You Couldn't Have Done That

by Ann Hugo profile

Slice of life

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Number of Reviews: 9
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1-9 of 9

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Autism and helplessness, November 17, 2021
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: IFComp 2020

YCHDT's blurb spells things out pretty quickly. The title, however, is more fungible. And I wondered: there were so many ways to say it. Was the main character saying it to someone else? Were they hurt? Impressed? Was someone else saying it to them? Did the main character lash out unacceptably? Things seemed ugly any which way. I pictured a hugely dramatic resolution at the end. There was none, and I think YCHDT worked better without it.

Because as it turns out, there's another possibility, namely that (Spoiler - click to show)you don't feel able to do what you want to do, or what other people would have no problem doing, or what people expect of you, and people don't quite get why you can't.

This is built up through the story. It's your first day at a new job. You're given relatively remedial tasks (which you enjoy, and which some people might find weird you enjoy) and introduced to your coworkers. One is actually friendly, and one is surface-friendly, focused on "fixing you up," making you more "presentable," "exciting," etc. I've had this from people even though I'm not autistic (oh hi, gun nuts in my horrible old Boy Scout troop 2 years younger than me,) and there's no way to push back without seeming confrontational, and you suspect they just have more experience in a shouting match. They'll say "you need to ..." without asking what you'd ultimately like, or want. Perhaps they're just being oblivious, and it takes a lot more data to consign them to "seriously not worth listening to" territory. Of course there are things that let you blow someone off immediately, but bad actors don't have to be a genius to train themselves to avoid that. So they make themselves minimally tolerable and have something prepared if someone does lash out. We learn to deal with this as we grow older.

But it's hard to! We make a lot of bad guesses, whether or not we are autistic. And I can't speak scientifically whether autism means you start with more to learn, or it's harder to learn and retain what you learn. Just--being stuck in a situation where someone says "I was trying to help" and wasn't, or if they ask you an obvious question and you're too frozen to answer, maybe because you're worried they have a cruel follow-up, hurts. Maybe you realise there's a Hobson's Choice and it's tough to pick the less awful way. It doesn't have to happen often. But having it happen all the time must hurt terribly, whether or not people say "Gee, don't you learn?" whether it's due to actual learned helplessness or autism.

As someone who just didn't get the power games people played with dialogue and was conscious of that, this struck a nerve. But I was able to bounce back from this reading and some memories. I've had my share of people I had to back away from because their jokes are superficially friendly, or they start with self-deprecation to "justify" insulting someone later. Or they, being a bit narcissistic, expect constant brief verbal encouragement to continue their long rant.

And it's weird. The best response may be "oh" and look away. But it also may be the worst response. And the difference may be subtle gestures you're not aware of. I certainly felt, well, the narrator should be able to bounce back from the violations of personal space, etc., from their coworker. They deserve to. But they didn't. And this was all done with a lack of melodrama. It says a lot beyond autism to me, as it's about helplessness in general and not wanting to let people spoil your victories, big or small, that you should enjoy and be proud of.

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
A focused look at a traumatic experience, December 13, 2020
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020

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.

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Very Effective, December 6, 2020
by brwarner (Vancouver, BC)

As I told the author during my playtest, I thought this game was really effective. There are no autistic people in my life, so all my knowledge about autism is filtered through bad cultural preconceptions course-corrected crudely by The Discourse delivered via tweets or screenshots of tweets. This game gave me some insight into via a rather traumatic, unfortunately slice of life.

Since my original playtest, the author has added some coloured backgrounds which change based on the level of tension and fear in the scene. I like the idea, and I’ve seen in other reviews people really liking it, but I found the particular colours chosen made it a bit harder to read the text. Personally I preferred it with the white background but maybe it’s just a matter of chosing the right colours? The idea is cool.

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Emotional and well done, December 2, 2020
by Stian
Related reviews: ifcomp 2020

This story, for it is a story much more than a game, utilises choice in a way I have not seen before in IF, allowing the reader to reflect on real life agency in difficult situations. I found this surprising and remarkably well done, but also emotionally challenging.

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Genuine, unpretentious storytelling, December 1, 2020
by AKheon (Finland)
Related reviews: Twine, choice-based, IF Comp 2020, drama

You Couldn't Have Done That is a choice-based game by Ann Hugo, published in 2020. You play as an autistic teenager who starts a job at a clothing store.

The gameplay is quite linear. You have the occasional choice in what to do or say, but it usually doesn't make more than a minor difference in the following story text. However, (Spoiler - click to show)there is a reason for this - the main character finds herself unable to do certain things when stressed out; that's where the title of the game "You Couldn't Have Done That" becomes significant.

The story is written with just enough detail that it's light to read, but it also illustrates quite well what challenges there might be in retail work for an autistic person. The writing is believable, and I like the main character too - she has her uncertainties, but she's still willing to face her fears and earnestly try doing her new job. The way the color of the background changes to illustrate her anxiety is a nice touch; together with the changing background music it made (Spoiler - click to show)the encounter with Janice feel quite oppressive.

As for the level of polish, there are a few typos like "ettiquete", and the second music track with piano sounds a bit off, as if it doesn't loop properly. But still, the game generally works and does its job. It's worth a try for a short but emotional story-driven experience.

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Short game about an autistic girl's first day at a new job, October 21, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 15 minutes

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.

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
An effective short story about an uncomfortable work situation, October 18, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

I had a bizarre moment when starting up this game because it seemed 100% familiar. I thought that I must have beta-tested it and forgot, or somehow seen it earlier.

Then I realized that I had seen it earlier, but in a blog (I assume it's okay to link, as the author links to their blog in the end-credits):

I remember at the time finding it a traumatic story.

This game is very well-done. It's not aspiring to be an epic game or a involved interactive experience. Instead, its a game that tells a specific short story and it does so very, very well.

You play as a teen who was recently hired at a store in the mall. Work is a little bit frightening (you're young and neurodivergent, as is hinted at), and things start to go off the rails pretty soon.

The interaction is generally a 'continue' link, a choice between two similar options, or links which 'aren't allowed'. Usually, this makes for poor interaction, but in this game, it's entirely the point: feeling constrained, or helpless, or swept up by events.

Multimedia use is subtle and effective. Slight changes in the background color, inconspicuous music. I was thrown off for a second by the fact that all links are approximately the default color for already-visited links (which increased my sense of Deja-Vu) but that was just a small thing.

Overall, great game, 100% effective (for me) in what it was trying to do. Crappy experience, though.

+Polished: Very nice effects, everything worked.
+Descriptiveness: I felt like I was there.
+Interactivity: It contributed to the game's message
+Emotional impact: Definitely!
+Would I play again? Yes, and recommend it to others.

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Heartbreaking, October 15, 2020
by deathbytroggles (Minneapolis, MN)

My son is autistic. He's bright, kind, and empathetic. Most days go fairly well for him now. But some days he has big emotions and his coping skills he's learned in order to deal with uncertainty go out the window. Right now he's young enough that we can always be there for him and let him work through it. And I have the fear that when he gets older, and he's in the real world, we won't be able to protect him from people who want to take advantage of him.

This brief Twine experience from Ann Hugo brought all those fears to the surface while doing so in an honest, compassionate manner. The story is on rails, but the choices given effectively convey the lack of agency autistic people feel when under stress. Every time I was trying to champion a choice that I wanted Theo to make, the story came back with "You Couldn't Have Done That," and I nodded my head as my heart broke a little.

Superb use of the medium and a gift to the IF community.

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
You couldn't have done that, October 15, 2020
by autumnc
Related reviews: ifcomp 2020

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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