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About the Story
A game about mental health care and the parts of oneself that has to be given up in order to get recognition and help, treatment and respect. It's about double binds and victimization, oppression at the hands of those who are supposed to help, and the cracks through which we all fall, bureaucratic, normative, diagnostic.
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The premise of this extremely brief game is that you're undergoing an intake interview for mental health services, and you're being asked to identify your gender and your feelings about how your gender is treated in society. When you pick an answer or category that doesn't fit the intake interviewer's expectations and bureaucratic forms, you're forced to pick an option you're less happy with.
I get the idea and I'm interested in understanding the problem it describes. But I also was distanced a bit from the piece precisely because the answers that I myself would have given were not always included in the initial option lists. (Spoiler - click to show)Do I feel oppressed or empowered? A little of each; it really depends on the circumstances, the day of the week, the people I'm interacting with. Sometimes I feel respected and sometimes I don't. But there was (unsurprisingly) no way to express that answer, or that kind of answer, through the interface provided.
To some extent that distance comes from the fact that, as a cisgendered person, I don't share the experiences of the protagonist -- but that could have been an opportunity for me to learn more about the life of people unlike myself, and the work as it stands occupies a spot where it doesn't feel like it's about me but also doesn't really feel like it's about someone else.
I think lengthening this work might have clarified the separation between the fictional "you" and the player, making for a stronger presentation of its core points.
Intake is a very short hypertext piece about being a mental health patient and unsatisfactorily answering some initial questions from a patronising doctor. It's okay as a brief emotional sketch, and it has a poetic rhythm about it that's felt if you play a few times. But as an interactive piece representing this situation, it's too simple to make an impact. The main effect comes from the good idea of putting the player in a seat of powerlessness to emphasise that powerlessness (only the doctor gets to speak). Intake fares best if considered only for that effect. Thinking about a few answers you can make to the doctor's questions, and ones you specifically can't make, which I sometimes didn't understand, led me into a state of protracted querulousness. Am I supposed to be playing a marginalised character, or a not-marginalised character being treated as if I was marginalised? Am I specific or not? Besides, can anyone actually quantify how marginalised I am or should be, especially if I am fronting up with mental health problems?
I think troubles are hard to avoid in general in short IFs with frontmost political content. The moment such expressions take interactive form, they need to be able to stand up to a fair bit of scrutiny in the same way that rooms in IF games need to be able to stand up to sufficient player interaction. Intake will not stand up to scrutiny beyond its basic expression that it sucks to be in this position if your system is crummy and the particular doctor you are seeing is appalling. In which case, you obviously need to find a different doctor, preferably a good or great one, and/or persist – my words, not the game's. Also, if Intake's outro did mean to badmouth Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (a badmouthing I would dismiss) I think it undercut itself, since it's obvious that any doctor who would prescribe the same treatment for every problem is a fool.
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This is version 2 of this page, edited by Sam Kabo Ashwell on 10 February 2013 at 1:08pm. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item