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(based on 18 ratings)
About the Story
You work as a virtual exhibit artist at a digital culture museum. There is a glimmer of attraction to your co-worker. You are married and Mormon.
20th Place - 28th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2022)
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This game is a fusion of a couple of concepts/story threads. The first is a futuristic story where you are part of a VR museum curation team. This is a really interesting story that feels well-researched and describes things like how to crowdsource tagging videos with metadata and how perception of culture changes over time.
The other thread is where you are a burnt-out member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and mother and wife, and your older but handsome coworker Sean starts looking really attractive to you as a way to escape.
A lot of the game deals with the outlook of unhappy wife who somewhat believes in the Church but feels oppressed and dislikes several aspects. A lot of this part was hard to read as I was divorced primarily because my wife felt much of the same things that this protagonist feels with regards to the our church, and just like the protagonist, she wanted a way out.
I appreciated a fact I didn't discover until the end notes, which is that (Spoiler - click to show)there is no way to actually have an affair. It made me feel like the game really did a good job of representing player agency, since (Spoiler - click to show)just because you do everything can to make someone like you or want you, doesn't mean it will work.
Besides dredging up a lot of uncomfortable personal feelings (which I think is a sign of good writing), the one thing that didn't entirely click for me was the pacing; it was never clear just how close we were, or just what actions would have what results, if that makes any sense. Stylistically, it's a reasonable choice, since relationships are messy and confusing. But I felt like the gameplay was obfuscated (if that's the right word here).
Overall, I think this one will do well. Great research and touches on a lot of pertinent points in modern society.
Um, so, yeah, Workplace crushes bad. There's reasons any self-respecting HR department has a whole stack of procedure on what to do about potential workplace relationships. But then again, HR is just about covering a company's legal liability, even if they throw in bromides such as "harassment-free work environment." Fortunately, there's more to Admiration Point than this. It weaves in the awkwardness with what is a very interesting look at a hypothetical museum in the future. It tracks social media in the 2010's and 2020's, and while it doesn't point the finger, it certainly lets the reader connect the dots. (It being the museum and story.)
Not that things are all dark and dystopian and so forth. You have a job as a graphic designer, though it's not the position of responsibility you want. Some of the things you need to do whitewash some very real struggles in the past in order to gain looks for your museum. (It seems to have missed the point of the social media it seeks to analyze. It's part of the problem, but hey, things happen like that.) The job seems pretty stable, though, maybe with some friends moving in and out. You have problems at home with your husband, about having sex, and while I try to avoid that stuff in my games (cheap and hopefully harmless jokes notwithstanding,) someone's got to discuss it, and in this case I'm glad it's not done in all caps or with dreadful text effects or, worse, talking about how they've been repressed from doing so by society. It's just: things happen. Certainly in high school, I had crushes on what I see now to be pretty awful people. But they were attractive. Or I felt impressed by someone who seemed charismatic and told dirty jokes. And, yes, some decent people didn't reciprocate to me, and that hurt. Immaturity isn't an excuse in the workplace, though.
There is considerable agency as to how much you can get to know Sean, your crush. I just didn't want to deal with him at first, because 1) I was interested in why the museum was there and its daily workings and 2) I didn't want to have to deal with workplace relationships. I'd seen some work well and some not. I also remember a poor schlep who, neglecting a co-worker's picture of her with her fiance she'd attached to overhead metal cubicle drawers with a magnet, say "Think I have a chance with her?" This may only scratch the surface of possible awkwardness--I realized I didn't want to deal much with the core issues AH brought up, and I was actually glad it didn't force me to, right away. Also, I generally don't think much of socializing, period, with coworkers more than I have to. So perhaps I am like Sean, except with friendship, for some people. Though I enjoy what they share, sanely, on Facebook. That Facebook (FACEBOOK!) works better for this than face-to-face may say something about a former work environment. Or about me.
So there's so much that can go wrong, but it's handled pretty delicately. I have to admit that after I'd gotten three endings, I sort of just breezed through the rest and said, okay, I have to be flirty to see it all, and I didn't want to be flirty, and I don't think I'd have wanted to even if AH's description mentioned things wouldn't be reciprocated. Thankfully there's nothing cringey beyond the signs misread, and you feel like you can forgive the protagonist. Yet all this sort of echoed how work can be – you do the same thing every day, except when some annoying emergency pops up, and then you wish you went back to the boring stuff, and the only way out is – to act out, or maybe to start an office fling. Anything to break the monotony. Fortunately you have enough of a life outside the office that you're offered other jobs in some threads, and this all feels more than satisfactory. I appreciate discussions of missing signs, because I've missed them, and I've had them missed, deliberately or not.
AH did a good job, to me, of capturing the discontent of office work beyond any mere need for romance or career fulfillment. Some games go full angst or corny joke, which are great whn you don't want to be chanllenged, but I'm glad middle ground is being filled. There were times I sensed the main character was as drawn to complaining about the hidden restrictiveness of her job as she was to flirting with Sean. So this feels like a nontrivial work. It certainly reminded me of my own frustrations and of people who acted out more than the player-character could have dreamed of. This with me not really being its target audience. So, well done.
(This is a lightly-edited version of a review I posted to the IntFiction forums during 2022's IFComp).
Welp, much like with No One Else is Doing This, I come to Admiration Point with some personal experience that makes this “anti-romance” about mutual attraction between married (not to each other, natch) co-workers especially resonant: my wife and I met at work, at a time when we were likewise both coupled up (but not to each other, natch). I can attest that makes for a situation rife with the potential for drama, submerged feelings, and angst, with a hundred different choices every day attempting to balance guilt, desire, innocence, and fulfillment, so it’s an appealing setup for a work of choice-based IF. Add to this an interesting, self-reflective future setting – the main characters all work at a digital museum and spend most of their time assessing and analyzing the online culture of the early 21st Century – and you’ve got some compelling ingredients. I didn’t find Admiration Point entirely successful, due to some significant elements feeling underdeveloped, but there’s a lot here to enjoy and think about, so I’m happy to have played it.
Good stuff first. Much of the game plays out at work, as Maria, the main character, responds to the demands of her work as a exhibition artist at the museum – this means she does things like create 3d avatars for her colleagues when they give talks in online VR, or mock up backdrops or interactive experiences to support exhibits – and decides exactly how far to lean in to her attraction to Sean, a somewhat-older curator. Some of the details of this work can feel a little silly – TikTok clips are ephemeral by their nature, so putting significant effort into preserving them has the air of the absurd – but there’s an impressive attention to the detail that this work would require, and various books and lectures eventually make the case for this study of digital culture.
Throughout, Maria has the opportunity to take on extra projects to get closer to Sean, providing for some engaging choices, and allowing the technological elements of the setting to create unexpected intimacy. At one point in my playthrough, she decided to make an avatar of Sean, building the model from reference photos:
"His knuckles are unexpectedly knobbly, and he keeps his fingernails shorter than the default fingernail length. You adjust some of the knuckle wrinkles, the shade of the arm hair, and the opacity of the skin on the palms."
The relationship with Sean is nicely drawn throughout, in fact. He’s not completely idolized – while he’s smart, charming, and occasionally thoughtful, he can come off a bit smug and patronizing – which adds to the reality of the attraction, and Maria’s physical desire for him comes through in details like those above. In my playthrough I skated on the edge, never pushing for a declaration of love or doing anything that didn’t have plausible deniability, but not losing any opportunities to spend time together, either – so his feelings remained plausibly ambiguous. It’s clear that Maria is getting something positive out of their connection, and sees it as a reason to stretch herself artistically and intellectually, but it also clearly leads to her neglecting her family. There were more than a few moments, playing Admiration Point, when I felt a shudder of recognition at how well the game reminded me of how things were when my wife and I were just co-workers.
There’s one element of the relationship that felt less natural, though, which is the game-mechanical pieces. Once you reach a certain point in the story, a sidebar’s unlocked that shows little icons representing your feelings for Sean, his feelings for you, and his “alert” level. These aren’t explained – Sean’s indicators appear to be based on a weather metaphor, like cloudy to sunny, and since I played it cool his alert level stayed at a question mark. But I found the squiggly circle representing Maria’s feelings for him incomprehensible (though it belatedly occurs to me that might be the point), and the whole rigmarole seemed unnecessary given that the prose was already doing a perfectly adequate job conveying the situation.
Speaking of pieces that fell a bit flat for me, I didn’t find fin-de-21st-Century sci-fi world entirely believable – other than a U.S. that has fragmented into Infinite-Jest-style corporate-branded substates and some scaled-up VR technology that feels at most 15 or 20 years off, not 70, neither technology or culture seem to have moved on that much. That’d all be fair enough – this isn’t meant to be sociological speculative fiction by any means – except for the glaring fact that the game’s gender roles often struck me as a bit retrograde even by 2022 standards. It is established that nonbinary and genderqueer people do have significantly greater acceptance (a major plot point hinges on a study examining how folks from those communities created art in response to a second pandemic in the 2030s), but in terms of how the named cast interact, it feels more 1990s than 2090s. Sean’s instinct is to talk over Maria and treat her ideas dismissively, until he’s called on it; Maria and her husband have a sex life straight out of a period sitcom (he’s gotta have it, she’s mostly frigid); her attraction to Sean is based partially on wanting to take care of him, though “as a woman, [she] like[s] to support other women in positions of power in [her] workplaces” – in fact she often feels “powerless at work.”
Of course, it’s possible that the setting of the game – the Nevadan successor-state of MGM – is meant to be more culturally conservative than future society as a whole. This brushes against another somewhat-disappointing aspect of the game, which is the treatment of Mormonism. The blurb plays up the fact that Maria is Mormon, and so is Sean, as it turns out. But short of her noting the fact that they have a religion in common (without any substantive comment on what that means to her), a sequence where they bump into each other at an LDS event – which could have been equally well set at Shakespeare in the Park or a football game – and one moment where Maria has the option to pray for sleep, her faith and its role in her worldview felt underdeveloped to me. I never got a sense of whether she was a fervent believer, or whether this attraction to someone she wasn’t married to threatened her faith, or if Sean being Mormon as well made flirtation safer, or alternatively, less appealing because it becomes less transgressive. Perhaps the author was worried about making the player feeling proselytized-to – a good impulse! – but I think the game went too far in the other direction; Maria is a strongly-characterized protagonist so having this important part of her identity and experience of the world deemphasized feels like a missed opportunity.
The biggest area where underdevelopment undermines the game, however, is Maria’s home life, which gets maybe a fifth of the word count, and an even lower fraction of authorial attention, of her work. Her husband makes cardboard seem interesting – he never even gets a name over the course of this 90-minute game, and given all the focus on Maria’s job it’s noticeable that we don’t even find out what he does until an hour in (he’s an industrial production manager, god help him). She has a four-year-old who’s occasionally being annoying, occasionally being cute, but who doesn’t seem to take up nearly the space in her attention as most toddlers do in the minds of their parents. But there are very few sequences, or decisions, where these relationships are activated – there’s one point where you need to decide whether or not to stay home from work to take care of your sick child, but it’s primarily framed around Sean (selfishly wanting to go into work to be near him, or selflessly performing familial obligations).
Of course, this could well be an authorial choice, portraying the home as drab and stultifying in contrast to the excitement Maria experiences when she’s with Sean. But often the writing in these segments doesn’t feel like it’s portraying feelings of dullness and artificiality, and is just dull and artificial itself. Like, there’s an interesting subplot at the museum where Maria makes a 3d model of a mommy-blogger to go along with an exhibit of some of her writing; the excerpts are from right after the blogger gave birth, so Maria makes the model a realistic rendition of a post-partum body. This pisses off one of the blogger’s descendants, who wanted a more idealized portrayal. The work sequence is interesting and well done, and gains personal resonance because it’s revealed that Maria had a hard pregnancy with her first child, with a long recovery time, which is one reason she’s reticent to have any more kids even though her husband would like them.
When the incident with the relative comes up in conversation at home, here’s how the dialogue goes, after a prefatory “as you know” phrase establishes that the husband knows about Maria’s work on the exhibit and he asks whether she made the change the relative requested:
“I did not. Postpartum women often sequester themselves and we have few public examples of what their bodies actually look like. Women giving birth for the first time are surprised when they have a baby and can’t fit back into their old clothes after giving birth or sometimes, not ever. My art should depict what we want to exhibit as accurately as possible.”
“Hmm. That makes sense.”
This is not how people actually talk, much less people who are married to each other, much much less people who have feelings about what being pregnant, with the child of the person they’re talking to, did to their own body. It’s a significant missed opportunity, and it’s of a piece with the treatment of Maria’s family throughout, which winds up undercutting the dilemma at the heart of the game – instead of a dilemma hinging on Maria’s desire to be with Sean counterposed with guilt at hurting her very human, very specific husband and kid, her desire is only opposed by abstract considerations of fidelity. This makes the drama significantly less compelling – and, again drawing on personal experience here, it also makes it significantly less true to life.
In many respects these are minor critiques, I should say. Certainly if the good parts of Admiration Point were less good, I’d feel less disappointed by its weaker parts – I can’t help imagine what the game would be like if the quality of writing and characterization were more consistent, so I’ve done my typical thing of harping at length on the negatives in a piece I overall liked. So let me just say once again that there’s a lot to like here, and seeing that the author has written other works of IF – including some that appear to lean more heavily into Mormon themes – I’m definitely interested in checking those out.
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