don't want to have to, but it was timely. I ignored the screen, thought of things as I did a set, and made my next choice. That's not sustainable long term, but IWYWD knew about the length it should be. Perhaps it was just flat out good enough that, despite my reflexive annoyances, I sat down and said this time, I'm not letting timed text bother me! Perhaps having less timed text than in years past softened me to say, okay, a bit is not so bad.
This digression hopefully isn't me showing off or venting but saying, hey, you too may want to find something worthwhile to do to wait for the text to show. Fix some tea or whatever. And sit down for a story of betrayal in love, though really, it applies to platonic relationships as well.
You, the main character, believe you've caught your partner cheating. They have a good explanation! They didn't mean it! (They never do.) You have the FACTS on your side, though, and you press them. They make confessions. They have excuses. They want you to stop before it's too late. Though it may already be. I was able to guess a good chunk of IWYWD's twist at the end, but not all of it. (Maybe the timed text forced me to sit back and think what might happen next more than I usually do!) That didn't make it any less effective. I've been on both sides of the argument, where I'm sure I'm right, and the other person is sure, and in both cases I know it'll end terribly. Too much has happened. The soda bottle is too shaken.
The dialogue here does not mess around, so I was able to feel the conflict. On reflection, the person you control has a lot of options of soft- or hard-pedaling their case, and the other character has something resembling plausible denials, if they could just explain. But you doubt your character is really open-minded. You definitely have cutting questions: "how could you do this? This was our movie." Then a bit more of the story comes out. This may not be perfectly fair to the player, who doesn't necessarily know the two people in the story have spent time apart. But it certainly can be interpreted as the character thinking certain things don't matter. Other details leak in later. The narrator, it turns out, has been negligent, in ways where you can't bang your fist on the desk and present good cold hard evidence. I didn't see all the branches, but in this case, not having much variance gives the impression that your character came into this expecting a victory, or what passes for a victory in an argument.
So reading IWYWD was useful-difficult for me. I know I can be distant, though I hope I'm not as possessive as the narrator, and I often wish I stood my ground as well as their partner. I've been thinking a lot about jealousy recently, though, about people who were upset I seemed to be having more fun than they did, or that I was able to use my time to do certain things. And the things they said. Some of them were people who should have been my friends on paper, and they'd approached me with similar facts that the narrator did, and I sympathized a lot with their partner. Of course, we probably all hope we have more in common with the partner than the narrator. You also get the sense that the target has had to tell a lot of little white lies to the narrator, some covered, some uncovered.
Maybe it's not so much lies as distortion. I remembered some people asking me why I did something a certain way, or thought something not very commonsensical, and wasn't that odd? And the truth was – I was covering for some of their obnoxious behavior in ways they'd never cover for me, or perhaps I was convincing myself they did care deep down despite some caustic behavior. There've been people I've had to break up with like that long after I hadn't seen them for a while, and I don't quite wish them dead, but I'd like to make them dead to me if possible. Well, except for being able to say "hey, if someone reminds me of X in the future, I want to steer clear of them."
One more thing: I was worried about severe melodrama from the title and I am glad to have been wrong on that count. I'd like to think the narrator's partner's response and frustration will help vindicate some of my own actions more fully and hopefully prevent me from diving in feet first to show I'm right. And I'm impressed about how IWYWD had several potential red flags that turned up far less serious than I imagined. So I, like the narrator, saw several red flags which came to much less than I suspected. But my experience was clearly happier.
(This is a lightly-edited version of a review I posted to the IntFiction forums during 2022's IFComp).
There’s this episode of The Office where Michael needs to fire somebody – appropriately enough on Halloween, when I’m this review. Given his general irresolution, his pathological desire to be liked by everyone, and the extra hurdle that it takes to psych yourself up to firing somebody wearing a vampire costume, he hems and haws all day, having weird hesitant interactions where he sort of starts to fire the person then backs down, drawing it out in a way that winds up being way more painful, both for him and the firee, than if he’d just been able to do the thing. In the middle of this can’t-look-away trainwreck, there’s an interview clip with him where he says “I went hunting once. I shot a deer in the leg – had to finish it off with a shovel. It took about an hour. Why do you ask?”
(When searching out the exact wording of that quote, I found a dispiritingly large number of like Reddit threads where people were in fact asking where this question came from and what it has to do with the rest of the episode. Sigh).
For all that this may be a good guide to what termination of employment looks like, I think it works as well if not better when it comes to breaking up with a partner. Oh sure, you’ll roleplay it out in your head and talk it over with loved ones, and commit to doing it quickly and cleanly. But then they’ll ask a question or you’ll feel weird about how you’re ending things, so you’ll keep talking to try to explain or justify or empathize, and before you know it, you’re forty-five minutes in, there’s blood everywhere, and you just keep bringing that shovel down over and over and over again, despite the twin realizations that a) it doesn’t seem to be doing what you need it to, and b) there’s nothing else you could possibly do except keep on going.
At its best, i wish you were dead captures this slow-motion car-crash through fumbling, authentically-painful dialogue that’s general enough to be near universally resonant. It starts in medias res, with the protagonist in the middle of explaining to their girlfriend why they need to separate. The player starts out as much in the dark as the partner, with only hints at backstory and context showing up in the corners of what each partner says – apparently there was a previous breakup and reconciliation, a question of whether the protagonist has actually been forgiven for some earlier transgression. At every juncture, you have a choice of dialogue options, some of which try to cut things off and simply end the breakup, others that try to respond to your partner’s questions or provide a better sense of why you’re doing this – and despite the obvious understanding that you should just end this horrible, no-good interaction for both of your sakes, inevitably the player winds up gravitating to the choices that keep it going. It’s a lovely marriage of in-game and out-of-game motivations – after all, we want to know more of the story, and doesn’t the partner deserve to know the truth? – and it communicates the queasily squirming horror of this awful situation as well as anything else in IF.
At its worst, i wish you were dead makes you pull up Twitter (RIP) while you wait for literal minutes of timed text to unspool, as though forcing you to hang on each um and ah will somehow make the dialogue feel more realistic, and then buries the strongly-written conversation in histrionic stage directions:
"She turns her gaze to my hands, which fingerprints are tightly against the wood of the table. I can feel the despondency of her eyes, slowly blinking as she nibbles on the inside of her cheeks. She shifts her weight and she crosses her legs, the same position she adopts when she rests her right calf on the seat under her left leg."
Look, we’ve all done this sort of thing as novice writers, feeling like we can’t just run the dialogue on without checking in on what’s physically happening in the room. But we can! This would be 5x more powerful as “She looks at my hands and shifts her weight,” and 10x more powerful as literally nothing.
This dichotomy unfortunately extends to some of the details that get slowly revealed about the doomed relationship being dissected. There’s a canny reversal of sympathies that plays out over the course of the conversation, as you begin to put together the pieces of what’s going on and understand that the protagonist’s motives, and previous behavior, are not wholly blameless and this isn’t the altruistic we-need-to-break-up-for-your-own-good situation they start out presenting it as. That’s a neat narrative dynamic, but I personally found the game overcorrected, and by the end I felt like the protagonist was a profoundly toxic, un-self-aware person to an extent that significantly reduced my investment in the relationship (Spoiler - click to show)(you appear to be terminally insecure and broke up with your actor girlfriend the first time because she went to a cast party; you’re now freaking out because she’s texting with a friend, though admittedly one she might have feelings for). Different players might have different tolerance for these kinds of things, admittedly, but this is another place where I feel like a more grounded, low-drama approach would have been more effective.
Still, when it works it really works – and it did make me bark a stunned laugh of disbelief at something that ultimately wound up as a headfake, albeit it still makes me giggle (Spoiler - click to show)(at around the one-third mark, as you work up the nerve to ask about the person you’re worried has displaced you in your intended’s affections, you blurt out “who’s Link?” and I thought, holy shit, this is a close-perspective melodrama about Gannon feeling two-timed by Zelda, that’s amazing. It isn’t, but wow now I want that game). Ironically, I might have had the best possible experience with i wish you were dead if I’d just brought it to an early conclusion, picking dialogue options that steered the conversation to an ending without revealing too much about how awful the protagonist is, or giving so much space for the bad writing to overcome the good parts. But human nature is human nature, so what was I to do but bring that shovel up for another heart-not-fully-in-it thwack…
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