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About the Story
"You pace the deck anxiously as you wait for the chaplain to finish his current appointment. The skies above are a gloomy grey--not foreboding enough for a storm, too grim to be considered cheery. The green-blue smoke from the engines rises up into the atmosphere, further clouding the air. You breathe in and out, steadily. You've been in worse frights, but are hard-pressed to think of them now.
47th Place - 24th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2018)
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Number of Reviews: 4
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Careless Talk is a short, choice-based work in which you play as a member of a magical corps fighting for your country, Albion, during wartime. The dedication to Alan Turing at the beginning of Careless Talk immediately made me think the country was Britain and the war was World War II. And I continued to think of Albion as a magical version of Britain as I played through the game: The navy, the monarchy, and the character and mannerisms of the major all have a British feel - not to mention the fact that Albion is an old name for Great Britain. I didn't pick up much more of a vibe about the war itself by the end, but the exact nature of the war is not really the game's focus.
Instead, as the title indicates, Careless Talk is more interested in exploring questions of trust and betrayal. Despite the military setting and the title's reference to an old World War II slogan, though, the trust and betrayal in Careless Talk don't have to do with inadvertently spilling military secrets. Instead, as the dedication to Alan Turing hints, Albion is a society with a lot of prejudice towards gay and queer people. So much so that, like Turing himself, gay folk must hide that part of themselves from society at large - even gay people who are instrumental to the war effort.
However, Albion's society is also prejudiced towards magical folk, despite their obvious usefulness in wartime situations. In fact, I wondered early on if the game was going to use magical powers as a metaphor for homosexuality. Then it surprised me by portraying homosexual prejudice as a distinct, separate dimension of prejudice in Albion society. Then it surprised me again by explicitly associating the two (sending my thoughts back to what I was thinking originally), with these sentences: "Prejudice and hatred against magical folk and homosexuals have been linked for over a century. They both carry associations with the decadence of the aristocracy, without the protection that class affords."
I think the writing in Careless Talk is strong. I'm not sure what the message is, although here are some thoughts.
(Spoiler - click to show)The game tells you that you have to be careful who you trust - to watch out for, as the title says, "careless talk." Tom's murder is the most obvious example of that. On the other hand, the reverend explicitly chooses to trust you, the PC, with his secret. Isn't he being careless? Surely he shouldn't be so trusting of you.
Although maybe that is the message: That, in a society in which you have to hide part of who you are, you never know whom you can trust. Sometimes trust leads to betrayal, and sometimes it leads to a deep connection. There's a hint that perhaps the PC and the reverend will be lovers in the future.
Overall, I think Careless Talk is a bit too obvious about its central metaphor (for example, with the dedication to Turing and the two sentences I quoted before). Metaphor generally works better as a literary device when the reader picks it up on his or her own.
Careless Talk is a short choice-based game about a very heavy topic: lethal violence against homosexuals. Or perhaps it is more correct to say that the game is about living in a world where revealing who you really are could have the most dire of consequences. The protagonist of the tale is a gay sailor -- in fact, a sort of techno-magician -- and he has been speaking about his predicament to the ship's clergyman. This is risky, since you never know whom to trust, but perhaps also necessary, since you need somebody to talk to. As the game starts, our protagonist has heard that one of his former friends, also a gay sailor, has been betrayed and killed on another ship. He needs to talk to the clergyman again, but, at the same time, has the possibility of betrayal more clearly on his mind then ever.
Now there is nothing really wrong with this piece; there are no bugs, and the writing is competent. And yet it failed to make much of an impact on me. It's about something really dramatic... and yet, the drama wasn't conveyed to me. I'm not exactly sure why that happened, but I have a few hypotheses, all of which take the form of describing a way in which the game's impact might have been bigger.
(Spoiler - click to show)One possibility would be to increase the emotional impact of finding out that our friend Tom has been betrayed and killed. This would require spending more time establishing Tom as someone we know and like, a real person; and probably also spending time developing the personality of his betrayer. Perhaps the betrayer even found out about Tom's sexuality because of something we ourselves did, or were at least part of? A lot of potential here, if we were willing to start the story much sooner.
A second possibility, probably closer to the author's intentions, would be to ramp up the tension in the present-day scenes. I never really had the idea that something bad was going to happen to the character. The only homophobe we meet is a stupid as the rear end of a pig, so harm is unlikely to come from there. And what possible reason could the clergyman have to betray us now, at this moment, when he could have outed us much earlier? Perhaps if someone had been on to us, and we needed to convince the clergyman to take a risky action in order to save us, this would have created more real drama in the moment.
A third possibility, on a slightly more meta-level, is to tone down the overt discussion on the world's violent homophobia. From its very first words, the game signals to us exactly what it is about: violence against homosexuals, who therefore have to hide their sexuality. And the game proceeds to show us what is has already told us. I'm not a big fan of the old adage "show, don't tell"; but perhaps we should be wary of first telling the reader what is going on and then also showing it in concrete scenes. This surely lessens the impact of those scenes themselves.
A fourth possibility, perhaps closest of all to the author's intentions, would be to focus more on the nature of friendship. There is a sense in which the main question that the game raises is this: why would anyone risk their very life just in order to talk about their true self? (It was a good choice on the author's part to have the relationship between the protagonist and the cleric be purely platonic. The question why someone would risk their life to enact their sexual preference is also a good and deep question, but most people have a ready-to-hand, if perhaps too simplistic, answer to it: lust is sometimes irresistible.) This is a very interesting question; and I would have liked to see a bit more exploration of the protagonist's struggle with this question. Perhaps multiple encounters with the clergyman could have helped here, including possibilities to either tell him about it or not, and then a subsequent struggle with the negative effects of either choice.
The game, then, ended up falling a bit flat for me. But there's a lot of material here that I could see being developed in ways that might have much more impact on me. This is the author's first piece of interactive fiction, and it is a worthy effort. I'm interested in seeing how they'll develop their craft in the future.
A somewhat interesting, if fairly cliched, short story in a barely interactive shell. Many of the choices aren't really choices, just ways to expand the text. Also, the setting is totally unnecessary. It doesn't need to have a magical setting, seeing words like MagiCorp (or whatever it was) thrown in there to explain away things that don't need explaining away was just distracting.
This game is short and mostly linear. Many choices that are presented, in fact all, it seems, either don't actually work (your character can't choose them) or has no effect.
Within that short time and constrained play system, though, the author manages to build up an entire world and vividly describe a wide variety of characters. I felt emotionally invested in the game.
I'm not sure that this game would be better serviced by being longer. It has a short tale to tell with a clearly defined narrative arc.
The general idea of this is bigotry, and features a world where magic blends with the era of British sailing ships and naval domination.
I'm taking off two stars, one for interactivity (I feel like the game could have at least remembered a bit of our earlier choices, like the way we handle the bigoted crewman), and one because it has little replay value. It's been over a year since I played, and I remembered the entire game when I just replayed it, finding nothing new. Perhaps this is actually a good thing, a story so vivid it's seared into your brain? But 3 stars is where I'm leaving it for now.