Which Describes How You're Feeling

by Adam Parrish

Episode 12 of Apollo 18 Tribute Album

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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Mad Verbum, April 11, 2012
by Sam Kabo Ashwell (Seattle)
Related reviews: wordplay, psychology, therapy, emotion, rhyme

A tiny, unusual little wordplay game, scarcely IF. World-model is irrelevant, and the parser only accepts one type of command. You are given words, and have to supply a rhyme for each word. Your score is how many acceptable rhymes you supply within 60 seconds. The framing is that this is a psychotherapy exercise; you're being asked whether you feel emotional state X, and you respond with, 'no, I'm feeling Y'. Y does not always have to be an emotion, since the game recognises a wide range of rhyming words, some of which aren't even adjectives.

On the one hand, gameplay is simple and easy, so much so that it's tempting to think of this as a toy rather than a game; getting a good score might take a few tries, but mechanically it's not difficult. The game tells you the puzzle's parameters straight off. On the other, the framing creates a weird uneasiness about the exercise. A fair amount has been written about how the psychotherapy premise of Eliza tended to make players take it more seriously. Similarly, WDHYF has something of the tension of a word-association game about it; it's a silly exercise, but there's the sense that you're being judged on it. This is particularly true because the act in question is laying claim to emotions, which is something people generally invest a lot in. Laying claim to an emotion can be a vulnerable act of self-expression, and it's also a commitment of sorts, a reinforcement; we don't look kindly on people who fake emotions, and we don't want to be seen as someone whose emotions change rapidly for no reason ('emotionally unstable' is a euphemism for 'crazy'). Saying 'I am happy' or 'I am sad' costs you something.

But because of the constraints you're usually forced to lay claim to a rapid, little-considered series of random, mismatched, nonsensical emotions. So there's a sense -- slight, but disquieting -- of brainwashing-exercise about this: repetition, illogic, pressure, self-obliteration.

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Emily Short, April 11, 2012 - Reply
I didn't have nearly such a visceral reaction to it. Mostly I thought that it was kind of an interesting trick to invite the player to come up with rhymes and think about what they might even mean. (Spoiler - click to show)CLEVER -> LEVER: what would it mean to feel like a lever? Do I want to commit to that or should I sit here thinking about whether there's something else that might rhyme and make more sense? Maybe I do feel like a lever in some metaphorical respect....

Then again, there were some points where I felt something that could have been accepted as a weak or partial rhyme, or a rhyme in one particular dialect pronunciation, didn't quite work; which took away a bit from the freewheeling nature of the exercise.

Overall, though, I see it as an interesting minor work in the category of "IF that asks the player to pay attention to the prose manifestation as well as/instead of the world model".
matt w (Matt Weiner), April 14, 2012 - Reply
Hm, I think I pronounce lever to rhyme with cleaver.
Sam Kabo Ashwell, April 11, 2012 - Reply
I'm somewhat exaggerating the effect in order to explain it; this was more a faint feeling of discomfort than a visceral reaction, and I had to sit and think about why it felt uncomfortable.

Part of it, perhaps, is that I've spent a lot of time around therapists, some of whom have used games as a tool; so I may be more than usually sensitive to things that tamper with the trust relation that underlies those. The framing is more potentially potent than the author really intended, I suspect.
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