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About the Story
It's bleak out there. No one would blame you for turning away.
53rd Place - 28th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2022)
Number of Reviews: 8
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This story, hard to call it a game since as far as I could tell the game had no real choices, is about a person (you, the PC) going through a very rough patch in life. Thankfully, you have a good friend who isn't willing to give up on you.
The first half of the story was unrelentingly bleak and I was worried that was going to be it, but the friend character is introduced to save the day (and the story). I can see how this could be a good portrayal of what creeping sadness turned into full blown depression might look like. In the end there just wasn't enough substance there for it to really grab me.
Between the lack of choices and at least one mistake I found in the text I had to give it two stars.
This is an earnest, vulnerable game with a powerful message. The game proceeds as the player progresses through a series of quietly despairing and distressing episodes -- passing by boarded up shops, realizing that a coworker is living at the office, being beset with bills. The player struggles to keep up a positive outlook on life until (Spoiler - click to show)a friend visits them and helps them to enter back into the world.
This is a kernel of what could be a very affecting game, though I had a few issues that kept me from fully engaging. Primary among these, even for a relatively short game, the structure got to feeling repetitive: most pages have a few sentences of text with a linked word that expands the text with some observation and then a link at the end of the passage that moves to the next passage. This effect works for the first few passages, creating a sense of inundation with the distressing events encountered, but the structure doesn't change much as the narrative turns. Even a slight change in the structure would signal a shift in the player's perspective.
While there are some interesting bits of writing throughout the game -- for instance, the observation that floors of the player's apartment are so weathered that 'a sparrow landing on the floors would likely make them creak' -- a lot of the language is generic and ungrounded. I never get a sense of any of the characters' personality, voice, or perspective beyond the broadest strokes.
I very much enjoyed the game and appreciate the message greatly, but was left wanting more.
Glimmer is about a person spiraling in helplessness, having a hard time to function around the bleakness of their situation. It is also about hope, and the importance of having caring people around.
The game is simplistic in both style and visual. A few lines of text, one choice, maybe some extra interactive links to add description. It is straight to the point. The world is bleak, so you turn your back to it. You face some hardship, so you avoid them. Little by little, you close yourself to everything around you. But, at your lowest point, a hand reaches out to you to pull you out of your funk (forcibly if you resist), reminding you that there are still good things out there to enjoy.
I thought the game started out strong, with tackling themes of drifting and avoidance turning into depression and isolation (though it felt at time a tad too surface-level in its representation), when faced with a bleak world and difficulties in your life. The whole losing your joie de vivre and vicious cycle of negativity.
However, I found the whole second act... dissonant almost? In your darkest moment, an unnamed friend* barges (back?) into your life, gives you a cup of tea and a biscuit, and like that, you snap out of it, awkwardly and timidly claiming you tried to get better all this time. When the first part of the game implied quite some time had passed between the first event of the spiral and current time, it feels like a whiplash to have a "recovery" happening so suddenly. This feeling was aggravated when choosing to resist the friend's pleas does little to change the outcome. As if by magic, you get better by the last page. After just a cup of tea.
*I really didn't like that you would not even acknowledge their personhood, I think that's also a reason why it felt weird.
I still haven't made my mind about the (lack of) choices and what it means for the player agency. I've come to appreciate more the kinetic approach of storytelling in IF, and considering how debilitating depression can be, making you think you do not have a choice, it is thematically in line with the story. However, the few available choices lack in consequence or are essentially disregarded by the story, which makes the little agency the player has essentially useless. It felt a bit frustrating and unsatisfying.
I did appreciate the message the game was trying to convey, but I don't think the game quite manage to get the point across.
Adapted from an IFCOMP22 Review
Of course I’m not the first to observe that interactivity doesn’t have to mean story branching. Interactivity in linear stories can accomplish at least two things: 1) it can invest the player in the protagonist more deeply than raw text and 2) it can carefully manage the pacing of the text to enhance emotional effect. I am saying this to the population that least needs this explained.
Glimmer is very much a short, linear study of depression and to varying degrees attempts both of the above. Because the subject matter lends itself to spiraling introspection and lethargy, there was a particularly nice fit with form here. The player can dive into tangential mental rabbit holes. Scene changes are paced slowly, with small blocks of text where the act of interacting slows down the proceedings. The formula is subtly shifted as the narration proceeds, the interactive pace as much as the words conveying the protagonist's mindset. All of this displays a nicely deliberate marriage of form and function.
As far as protagonist investment, Glimmer didn’t quite get me there. Early game events were fairly dispassionate, showing the protagonist with flattened response to increasingly important events in their life. I understand the intention here, that the protagonist is increasingly withdrawn such that events do not register like they should. It seems that because we are introduced to this mental state before we have built empathy, there is an unnecessary hurdle to our investment. For me, I didn’t get over it until way later and was playing catchup to the narrative all the way to the end. Meaning when the protagonist had a subsequent shift I was also behind.
Stephen King (or was it Alan Moore?) famously said something to the effect of “Horror is seeing your neighbor dismembered through your bedroom window. Terror is when the killer notices you.” There’s gotta be an empathy/sympathy analog to that idea that seems relevant here. While I admire the precise pacing effect of the work, the killer did not see me, leaving me at a remove.
Playtime: 15 min, finished
Artistic/Technical rankings: Mechanical/Mostly Seamless
Would Play Again? No, experience seems complete
Artistic scale: Bouncy, Mechanical, Sparks of Joy, Engaging, Transcendent
Technical scale: Unplayable, Intrusive, Notable (Bugginess), Mostly Seamless, Seamless
I've seen the author's works before and always meant to get around to the stuff of hers I hadn't looked at. I'd like to see more of them, and I have to admit I'd also like to see more of this. It's a positive but short game about feeling socially trapped, which unfortunately has been a pretty big thing since 2020. But it's tough: too much positivity feels forced, and too little feels like it glosses over serious issues. And there's a third rail when trying to express getting stuck without getting the player stuck. That sweet spot is tough to find.
Your choices don't matter much. That's the way things are sometimes. Some days, no matter someone's good will, you don't want to put up with them, and others, no matter how nasty they are, you're willing to put up with it. A friend will still drop by and help you bounce back from social isolation, and it sort of feels like they might be forcing themselves on you, though you-the-character and you-the-player know it isn't enough and want to do more and know you need to do more. So Glimmer knows not to force itself on you. But I also think that we need things forced on us sometimes, but we just don't know how or why. And looking back we wish certain people we liked had forced more on us (and, of course, certain people had forced less on us. But Glimmer is not about that, thankfully.)
While I'd have liked to see things more fleshed out (the character's first try going out. I know for instance just going to the grocery store or athletic club once the COVID lockdowns was over were both big) I realized that, well, I'd had people bring me back to a forum (like here) with just a like on a comment, and I hoped I'd been able to do that in some way for others. So I think and hope I got what the author intended. I was able to look back without having to relive the fear.
I also saw a parallel between Glimmer's main character and reviewing IFComp. Getting into the swing of things, or back into it, is tricky, and you have to start small, sometimes, whether it's with your own writing or reviewing others'. I reviewed Glimmer early on, and it was welcoming, though I just wish it would've led somewhere bigger--perhaps there's a message here that after someone checks on you, you need to go find more stuff for yourself that you might like, and perhaps that might mean the author's other works.