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Going back to where it fell apart and maybe…move onwards?, January 30, 2023
You play as Noah. Kiera, your sister, texts you with a request. She wants you to visit a relative’s former house on Laurel Road to retrieve items for your cousin, Quinn. But you and Quinn have never had the best relationship. Not ever since they transitioned. Returning there will bring up bad memories, and afterwards, you will have to bring the items to Quinn. Will you do it? Or will you shy away from the task?
There is a genre of games about rummaging through a house one last time after a drastic event to gather items and relive memories. Exploration is largely NPC-less with a profound sense of melancholy, leaving the player to decide one what the PC gets out of the experience. I am reminded of the Twine game Another Cabin In The Woods and the TADS game Past Present. I know there are plenty more out there.
Quinn is the younger cousin of Noah and Keira. They lived their entire life under a different name- of which we never learn- but now go by Quinn. If it was not obvious, they also now identify as “they.”
The house on Laurel Road has been abandoned for months, but the furniture and belongings are still there. It is also a former crime scene. There is a brief intro before you travel to the house. Once there, you can travel from room to room in search of items. For the gameplay mechanics, you either click anywhere on the screen to move to the next passage or click on links when they are offered.
Gameplay involves reliving memories by examining items in the house. There is the (Spoiler - click to show) sketchbook that Quinn used while hospitalized for self-harm (I thought this scene was well done. It does not tip toe around the subject but also treads lightly on the explicit details). A boardgame that Noah thought was dumb, but Quinn liked to play. The home videos that Quinn’s father smashed out of anger. Oh yes, there is a lot to unpack. Overall, I would not say this is a sad, gloomy game, but there is an undeniable sense of tragedy that emerges as you sift through the near empty house.
As I mentioned at the beginning, 13 Laurel Road is a piece where the story is centered around a defining Event that occurs before the game begins. You just merely pick up the pieces of a shattered past. The big plot twist is that (Spoiler - click to show) Quinn’s father, Glenn, shot and killed his wife, Joyce. You are visiting the house months after the incident.
While this is not a graphic game, there are poignant indicators of the violence that took place, such as bullet holes or suspicious looking stains. The game gives few details about this plot element, and it’s unclear if both Quinn and Joyce were shot, or the fate of Glenn. Did he kill himself? The only certainty is that Joyce is dead, and Quinn is now living on their own.
If anything, this story is about Quinn. Nearly a year ago, when Quinn requested to be called "they," Noah screwed up and said some things that hurt Quinn, and then started an argument with his sister, prompting Quinn to leave. Noah has felt bad about that ever since, and yet has not been proactive in making up for his behavior. Hopefully, this excursion into the past to find Quinn's things will be an opportunity to come to terms with what he did.
Sure enough, you end up being the one who (Spoiler - click to show) meets with Quinn in person to return the items. You have a few choices on how to respond to that encounter.
Characters + Themes
Let’s take a closer look at the character dynamics, particularly Noah’s relationship with Quinn since it is a long relationship filled with instability.
Noah never took Quinn’s transition seriously. Not transphobic, exactly, but indifferent to the challenges and implications brought by this personal growth. Quinn came out to Noah and Keira before ever bringing it up with Quinn’s own parents. Noah and Keira were supposed to be a support system, but Noah made little effort to respect his cousin’s change in identity.
In one of the memories, Noah recalls hearing (Spoiler - click to show) Quinn’s father, Glenn, talk about Quinn in shocking ways. While the game never actually uses transphobic slurs, it's implied that such slurs and statements were said in these past discussions. Even worse, Noah also remembers not trying object to (Spoiler - click to show) his uncle's comments or feeling any need to defend Quinn. (Note: This is a good game if you want to explore these ideas without dousing you with explicit content. Such games are powerful but sometimes you may feel like playing something more subtle.)
At the same time, the game highlights the uncertainty that can come with learning about a person’s, transition in gender and pronouns when one (Noah) is unaccustomed to concepts about transitioning. Noah would retreat to the use of Quinn’s previous name and pronouns as a defense mechanism when he felt insecure about the fact that people’s identity can be fluid. It is a big unknown for Noah. Unfortunately, Noah’s lack of open-mindedness caused harm to Quinn, especially as they struggled back at home. It was not until (Spoiler - click to show) Glenn killed Joyce did Noah realize how little support Quinn had.
How the player chooses to engage with this determines Noah’s willingness to admit- really admit- that he was wrong. That he chose the easy route and ignore when faced with his cousin’s requests to use different pronouns.
Though the game features a familiar appearance of white text against a black screen, it seems like the author added the slightest variation to the default stylization. The white text large and easy to read, maybe in a different-from-default font. Paragraphs are neatly organized onscreen. Never is the screen swamped with text. Neglecting paragraph organization and text space is something I see in Twine games from time to time. Finally, the red links offer a nice splash of colour.
While not particularly advanced in the technical department, 13 Laurel Road is a simple Twine game with a potent story about identity and revisiting a broken relationship. There are a lot of variables to consider. The game shows the impacts, often the more subtle impacts, that come with misgendering someone or not respecting their wishes (hopefully I analyzed the story correctly). Ultimately, it offers redemption but only redemption that is sought out earnestly.
A memorable slice of life game worth checking out.