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About the Story
Xianggang. Mere 20 years have passed and they donít call the city its normal name anymore. Never was a fan of flying here.
49th place - 27th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2021)
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Number of Reviews: 6
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Taste of Fingers is a choice-based game by V Dobranov, published in 2021. You are a business man hiding in a cafe somewhere in Hong Kong after something very bad has happened outside.
The gameplay is fairly linear and simple, basically consisting of clicking on text links to unveil optional text or progress reading the story. (Spoiler - click to show)Most of the narrative is focused on exploring your memories, and you have six different memories you can sink into. You only have a limited number of choices regarding which memories to explore, so it's not possible to see all of the game's content on a single playthrough. The game has no branching story paths beyond that, but keeping the player in a passive role makes sense in a story like this which is focused on introspection and fear.
The user interface is quite smooth to both use and look at. It also uses color to create an impression of the weather and time of day inside the story, which works well for setting the mood.
The story successfully creates a feeling of anxiety and hopelessness. It also feels quite topical: (Spoiler - click to show)unrest in East Asia, viruses, isolation, racism, social collapse... a lot of the individual strands of the story here seem to have at least some type of an indirect connection with current events, which gives the story additional dramatic weight as well as potential to depress.
My playthrough of the game took around 20 to 25 minutes, but it does have a bit of replay value if you want to see all of its content. Overall, it's a somewhat short but all the more grim horror story that takes place in a contemporary setting, and it should please those who are looking for one.
If you may need to play something through twice, it's best if 1) it's relatively short and 2) it gives you clear alternate paths through and 3) it's rewarding to play through, because you see something you couldn't have expected to the first time. ToF is three for three here. Simple arithmetic makes it clear that re-reading through is constructive: at two critical points, you get to choose two of three memories for a tourist/businessman (their business seems more than a bit shady) in China to follow, then the story pushes forward. So if you say "Wait, what?" to the story at the end, as I did, the next time through, you can stabilize with one of the memories you've seen, then push forward with one you haven't. I was going a bit fast. So this was, in fact, an effective way to tell me: hey, look again, you missed some clues. I did.
ToF, ostensibly at first about zombies the narrator sees on a trip to China, has a twist. The person is revealed to be less than saintly. They are holed up. They know they can't go outside. Then the viewpoint switches to quasi-military personnel hunting down a rather big zombie in a coffee shop ... and we can assume the original narrator is that zombie, and they saw the personnel in their Hazmat suits as zombies of a sort, because they do look alien. We learn there's a virus that turns only certain ethnicities into zombies.
This would have felt ripped from the headlines in 2020 or this year, but it was apparently written a few years before. I certainly didn't need this sort of scare about how COVID could be worse (my basic fear was it would mutate into something more contagious like, well, the Delta or Omicron variant.) And, in a way, COVID has targeted a certain sort of person through misinformation. Thankfully hospital staff aren't and don't have to be as ruthless as the exterminators in the story, but there's obviously a toll on them or a temptation to think "this person asked for it." I've certainly long since grown weary of schadenfreude stories about "hey! This idiot promoted misinformation on Facebook, and COVID killed them!" The main character in ToF, it must be said, is worse than average.
Seeing a new vector for how awful COVID could be is, of course, not the sort of uplifting thing anyone's clamoring for right now. But it seems like a logical and nontrivial extension of how the next COVID could be worse, and other passages reminded me of where I can't visit and how and why, and ... well, quite bluntly, I'm glad I'm not the only one having worries, and sometimes when someone else puts their own worries into writing so well, it at least stops the vagueness. There've been all sorts of things COVID has cut short or made annoying: for instance, making the choice to eat something I am missing an ingredient for, or finally getting to not-waste a grocery purchase I made, instead of actually going to the store. And even when at the store, worrying about people who would not wear masks and ignored the one-way signs (bonus points for cell phone yammering) and thus raise more unnecessary risks. Again, the narrator is far, far worse, and the examples I cite are not worth getting worked up on a personal level, but ... too many people are like the narrator, and their petty actions may increase the risk all around. ToF's narrator, with his need for adventure despite what must've been frequent and obvious warnings, reminded me of that. It was worryingly pleasing to see him meet his fate at the hands of soldiers who were, conveniently, just doing their jobs, but they sure had fun doing the parts that would put most of us off.
I recently played through a game that used pedophilia for its shock factor, to show you just how bad the villains were. I mentioned in a review there how I dislike playing games that heavily feature pedophilia, regardless of the overlying message.
This game is similar, in that it uses something morally wrong (in this case, flagrant racism) to tell a a story. There are effective stories you can tell about racism, but this game uses unchallenged racist terms and ideas, leaving the player to make their own conclusions at the end.
I do believe the author intends this piece to have an overall anti-racist message. (spoiler for ending) (Spoiler - click to show)Your character turns out to be the true monster, and what seemed hideous monsters attacking him, saying things he couldn't understand, were soldiers of the race he hated. But that's only after we spent the rest of the game with characters saying things like (Spoiler - click to show)'all Asian women are ugly', 'mongoloids', 'sub-human'. It's like when an acquaintance repeatedly insults you but says 'just joking!', or back-handed compliments like 'I completely disagree with all your friends who say that you look like a hideous pile of cow pies'. It felt over the line, for me.
Overall, the game was polished. The only interactivity is choosing which memories to remember, and you don't have time to remember them all. I did experience an emotional reaction to the game.
When I play games, I immerse myself in the protagonist. And this is a protagonist I do not wish to identify with.
My 3 stars represents my overall rubric: polish, descriptiveness, and emotional impact.
(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)
The main character in Taste of Fingers is I think the second-worst person among this yearís Comp protagonists (The Best Manís Aiden is still a prohibitive favorite to take the crown). Youíd think itíd be easy to sympathize with someone hiding out from a zombie apocalypse, regardless of their peccadilloes, but our man manages it: in a series of flashbacks, we get to know him before everything went wrong, and oof, what a piece of work he is. Beyond the overwhelming contempt that flavors all his observations, the racism is probably the most obviously awful thing about him Ė heís a white person (I think some kind of banker?) on a business trip to Hong Kong when the plague hits, and heís got no shortage of disdain for the locals, even stipulating that the prostitute he hires has to be European. But when he realizes that the disease triggering the outbreak only targets Asian folks (some kind of genetic rigmarole is invoked Ė PSA, race is a social construct not a biological one, though the game's themes need this dodgy bit of science to work so it gets a pass), his matter-of-fact satisfaction, unalloyed by any compassion for the vulnerable, bespeaks near-psychopathic levels of solipsism.
This is as itís meant to be Ė weíre firmly in horror territory here, and one of the tropes of zombie fiction is that the stress of societal collapse brings out the worst in humanity. Taste of Fingers doesnít wallow in too many other of the standard motifs of the subgenre, though, since the zombies arenít actually onscreen for most of the game. Itís got an interesting structure, where present-time vignettes set in the coffee-shop fridge unit where the main character is lying low alternate with the aforementioned flashbacks. In each section, youíve got a choice of three memories, and you get to explore two out of the three before time moves on. Thereís little other branching, as far as I could tell, but the game offers a good amount of interactivity, as in each passage there are a lot of words to be clicked on. Most of these will expand out descriptions of items, or spell out the main characterís perspective or thoughts on something thatís happened Ė I wound up lawnmowering, but generally found the extra text added to the experience rather than being busywork.
With few choices or immediate action to keep the pace up, the prose has to do a lot of the heavy lifting, and itís mostly up to the task. The writing is evocative throughout, freighting almost every sentence with the key themes of decay, corruption, and contempt. It can go a bit over the top at times, flabbing up a clause with one adjective too many, but since the vibe here isnít exactly understated, better too big than too small. The style also shifts effectively in the final sequence, which sees a change in perspective that adds a neat twist to the otherwise-straightforward narrative. Again, itís nothing too unexpected given the territory, but it makes this small, nasty game more memorable, and provides some healthy outside perspective on the terrible protagonist.
Highlight : The protagonistís asides when you click on highlighted words in the passages expand into the original text, which helps keep this on-rails story engaging (it helps that as I mentioned, the writing in these bits is generally strong).
Lowlight : I generally donít mind when a main character is an unpleasant person to spend time with so long as there's a point to it, but the sequence in the strip club threatened to be a bit too much for me.
How I failed the author : I think I did OK with this one Ė short choice-based games I can play on my phone are really coming through for me this Comp!
Very short story taking place during an apocalypse. It involves a narrator trying to survive while going over memories, which the player gets to choose. I didn't really want to like this game for much of it, but I eventually got to a section that changed my mind. I won't give anything else away, not even under a spoiler tag, because I think each player should experience it for themselves. To sum up: I underestimated this piece and I got got.