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by Natalia Theodoridou

Science Fiction, Cyberpunk-Noir Mystery

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(based on 9 ratings)
2 reviews

About the Story

What doesn't kill you...kills someone else, and leads you down an ethical rabbit hole. In the near future, paying users can rent the "virtual experiences" of other people. These "feeders" sublet their own bodies, at the risk of their own lives, so that customers can safely enjoy extreme, potentially self-destructive vices, like binge eating, cliff diving, or worse.

"Rent-a-Vice" is a 150,000-word interactive cyberpunk-noir mystery novel by Natalia Theodoridou, where your choices control the story. It's entirely text-based—without graphics or sound effects—and fueled by the vast, unstoppable power of your imagination.

You're a private investigator with a bad habit, an ex, and mountains of debt--troubles so deep that you stand to lose custody of your kid. When a mysterious client asks for your help finding their missing lover in the seamy world of virtual experience, it's up to you to gather evidence, experience the technology for yourself, and solve the case.

Delve into the darkest corners of the clandestine Rent-a-Vice industry. If you believe the etho-politicians, VE compromises the well-being of society, and normalizes vice and disorder. But what are users after? Is it entertainment, or something deeper? And is there anything in it for the feeders, other than profit?

As for you, will you resist your own vices, or go all in?

• Play as male, female, or non-binary; gay, straight, or bisexual.
• Fight or embrace your personal demons, struggle against the machinery of power, and find friendship in unlikely places.
• Save those in trouble or extort them for your silence, or go rogue and burn the entire industry to the ground.
• Expose corruption or exploit it for your gain.
• Test your skills as a PI while you share other people's experiences of life and death.
• Trade favors to retain custody of your child; reunite with your ex, or find romance with someone new.
• Become a champion for the marginalized, usher in a new ethical standard, or step on corpses to climb to the top.

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Number of Reviews: 2
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A gritty crime story about dark virtual technology, July 22, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This is the one of the darker Choicescript games I have played. In a world where virtual reality can hijack another's senses, people use the technology to live through others: cliff diving, gorging on food, and darker things.

This game includes references to drug use, self-harm, suicide, and more. I didn't experience sexual content on my run-throughs. Each chapter has optional content warnings.

As a detective story, this is top-notch. It was nominated for a Nebula award, and its easy to see why. I've replayed it a few times and it's always fresh.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Dark cyberpunk mystery exploring larger ethical questions, June 23, 2023
by ccpost (Greensboro, North Carolina)

Rent-a-Vice has the setup of a noir mystery story in a near-future cyberpunk setting: you're a private investigator, down on your luck and in debt, when a tantalizing missing persons case walks through your door, a case that will send you into the seedy underbelly surrounding a controversial virtual reality technology... Virtual Experience is a radical step beyond typical VR, offering the opportunity to connect directly into the experience of another person. While lauded as a tool for promoting empathy, VE has quickly fostered underground circuits of 'feeders' peddling in experiences of self-harm, addiction, and other vices.

The core mystery story is compelling enough, though the real pull of the game is the exploration of the thorny ethical questions prompted by VE. Does VE set up an inherently exploitative relationship between feeders and users? If VE neutralizes some social ills because people are partaking in vices virtually, does this warrant the damage done to the feeders? If feeders willingly enter into this work, does this justify the danger they put themselves in? The game does empower the player to take firm stances on these questions, though easy or straightforward answers are never supplied. The choice-based game mechanic is deployed very well to prompt the player to articulate their thoughts on these various questions and consider alternative viewpoints.

By exploring the ethical questions around VE and foregrounding issues of self-harm, self-destructive behavior, and suicide, the game delves into some very dark territory. Theodoridou does this responsibly, offering content warnings and ensuring that the player is aware of the difficult issues that they are going to confront. However, the game does not shy away from direct depictions and discussions of these topics. The player character has a tortured past (that the player in part gets to determine through their choices), and engaging this case brings that repressed trauma back to the surface. This adds some real stakes to working the case, and makes some parts of the game quite challenging. The introduction of these topics never feels cheap, though, as direct confrontations with the darkest applications of VE are really core to the game.

The game excels when it has the player exploring the complicated depths of VE, though there are some points where the stakes of the choices can feel forced and inauthentic. (Spoiler - click to show)For instance, there's a point where a feeder is almost surely going to commit suicide and, at that very moment, you get a call that your child has gone to the hospital. Choosing between your child and the feeder becomes a starkly binary choice in a way that doesn't serve the narrative and leads to an unsatisfying resolution in every case. There are a couple other points where the narrative falls back on noir tropes as narrative shortcuts. (Spoiler - click to show)The loan shark character, in particular, feels like a narrative shortcut throughout the game. They are never developed as a character and just show up to turn up the heat and add urgency to solving the case. These are minor issues in an otherwise great game, but the small dips in narrative quality feel more pronounced because of how strong the rest of the game is.

Overall, the game is a deep and honest exploration of some challenging issues, using a well-crafted cyberpunk conceit to shine a light on all-too-real psychological, emotional, and social concerns.

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Rent-a-Vice on IFDB

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