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About the Story
Being There is an extremely experimental little work of interactive fiction with pictures, about existence and Korea. Only requires a few minutes to play through, but you are encouraged to take your time.
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Number of Reviews: 3
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As the author makes clear on his website, this is a nongame “about existence and Korea” .
You are presented with a photograph (nice and competent photography by the way) and a written description of ten or so Korean scenes: a street lined by cherry blossom trees, a temple spring, pots full of kimchi, kids playing baseball etc.
The writing ranges and changes (more or less abruptly) from the lyrical through the whimsical to mere statements of facts about the country. Mostly, though, Korea is viewed in this work through a lens of wistful memories that lend the country a magic feel.
The description of each scene usually ends with a couple of suggestions about possible ways to interact with it. These suggestions make it clear that interaction is not limited to the realistic: you can fly, climb into kimchi-pots like some ten inches high Alice, dance in the sky, etc. The possible interaction is, however, not at all limited to the suggested actions, and the author seems to have taken particular care to ensure that the different senses are implemented: you can smell, touch, listen to and taste most anything.
However, there really is nothing you're required or even supposed to do. You just explore the scenes, for as long as you please, trying any commands you can think of. And then, when you feel you have done with a certain scene, you type LEAVE (or any compass direction) and is automatically transported to the next scene in the series.
The sequence of scenes is predetermined, but I don't think there is any intended progress in the series (though peopled scenes come at the end of it).The scenes seem largely independent of and unconnected to each other.
There is a vaguely nostalgic feel to much of the work, and the author’s love for Korea shines through clearly. However, it all lacks a sense of direction. In the end, it really doesn’t say very much about either existence or Korea.
The lack of direction to the piece makes it a little like watching slides of your neighbours’ recent trip to Korea. Only, the pictures are seriously better than your average neighbour’s. And, the way your neighbour talks about them, he’s obviously stoned. And you’re obviously stoned, too, the way you buy what he says. And that certainly makes the whole experience much more enjoyable, but—it’s not enough to make a thoroughly successful piece of IF out of it.
To that end, I think, a more well-defined content would have helped. If the piece had somehow told a story, raised a question, evoked a precise emotion, stated facts, made a point or whatever about Korea (or about existence), it would have been the better for it. No deep or original ideas are necessarily needed, just something to help the player/reader get his bearings. I would say, only a few accomplished stylists (like zen master Mumon or trout fisher Richard Brautigan) ever really make do without something like it.
However, I’m sure the format could be put to excellent literary and/or educational use. And one more thing —
it might well be that, if you come to this nongame with a Korean experience of your own, it is much more compelling and evocative than I realize.
Being There sounds like it will be an interactive adaptation of a Jerzy Kosinski novel; failing that, an exploration of Martin Heidegger's concept of Dasein. It is neither. This piece is an Ode to Joy.
Joy, the joy of living, the joy of experiencing and acting -- that is what this game is about. It takes you through a series of tranquil scenes accompanied by beautiful photographs, and then it lets you play in them. You can look and touch and taste; you can dance and jump and sing; you can climb and swim and in fact fly into the air whenever you wish. You can lie down and sleep. No duties, no responsibilities, no cares -- enjoyment is everything.
This is a game where when you see a soccer goal, you can type "play soccer" and the game responds with: "You play soccer with an invisible ball... you score!" How cool is that?
I hope it is clear from the previous paragraphs that I absolutely disagree with previous reviewers and commentators about the need to add a story, or puzzles, or a statement about Korea, to this game. Doing any of those things would destroy that which makes Being There special and strangely exhilarating: its celebration of free play. (Which is also why I do call the piece a game, even though the author does not.)
The length of the game is excellent, giving you enough time to explore and then, when tedium threatens to set in, rapidly moving things towards a close -- a close which also serves as an antidote to what might otherwise have been an over-abundance of carefreeness, without falling into the opposite trap of falsifying the game's positive message.
Are there no complaints? Well, certainly: even though there are many things you can do, you will still encounter standard library messages and actions that are refused. While this doesn't matter in a traditional game, a piece that celebrates freedom and experience is hampered by it. I hope that the author will continue to update the game as people keep sending in requests for more actions and responses -- I know that I have just sent in mine.
"Being There" is a love letter to Korea. Magnuson clearly has great affection for his subject, and does his best to transmit it to the player. Each location is associated with a photograph, and at each place the game suggests some things to try. There are no right or wrong answers here - this is, as Magnuson calls it, a "notgame".
There are a few places where the interactivity works against the text - in particular, I'm thinking of one location where I spent at least 8 or 9 turns trapped in a pot of kimchi. But one doesn't want to be churlish. Being There, while not deeply involving for the casual drive-by player, is still charming, and worth trying.
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