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An effective use of the medium, September 19, 2014
Little Blue Men is a piece of interactive fiction written by Michael S. Gentry. You play as a disgruntled office worker tasked with repetitively stamping forms over and over again for the rest of his pointless life -- until he decides to take a stand and do something about the job he hates so much. This sort of premise is considered a massive cliché for interactive fiction, but Little Blue Men does it extraordinarily well. The game twists the familiar situation into a thematic direction you wouldn't expect, and this coupled with the game's excellent writing, which manages to pack plenty of genuine scares in with the hilarious satire, makes the experience worth remembering.
The thing that makes Little Blue Men work so well is the ending, which I don't want to spoil. It throws the player for a loop that gets them to re-analyze the entire story and think, Wait, why did I actually do that? This is one of those stories that only works properly as interactive fiction, told in the second person. When the actions of the protagonist in a story are placed in the hands of the reader, seeing the world through the character's eyes and having only themselves to blame for the outcomes, they start to feel responsible in part for the consequences. This responsibility is what makes the ending work, as it forces the reader to justify their own actions instead of solely allowing the character to be a separate entity, thus driving the game's theme in a little more effectively than it would be in a traditional storytelling medium.
First released in 1998 as an entry in the Xyzzy Awards, Little Blue Men won the award for Best Player Character, and was a finalist for Best Game, Best Individual Puzzle, Best Story, and Best Writing. The last two of these categories were lost to Photopia, another thematically-driven game released that year that combined excellent writing with a central theme. And although Photopia is a more polished product overall, I personally think that Little Blue Men deserved the writing prize a bit more; maybe it's not as technically proficient, but the writing is used here to further the genre of interactive fiction as well as providing an interesting theme that utilizes the dichotomy of player and protagonist. Photopia, while still a great game, could easily have been published as a short story instead, and is therefore, in my opinion, less deserving of a Xyzzy Award.
Technically, Little Blue Men is very flawed. It's one of the author's first works in the genre, and it shows in some small ways. A few of the puzzles are a bit obtuse, at times the text parser can be picky about your word choice, and some of the descriptions go out of sync with what's actually happening in the story. The overall product, however, ties itself together so well writing-wise that you'll find yourself forgiving these flaws. The game is freeware, and well worth your time to download.