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Genre-busting, January 7, 2023
Admiration Point is a genre-busting story, a Mormon slice-of-life ďanti-romanceĒ (authorís description) set in a near-future America and shot through with anti-corporate and neo-feminist themes. I could dig up more labels to slap on the side of the game, but I think the point is made: Thereís a lot going on here.
AP is also a significantly longer work compared to the other choice-based games Iíve played to date. Prose passages approach the length of short chapters. The game has the ambitions and sensibilities of print fiction. The prose and dialogue is clean and flows well.
You play Maria, a futuristic Mormon digital archivist in a happy but unsatisfying marriage. While assembling virtual exhibits of the digital past (which are more-or-less our digital present), Maria grows attracted to coworker Sean, also a member of the church and also married with children.
My first play-through was a bustóIím a sensible-shoes kinda guy, and my choices led to a rapid conclusion: Maria shrugs and tells herself to set aside her fantasies of Sean. Yawn.
My second play-through, I pushed the envelope and had Maria get aggressive about pursuing Sean. The story blossomed. Mariaís past, her self-doubt, and all her feelings for Sean surfaced. In-game creepiness options unlocked, such as trying on Seanís coat when heís out of the room, or modeling Sean as a full-sized 3D virtual avatar and staring longingly into his uncanny-valley eyes.
As for ďanti-romance,Ē the plot elements actually tick a lot of romance fiction boxes: A smart, independent female lead; the intriguing, handsome, and seemingly unattainable love interest; and plenty of moments of personal-space violations. Itís the kind of story where Maria worries that brushing lint off of Seanís shirt might be construed as making a pass. The restraint of a faithful wife is substituted in for the romance novelís ingenue. The tale is semisweet, and not exactly wholesome.
My problems with Admiration Point involve narrative focus and outcomes. An odd amount of time is spent detailing Mariaís work as an archivistóthe prose gets boggy enumerating the challenges of building VR exhibits of mommy bloggers and other digital cultural artifacts of the 2000s to 2030s. An editing pen could have pared these passages down, and better connected them to the emotional core of the story. Meanwhile, Mariaís home life is strangely glossed over. Her child gets brief mentions; her husband is little more than someone to tell she has a headache tonight. Itís a gaping absence in a story about a woman contemplating an affair.
Maybe I didnít make the right choices my second time through (I was hitting the gas pedal pretty hard, though), but Mariaís self-destructive choices never came home to roost. Both endings I reached halted abruptly. Punches were pulled. An old saw in creative writing workshops is, ďWhy is this story being told?Ē Even if the author insists on making this an anti-romanceófair enoughóthe puzzle pieces donít assemble to a story of ripe consequences, leaving the hollow sense of missed opportunities.