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About the Story
Your first day on the job wasn't going to be pleasant. Such was inevitable. It's a big change. And, you are autistic.
57th Place - 26th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2020)
|Average Rating: |
Number of Reviews: 9
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Please know that I mean this with the utmost respect, and in the best way possible, when I call this piece an "autism simulator". I say it not at all to diminish the autistic experience, but rather to praise the game. I am not autistic myself, but I have a young son who is autistic, as well as several adult friends who are autistic. From observing their behavior and listening to them talk about what it is like, I think that this game does the best job I've ever seen at helping a non-autistic person experience what it is like to be autistic. The writing is properly terse and excellent at getting the player into the mindset of the main character and what she is dealing with in her first day at a new job; the things she likes about the job and the things that make her uncomfortable. The game features very limited choices that at first didn't seem to have a big impact on the game, a feature that I don't usually like. However, eventually you will make a choice that (Spoiler - click to show)is rejected by the game as something you can't do (hence the title) because of your brain just doesn't work that way. It is in these moments that you really feel the pain and discomfort of the character. When every interaction gets dialed up to 11, normal situations can be uncomfortable and bad situations can be hell.
I'd recommend everyone give this a playthrough to help you better understand some of your fellow humans. Well worth the little time it will take.
There are a fair few pieces of IF that explore feelings of constraint or paralysis by seeming to offer choices but then negating the player’s attempts at agency – Rameses, most famously, or I was partial to Constraints from a couple years after. There’s also lots of IF involving neuroatypical protagonists, from your garden-variety aliens or disembodied consciousnesses to, as here, more grounded examples like autistic folks. I don’t recall seeing the two of these elements combined in the way YCHDT does, which makes for a marriage of theme and form that elevates this short story about a traumatic event.
We know going in that the player character is autistic, and the opening does a good job of laying out what that means for the protagonist: challenges with eye contact, comfort in repetitive activities, difficulty speaking when triggered. There are small, well-drawn incidents or choices that establish each of these pieces before the main story kicks off, which helped me better orient towards how to portray the character. Indeed, they did such a good job that I don’t think I realized how the choices work until I did a replay: while you do occasionally get choices that would push against Theo’s boundaries, when you try to select these you get told You Couldn’t Have Done that and sent back down the other path. While this means I missed out on some of how YCHDT works on my initial foray, I don’t think that undermines the intended experience since I’d basically internalized the constraints.
The story is really about setting up, then relating, a single traumatic encounter, so it’s very focused throughout its short length. This does mean that there are some elements in the first half or so of the game that seem odd, as there are specific details and characters’ actions that seem to get disproportionate attention. The actions of the antagonistic character slowly escalate over time, and grow increasingly pushy and bizarre. Again, there’s a good synthesis of tone and theme here, since this gives an off-kilter, horror-movie vibe to proceedings.
When the traumatic event comes, it similarly has a lot of terrible immediacy, and again a few strange, specific details keep the engagement high (I think I saw another review mention that this is based on an actual experience of the author, which is awful). YCHDT doesn’t wallow in awfulness, though, and after this crisis the main character does get some support, which I was glad of as otherwise I was worried the game might feel pretty bleak. I will say I was a bit surprised there wasn’t more of the aftermath portrayed, though – I wanted to know a bit more about how Theo wound up processing the event, and how, if at all, it impacted her moving forward. But I think the game is quite effective as it stands, and was stable and almost entirely typo-free – I feel a bit dumb because I often say “this game does exactly what it’s trying to do”, but since there are so many different ways of writing good IF it’s worth acknowledging when one, like YCHDT, is exemplary for its type.
This game affected me rather deeply. It’s a mostly linear twine story about an autistic, gender nonconforming teen who gets a job at a clothing store in a mall. She has to deal with her anxiety around people, and her tendency to go nonverbal when confronted with certain social situations, and the negative reactions of others to said tendencies. This culminates in a moment of abuse from one of her coworkers.
It felt realistic to me, as someone who sometimes acts in ways similar to the protagonist. Her mental patterns felt familiar; the constant overthinking of every social interaction, the loss of rational capacity when stressed, the feeling of suddenly wanting to cry. The writing was simple but effective, fleshing out the characters and situations in a few brief sentences. After many choices, there is the message “You couldn’t have done that” at the top, and instead of doing whatever the choice described, the protagonist just freezes up, unable to speak or move away or do anything else. It was an effective narrative mechanism, in my opinion.
Anyway, I felt that this game was very effective at what it was trying to portray. The only potential problem I had was that it was too brief, but the story didn't really need to be any longer.
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