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Needs more punch, July 15, 2019
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.