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About the Story
"Bored of his life in the East, Buck Rockford heads West to seek the meaning of man's existence."
Entrant - Neo-Twiny Jam
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Number of Reviews: 3
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…or the humourous(?) adventures of Buck Rockford.
Bored out of his mind, Buck heads West in hopes to find fulfilment and meaning for his life. Though he has quite a few options on what to become, Buck never seems to find luck with any of those new position. Instead he job hops, hoping the next one will strike gold…
The entry is very anchored in the western tropes, and even through some of the underlying sadness, there is quite a bit of delighting humour. The twists made me giggle quite a bit.
This game was written for the Neo Twiny Jam in 500 words or less.
I played this game the day after Pioneer Day. This holiday is only really celebrated in Utah, where I don't live right now, but I celebrated it by telling stories about my pioneer ancestors to my kid. They journeyed west over the plains in the 1840's and 50's, and lived western lives, like being a coal miner in Nevada or running a farm in Utah.
Growing up in Utah, a state with a religious majority, we were required to learn Utah history every three years but religion was not allowed to be mentioned. So besides the occasional Native American history, we spent almost all of those years learning about Mountain Men like Jim Bridger.
So this game brought back a lot of thoughts. It's pretty short. You play as a kind of mountain man who lives through multiple stages of life, each with a varying amount of its own branches. Each life drives you further, inexorably west.
If this was just a straight-up western, I'd probably give 3 or 4 stars. But little bits of deadpan humor are slid in that really enhance it. Sometimes I had to read it twice before I realized how funny it was. And some of it is almost not humor but just an unsettling inconsistency, a literary uncanny valley.
Anyway, the game itself is quite small and I have a whole cloud of baggage attached to it so if someone reads this and plays it and thinks 'That was it?' yes, that was it, I just liked it.
If you worry Buck Rockford is too on-the-nose as a Western character name, fear not. This work is not fully in earnest. And Buck’s name works doubly for me. Why? Well, having lived in Chicago for a while, I know of a good-sized town about 90 miles west called ... Rockford! It is not a terribly romantic place to live, alas.
Buck Rockford Heads West (BRHW) is itself an effort written in Ink, where you, as Buck Rockford, have a choice of four professions to follow. Each is stereotypically Western, except for weird twists that happen once you start. In each profession, you may have a drastic life-or-death choice, except ... well, it only affects the story.
Each part of the story at first relies on standard Western tropes, and while Western tropes have been done and mocked enough to make me scream, this is different. There is no "howdy pardner" or long description of scenery. There is simply doing stuff wrong on purpose, which turns out to be way more interesting than doing it right. Here the enforced word count works well. Twists and turns are packed in nicely.
Eventually, Buck finds his destiny, which is sort of unexpected, but it makes sense given the surreal logic of the story. Strangely enough, I found it related to (Spoiler - click to show)Mr. Seguin's Goat, which I'd played a few weeks ago in ParserComp 2023, because of (Spoiler - click to show)the themes of having too much freedom not being so great. In fact, because of the nature of the story where one adventure does not help Buck on any of the others, we can either note that he is going around in circles with his four choices, or he does in fact find worse luck somewhere along the way. (It's possible there is a hidden ending for doing things the "right way." But BRHW doesn't feel like it wants to force to you. I played through several times to check.)
I was surprised how much I thought of it afterwards as more than just a bunch of clever jokes and misdirections. It reminded me of back when the World Wide Web was more volatile, and I thought I'd find a webpage where I'd stay longer than I did, or a community that should've worked, didn't. Some webpages seemed terribly avant-garde or clever, but they were just flashy, and once I heard the same old snark a few times, I moved on. Then on stumbling over a website from over a decade ago, it seemed old-hat, the "insightful" humor too cruel.
Similar things happen with art, of course--people loved Sasha Baron Cohen's Borat for different reasons. The parts that got the loudest laughs didn't seem to age well, and the odder parts, to me, showed profound insights. And Cohen himself keeps needing to try new characters or environs. Once his current alter-ego gets too popular, he needs to move on.
Neo Twiny Jam has its share of downright depressing works where someone is stuck. BRHW is about being stuck in its own way, but it has more a sense of melancholy, of searching for more. Perhaps not of discontent but of knowing you will kind of shrivel up and growing if you stay certain places too long. But it's told to you not by a self-help guru worth tens of millions of dollars, or even a teacher in high school who said you should be more interested in their subject than you were, because that's the way to a good job. But it's about looking into things you always meant to, a reminder of longing without saying, gee, pal, you wasted your life.
Well, that's what it was for me. You may find your own interpretation, and it would not be wrong. I have already yammered on so that this review eclipses the Neo Twiny Jam word limit. I think that says a lot.
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