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About the Story
Your job is to talk to people. Interview three patrons of the 'Mental Entertainment' virtual reality entertainment center in Dayton, Ohio, and determine if they have a problem. Conversation-driven parser IF.
Nominee, Best NPCs - 2019 XYZZY Awards
45th Place - 25th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2019)
|Average Rating: |
Number of Reviews: 4
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This is a conversational game, a difficult genre to do well. I was pleased at how this game handled the difficulties.
The game puts you in the role of a 'dependency evaulator' who must decide if people are unhealthily addicted to VR or not.
Each of the three people you discuss has strong opinions on political issues that are important to us and exacerbated in their future. Climate change, privatization of police and military, and war have made their mark on this world.
You are not required to feel any particular way yourself. If you hear someone go off on an opinion you don't think is justified, you can put their file in the 'bad' bin. The game doesn't judge you. It doesn't comment.
I liked it. Parser needed some touching up, especially dealing with names and their possessives (for instance, "Brian" wouldn't be a synonym of "Brian's file").
Conversation is usually hard because its either too linear or the state space grows too quickly. This game restricts the state space by telling you what to start with and that all new topics will be nouns in previous replies. Wonderful! Similar to Galatea in that respect.
I enjoyed the plausible and coherent fiction that held this game together. The environments were detailed and immersive, exploring three different realities that appeal to different characters. Each one is recognizable as “the kind of place you’d want to visit online,” but they have all been given enough description to prevent them from feeling washed-out and generic.
The game encourages you to talk with the characters to learn more about them and their motivations. Those conversations gradually reveal details about the world outside the simulation and why the characters have been flagged for being at risk of addiction.
In my opinion, the interactivity and the fiction worked well together. It gradually presented different parts of the story and allowed me to piece things together at my own pace. There’s no massive info-dump that screams “HERE IS THIS WORLD’S STORY.” Instead, you pick up on keywords and encourage the characters to provide more detail about those concepts.
If I was going to grumble, I’d say that it didn’t feel like I could *change* anything. I walked around, I looked at things, and I asked questions. And that was an appropriate stylistic choice! (Spoiler - click to show)All the characters were frustrated by the feeling that their actions in the "real world" couldn't make any lasting change. My powerlessness put me right there alongside them. And I questioned whether the assessor should actually be trying to change these characters — they might need to decide on their own that they have to change.
Mental Entertainment doesn't present you with lush backgrounds or anything like that. Object descriptions are cursory. Your ultimate decisions don't matter, and in fact, you come to them quickly. But ME is more about painting a mood and bringing up some really tough dilemmas it's hard to shake. You sort of hope they will be abstract for a while. But progress has other views, it seems. It deals with addiction, a common theme with many twine games, which are generally more about unhealthy relationships.
Here, society is messed up, and it's spawning addictions. You are a case worker who must check on whether people who show patterns of addiction to virtual reality actually are addicted, and if it is dangerous. One is a police officer who spends time as a Sheriff in the old west. One is a woman who is on UBI (universal basic income) which, it turns out, hasn't even close to solved all our problems, but at least it prevented stuff from getting worse, as you learn if you chat around. She just wants some park that reminds us of nature as it was, and she can't help notice that AI makes giraffes purple, and so forth. A third is someone who is disillusioned with academia.
Talking to them gives an idea of how we got here, and they make compelling cases both for the sanity of losing oneself in Virtual Reality and for how society as-is is built to, well, drive most people crazy. This sort of thing could easily be melodramatic, but the author foregoes twisty prose. The simple descriptions maybe indicate that AI only sees stuff on the surface, as expected. The cop relates how his wife continually gets promoted at the drug company (Irony here! There's no good way to know if AIs determine getting people addicted to drugs is worth a tradeoff!) The woman at the nature park knows soy is no replacement for real food and worries what other nutrients scientists will find we're missing. The academic realizes how easy it can be to make money with no conscience, both in the tech sector and the "public service" sector. (There's an interesting backstory about public and private police forces.)
This is one of those entries that place in the bottom half of IFComp that really do turn out to be quite good. There seem to be several every year. Playing something like this I worry about the other stuff I may have missed. Perhaps it placed so low because it didn't just ask unsettling questions, but it asked ones that would leave us unsettled and not immediately say "Hey! It's cool to ask unsettling questions!" Without any bold massive "Oh it's so ahead of our time" assertions, the author has shown a lot of foresight, and he's painted some quick and deft pictures of existential problems that exist and are only going to get worse. This left me relieved I 1) was not the only person scared of progress and 2) wasn't the only one pretending to be scared of it for a quick buck. It's not the first entry to pretty much say, okay, here things are, it's what you make of it, read as little or as much of it as you want. But I was pulled in, almost glad someone else had considered disturbing angles I hadn't. And, well, I was glad there were text adventures to help alert us to the dangers of AI, and to remind us we don't need that complicated stuff.
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