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About the Story
A suicide attempt after a break-up leads to a metaphorical exploration of your ex-girlfriend's heart.
Placed 24th in the 2005 Interactive Fiction Competition.
24th Place - 11th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2005)
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Number of Reviews: 3
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The fifth sentence of the introduction of “On Optimism” by Tim Lane begins ‘A tear rolled from my eyes’ and we soon find that the protagonist's tears are rolling onto the laminated love letters of his ex. It seems she is no longer writing him back and so, before the first prompt is presented to the player, he decides to kill himself with migraine medicine and alcohol. Textually speaking, the tears do not stop from this point until the ending prompt. I stopped counting the seemingly endless repetitions, but the following is pretty emblematic:
"And there I wept as though my tears had never flown, I added to the waters around me through the pumps we call eyes."
The whole game is written in first person, past tense, and that probably works better than being told in second person that “you are crying” or that you hate the ex of your ex. Aesthetically, this was the game’s only good decision.
This is important because for me, at least, “On Optimism” fails entirely for aesthetic reasons. I found few overt typing or spelling errors (though plenty of clumsy phrasing, mismatching numbers and tense problems), I encountered only one bug, near the end of the game, which does not effect your ability to complete it, and in fact most people probably wouldn’t notice or encounter during a normal play-through. So in many regards it would appear that Mr. Lane did all the right things: he had beta testers, he clearly spent some time putting everything together and making things work.
But it does not work. The PC is practically a cipher except for the fact that he feels quite sorry for himself and he seems to at once worship his former girlfriend as perfect, while in the same scene he is examining physical embodiments of her flaws and lamenting them (despite this she is hardly characterized any better or with more specificity). There is no indication that the protagonist is intentionally written this way to make a point or illustrate a real character, or that the work intends to be anything more than an emotive description of a breakup. I would not recommend playing this one.
This piece is full of overwriting. There is angst and Sturm und Drang all over the place here. It is messy. But! These emotions are also sincere. I don't know the age of the author, but reading it, I kind of took it as a something written by a younger person, perhaps for other younger persons, and I made allowances for it.
Before you jump all over me about Having High Standards in IF and Writing In General, *I think there's a place for this.* I've read enough YA to know that some overwrought pieces really resonate with middle-to-high-schoolers...but then they grow out of it. But at younger ages, the emotions are THAT real and THAT big, and I think by automatically looking down our noses at their sense of scale, we're not showing respect for the experiences of the younger generation.
* * *
Full disclosure: I recently went through a breakup that was difficult for me. Yeah, I'm an adult, but when the PC talked about having endless tears (which he did...er...a rather lot), I found myself nodding in understanding. This probably added a star to my rating.
In fact, ON OPTIMISM touched on some desires I'm still working through for myself. This character wants to know why the breakup happened; he was all in for it, but the girl pulled away for some reason. A similar thing happened to me; I was ready to commit, but the other party pulled away. In my situation, I will probably never find out what happened.
But, unlike me, Zach gets to explore (and even KNOW) what went wrong on her end--even if it is all "just a dream." There's a powerful element of wish fulfillment working here, and I don't think it's a bad thing.
In short, I couldn't dismiss the overall intentions and themes, despite the less-experienced writing.
* * *
Gamewise, the concept of exploring another's heart through rooms (but while we're in the heart, shouldn't they be "chambers"?), and discovering the girl's secrets through surreal imagery captured me. It has a nice dream feel to it--you have to do strange actions for no strong purpose, except intuition. That works in some cases and adds to the dream-feel, but in later points of the game, it turns into "guess the verb"--but the HINT command is implemented, so you can at least see the story end.
My favorite room was (Spoiler - click to show)The Room of Your Loves, even though I had no idea about the floor--it wasn't mentioned in the room description. The main conceit of that room is worth exploring further, I feel.
I'm also impressed with (Spoiler - click to show)the choice to have 2 different-yet-same endings. It adds a different flavor to the story (Spoiler - click to show)(the Eastern ending seems to point to some Christian imagery). A third ending (Spoiler - click to show)(going down at the fork) seems implied, but I wasn't able to find it.
While the use of "I" for the tense is a strong point, I thought it got a little confusing later, when "you" referred to the girl, because IF convention says "you = player." I can't recall if she was given a name, but that could have been useful.
My main beef is that I don't quite know what happened. (Spoiler - click to show)I got the feeling the girl was dead at the beginning...so when she comes to get you in the endings, I had no idea if this was in-dream, a final deathbed hallucination, or some weird magical-thing where what happened in the dreamworld reflected in reality.
It'd be interesting to see what a mature writer could do with these themes, because I think the ideas behind ON OPTIMISM, while muddily executed, are worth exploration.
In this game, you explore the heart of your lover. It is an extremely melodramatic game, with every room causing you incredible anguish and suffering, or eternal bliss.
Here's a sample of the writing:
"Now it was my turn to weep. "But, why? Can't you see that I love you! You said that love is madness, and that is evidenced by mine! Am I not insane? I love you!" The last three words I uttered I screamed with tears falling down my face so loud that this heart's walls would certainly fall."
There are some basic puzzles. Some of them are poorly clued. There are a lot of text dumps, and it's hard to know what the message of the game really is.
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