Admiration Point

by Rachel Helps

2022

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A blend of futuristic curation, cultural values, & personal ambition, October 24, 2022

Admiration Point takes place several decades into the future. You play as Maria, a 3D artist at the Digital Culture Museum where she designs virtual exhibits. But lately, her attention keeps wandering to her coworker, Sean. Romance is unlikely.

Gameplay
The interactivity usually consists of deciding whether to explore Maria’s attraction to Sean, or to shift the attention towards her work and family. To use an example, (Spoiler - click to show) in one scene you choose whether to read Sean’s book, search for Sean on the internet, or read a novel having nothing to do with Sean. Other times, choices are centered around character dialog.

Gameplay choices generally do not affect the overall track of the game. The most influential choice occurs about a quarter into the game where the player decides on how Maria should approach her feelings about Sean. Maria can choose to wreck her feelings, ignore them, or use them to fuel her own work. Your choice is then listed at the side of the screen for the rest of the game. This choice does not change the gameplay path but features text changes that are varied enough to make each playthrough a unique experience for replays.

Admiration Point is not a stat intensive game, but there are a few. Stats are meant to give the player a general idea of Maria’s feelings and standing with Sean. Cleverly, they are indicated with icons rather than numbers. (Spoiler - click to show) Maria’s obsession with Sean is represented by a looping scribble that becomes denser as her interest grows. I think that explains itself clear enough. Sean’s attitude towards Maria is shown with weather icons that begins with a neutral cloud before slowly transitioning into a shining sun. There are no rainy clouds or thunderstorms. It is just meant to be an estimate of your progress of getting to know Sean since opportunities can become available.

Story
Immediate story
The story revolves around Maria’s infatuation with Sean. He is the new guy in another department at the museum, but his work often overlaps with Maria’s work. Like Maria, he is married, though considerably older than her. As I mentioned earlier, the player’s choices do not branch the gameplay. Instead, it determines how Maria approaches her romantic feelings. Sometimes this will take you in an unexpected direction.

Have you ever played a Twine game where you click on a link that surprises you with a message instead of carrying through with the command? You probably have. Sometimes games use them to make the player think that a character is about to do something major, only to say, “yeah, not happening.” Sometimes you can sense it in advance. In this game, there were cases where I thought, “surely, the game would not allow me to actually do that,” only to click on the link and realize that, no, Maria really is going for it. I think that this allows the player to share the awkwardness with Maria rather than just feeling awkward at her situation, although the awkwardness can range anywhere from cringy to Going Too Far. Some were pretty painful to try. (Spoiler - click to show) Ending 2 was sad.

Overarching story
I am not sure whether Admiration Point takes place in the late 21st century or early 22nd century, but my guess is the former. When it comes to games that aim towards the near future, I always like to see authors’ interpretations what happens.

Apparently, (Spoiler - click to show) things seemed to go downhill during the 2040s where algorithms in social media allowed corporations to weasel their way into leadership positions and other societal pillars that changed everyday life. Names of states and countries were even changed to corporate brands. It is a familiar trope, perhaps not the most novel. But the game has nice worldbuilding by introducing these concepts through character conversations or Maria’s reading material. It makes explanations more integrated in the game rather that pulling the player aside for a crash course on the history before releasing them back into the gameplay.

Also, futuristic technology (or at least advanced versions of preexisting technologies we have today) is subtly placed throughout the game. For example, we hear mention of synthetic meats called Near-Meat. I am not sure if Near-Meat is a brand-based product. It seems like games that speculate on the nature of consumer meat products in the future tend to opt for flashy fictional marking such as NearMeats™ whereas this game takes a more subtle approach by lightly incorporating it into the writing. No? Maybe it is just me. Regardless, there are small hints that provide exposition about the world Maria lives in.

Characters
The premise of Maria's character is an exciting one: A protagonist who creates 3D art for virtual exhibits at a museum on digital culture in the future. But she also brings something new to the table: She is Mormon. Aside from the author’s other works, I have never really played any interactive fiction games that look at a specific branch/group of Christianity. The only one that comes to mind is the Methodist church in Robin & Orchid. I would not say that Admiration Point is heavily based on religion, but there are scenes where it takes center stage. I cannot say that I am familiar with the subject, but the game does share some cultural insights that were interesting.

One theme that often surfaces with Maria is motherhood. In one part of the game, (Spoiler - click to show) Maria reviews an exhibit script where women share how pregnancy was not a positive experience for them. One woman in the script notes that being overjoyed about expecting a child does not mean you are thrilled with being pregnant. For Maria, these hit close to home since she deals with indecisiveness about whether to have a second child. While there is plenty of existing media that cultivates the image of upbeat motherhood and "perfect" pregnancy, media can also be an avenue for women to share experiences, such as blogging. In Maria’s case, hearing someone who can relate to her struggles was a powerful moment. That seemed to be the main idea the author was going for in this scene.

Visuals
The game has a polished minimalist look. Green links, white background, and grey text organized into neat paragraphs at the left side of the screen. And to the left of that is a grey panel with rounded borders. This panel is mostly blank until the stats are introduced which have fun icons which I discussed earlier in this review.

Sometimes the game uses different fonts for newspapers or other content which added nice stylization. Occasionally there are text boxes used to simulate a text chat screen. It uses basic shapes and colours to imply the idea without needing to be elaborate.

Final thoughts
This was one of the earlier entries that I played. I liked the design and candid nature of the story. A highlight of the game for me was the author’s interpretation of the future and the corresponding worldbuilding, but I also enjoyed the character development.

If you asked me to pick one genre to summarize this game, I would not choose romance, religion, or science fiction, but slice of life. Romance, religion, and science fiction would fit under this umbrella and describe the complex character that is Maria. Admiration Point is short game with a compressed story, and worth more than one playthrough. Even if you decide that you do not like it, there still may be something in it for you.