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About the Story
An Interactive Play
The year is 1938, two newcomers have just arrived at their new home: a communal appartment in Moscow, the beating heart of Soviet power. But what will they make of their new lives? And what will their neighbours make of them? The Whisperers is a story of love, revolution, belief, and the choices oridnary people make in extraordinary times.
Or: the year is 1938 and you have arrived at your local soviet sponsored theatre, ready for a play lauded by the agents of the Department of Agitation and Propoganda as "the first truly socialist play", in which the audience, the people, decide the course of events.
Or: The Whisperers is a script for an interactive play, loosely adapted into a piece of written interactive fiction (while also featuring an annotated version for the ease of use of prospective directors and actors).
Content warning: Physical violence. Mention of executions. Mention of Holodomor (genocide by engineered famine).
26th Place - 29th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2023)
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Number of Reviews: 3
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The Whisperers is an interactive game set in the late 30s Soviet block, where you are an audience member of an interactive “propagandist” play, of three “families” living inside a paper-thin-walled apartment. Throughout the story, you are asked for your opinion on how the play should continue. There are essentially 3-ish possible endings.
I personally hate plays where the audience needs to take an active part of the story, where immersion is broken because the audience must have a say. But as an interactive game, I’ve quite enjoyed it! The active participating is not only welcomed, but adds another layer of intrigue into the story (at least in this case). The awkwardness of waiting for the play to start again is not there, as the passage loads right after your choice is made.
As for the story, a morality take in two acts, it made me think of those typical contemporary French plays happening within an apartment, where miscommunication and personal drama becomes the crux of the issue. While it is not as vaudevillian, with the play set in Soviet Russia during Stalin’s regime, it is nonetheless cynical in its treatment of its characters. No one is good, no one is bad, everyone is stuck in their own situation (and some are maybe a bit stupid*).
*the characters felt at times a bit flat, or a bit preachy in how they discuss some topics.
If you take it at face value, it’s a pretty neat experience; and if you look deeper into it, it shows off the extensive research on the setting and the length taken to portray its intricacies, the horrors, and the hopes. It felt a bit like a commentary of the period. The play is fairly fast paced, and doesn’t overstay its welcome, ending just at the climax. The interactiveness of it is fun, with your choice mattering or being disregarded (depending on the mode played) – it could have been fun to learn whether these choices affected your position.
I found the hidden ending to be the most fun one.
But, I did have some issue with the formatting of the text itself. While I appreciated the inclusion of formatting options, with palette themes and text font/size*, it made it obvious when an aspect was not customised (link colour not contrasted enough, popup). But that’s a detail compared to…
*it might have fitted more inside a Setting popup, the buttons’ colours were too eye-catching.
… the passages not looking like an actual script. From the blurb to the game itself, it was clear we were meant to look forward to a play on our screen. But the text is vaguely formatted like one: the Act is centred on the page, but not the scenes or the character’s names; the actions or voice level* are made obvious in brackets, but end up feeling lost inside dialogue (especially in the Guide’s and Sergei’s monologues)… It might seem like a detail, but the essence of playwriting felt a bit lost because of it?
*the whispering aspect kinda felt like an afterthought after the first scene? The voice level of the characters didn’t seem to matter much in further conversations…
Visual friction aside, this was neat.
This is a choice game in interactive play format, with the option to act out the play yourself.
It is set in Russia in the time of the NKVD and the period between the two World Wars. One character, a policeman, has to deal with those close to him, some of whom are dangerously too progressive and others that are dangerously too conservative.
While the Russian setting originally suggested similarities to writers like Dostoevsky or Chekhov, I actually found more similarities here with Ibsen’s plays. There is a great deal of emphasis on interpersonal relationships that are fundamentally flawed but with an underlying spark of life; not of hope, or of joy, but simply of a determination to continue existing.
I’ve seen other reviews describe the ending as perhaps weak; I saw a comment saying there was a third ending and tried it as well. I do think that something is missing. I feel like the narrative arc is missing a little more denouement. We build up throughout and get a climax, with the endings all being very climactic, but there’s not enough time to resolve the tension and resolve the various threads. So I don’t think there’s anything wrong with what’s here, but I think for my personal tastes I’d like a little more. I’ll be rating this one highly.
This is an unusual one, and one I quite enjoyed. I’m not super familiar with the history and politics of the USSR, but some Wikipedia-ing early on helped provide the context I needed to understand the backdrop that the play’s five characters are operating against.
I love stories with high stakes in the background that choose to focus on how those stakes affect individual people, and that’s exactly what we get here. A strained sibling relationship, a developing romance, and a long-term marriage are all tested by the oppressive political climate. The image of whispering becoming everyone’s normal way of speaking, because they’re not safe even in their own home, was a very effective one. It contrasted well with the spark of finding a like-minded person who you can trust, which is what Agnessa finds in Nikolai. Even then, though, the two can’t truly be happy together, because they have a fundamental difference in what they want out of life. These lines capture their relationship so well:
Nikolai: Agnya, I love you, I-
Agnessa: Do you? Do you really? Or do you love what you want me to be?
Nikolai [pause]: I think you are what I want you to be. You just won’t let yourself be.
(Spoiler - click to show)And ultimately, this love that gives Nikolai a reason to wake up in the morning is what dooms him. In the end, this felt like a story about futility, especially after I played through several times; there’s no “good” ending, no matter which of the two options the audience chooses at each junction point. Agnessa and Nikolai are always going to be caught and arrested. We’re never choosing their fate; each choice is simply one of two equally bad options. The fictional authors of the play have written our choices for us, and they all lead to those authors’ singular chosen destination.
Except… there’s the secret ending. (Shoutout to Manon for telling me about it!) And that provided an interesting twist, where the audience breaks out of the choice binary and demands a different—happy—ending. Which the actors and the play-runner/actor, the Guide, provide, albeit reluctantly. But then, this ending rings so very hollow, as it obviously wasn’t planned; it doesn’t feel true to the story, and it’s impossible to imagine the characters actually living happily after these events even if the NKVD did have a sudden, random surge of compassion and let them go. So we’re back to futility now, inevitability. You can fight but you can’t really change anything. I don’t read that as the game’s universal message, but for these characters, in this situation… no matter how much we, the audience, might want it to end differently, there was always only ever one place they could end up.
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