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Number of Reviews: 4
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Affecting but a little flat, November 23, 2021
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2021

(This is a lightly-edited version of a review posted to the IntFict forums during the 2021 IFComp. My son Henry was born right before the Comp, meaning I was fairly sleep-deprived and loopy while I played and reviewed many of the games, so in addition to a highlight and lowlight, the review includes an explanation of how new fatherhood has led me to betray the hard work the author put into their piece)

This is the second game I’ve played in the comp that explores issues of identity and trauma via online fandom, after A Paradox Between Worlds. The two make for an interesting study in contrasts, because while I thought Paradox was overstuffed with characters and plotlines, to the detriment of its strongest narrative throughline, I found extraordinary_fandoms.exe erred on the side of minimalism. Everything outside its core story is only briefly sketched in, with the titular fandom and characters other than the protagonist feeling rather sketched-in, and no obvious places where choices lead to much variation, even at a cosmetic level.

There are advantages to focus – and since, per the author’s postscript, a lot of the (awful) details of domestic abuse here are autobiographical, it’s completely understandable that everything else would fade in importance. But for me, the absence of context supporting the story meant it didn’t land as strongly as it could, though it is compellingly drawn. The central conflict is about the main character – who goes by the handle Pinecone – finding what seems like their first real friends via a Discord-style chat server and wiki dedicated to an anime franchise. Pinecone’s halting steps towards self-confidence and self-awareness are affecting, and the link between their struggles and those of the fandom character they gravitate to – who suffers from hidden low self-esteem – makes thematic sense. And it’s heartwarming to see the affirmation and support Pinecone gets from the other people on the server.

But the other characters feel pretty thin; there are maybe half a dozen folks who hang out to chat and do (short) roleplay, but outside of their favorite anime characters they don’t have much in the way of personality. And there’s a very stark divide between Pinecone’s home life, which is portrayed as unremittingly horrible, and things on the server, where everyone is uniformly and immediately positive, with never even the slightest disagreement about how best support them. Ultimately I thought the game works, but this flatness robs it of some of its power.

Highlight: The choices aren’t a major focus of extraordinary_fandom.exe, with many passages connected by a single “continue” link or its equivalent, and most others just having two choices that amount to very slightly different ways of saying the same thing – which is all fine. But this low-key approach to choices helps set up an effective moment that I’m going to spoiler-block: (Spoiler - click to show)at one point as the other folks on the server are asking Pinecone whether they can help, you’re offered two choices: “No” or “No”. The moment conveys the paralysis that often comes with being in an abusive environment in a show-don’t-tell way that the rest of the game sometimes struggles to achieve.

Lowlight: The “.exe” in the title really bugs me. I don’t really know how Discord works, but I think it’s like an IRC channel, right? And the wiki is a wiki. So what’s the executable program?

How I failed the author: I didn’t have any issues playing through the game, but Henry’s been struggling with gas today, so I’ve started and stopped writing this review like eight times as I’ve jumped up to soothe him after he woke up crying from what seemed like a perfectly nice nap. Apologies if it’s disjointed as a result!

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