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Being There

by Jordan Magnuson profile

Experimental
2010

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Number of Reviews: 3
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
Floating impressions of Korea, August 2, 2010
by Felix Larsson (Gothenburg, Sweden)
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.

Comments on this review

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Jordan Magnuson, August 2, 2010 - Reply
Thank you very much for your detailed and honest review Felix: I'm honored at the care you've taken with my work.

That's really all I have to say, for the most part :). This was an experimental piece, and while I should certainly like for it to succeed as well as it can, I think your criticisms are fair, and I shall certainly take note of them.

I think my effort here may have been slightly self-defeating, even, in that there is a strange way in which I didn't really want to "say" anything about Korea or existence with the piece... I know that sounds odd, and it's hard to explain, but I was trying to get at something a little more existential and primal... something that comes before (or after) "saying," if you will... the idea of "being," or something like that.

But as you say, you probably need to be someone like Richard Brautigan to pull something like that off :), and I clearly lacked the skill for it (at least this time--not saying that I won't try again ;).

Thanks again for your thoughts!
AmberShards, August 28, 2010 - Reply
I beta-tested this game and Felix's points hit home with me as well. The problem I had was that because there were no puzzles/problems and also no story, I was not drawn in by the game. The short duration also contributed to the clear separation of the player from the game and resulted in an airy, indistinct, ambivalence.

Story and interaction weld the player to the work and cause its images and its meaning to create enduring impressions. These require the player to spend time in the world of the game, and the more often the game compels the player to visit, the more memorable it becomes.
Jordan Magnuson, September 2, 2010 - Reply
Thank you for your comments AmberShards, and once again thanks for the beta testing! I agree with your points regarding the importance of story. Being There was sort of an experiment to test those points, and, well, they seem to have held up pretty strongly :).

It is interesting, though, that I've had a couple people comment on having really enjoyed Being There... so I guess there is a little bit of wiggle room.
Felix Larsson, August 2, 2010 - Reply
Thank you. I look forward to that next try.
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