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I Should Have Been That I Am

by E. K. Wagner

Science Fiction

(based on 11 ratings)
3 reviews

About the Story

You're a bot, dealing cards in Vegas casinos. You live in a black and white world, an either-or world. Until now.

Game Details


40th Place - 24th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2018)


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Number of Reviews: 3
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Great atmosphere, weak pointe, March 28, 2021
by Victor Gijsbers (The Netherlands)

I Should Have Been That I Am is a short game, but it has a surprising amount of variability in its text: as the robot protagonist follows one or another line of thought, the card game they are playing plays out differently. (I didnít fully understand the card game -Ė it seems to be poker, but it was unclear to me whose cards I was seeing. I donít think this mattered much, though.) But the card game and who wins it isnít really the point. No matter how it ends, (Spoiler - click to show)the stranger infects you with a virus that suddenly gives you free will. And at that point, the hyperlink interface turns into an interface where you can type anything you want.

The strong aspect of the game is the atmosphere. Using a minimal amount of prose, it paints a distinctive future society, it shows us the peculiar mindset of the protagonist and it manages to create real tension about the stranger. Well done.

The weak aspect of the game is the story it tells. In theory, itís a nice idea to (Spoiler - click to show)link the two different interfaces to the notion of free will. But it certainly takes a lot more to actually make it work. There is another game about (Spoiler - click to show)robots developing free will in this very competition, and there I complained that it didnít really confront the problem Ė- the solution it presented was just too easy. But I Should Have Been That I Am presents a solution that is even easier. (Spoiler - click to show)A virus, and boom! Type in anything you like! Okay, so we should be aware of the immense space of possibilities available to us. But thatís a statement of the problem, not of the solution. And the current effort is weakened further by the fact that the game cannot actually process what you type, so your Ďfreeí choice turns out to be even less consequential than the constrained choices you made earlier.

So: great atmosphere, impressive variability of the text, but itís disappointing that it all boils down to the message: (Spoiler - click to show)you are free! (Really!) Iíd like to see a more ambitious, more sustained effort from this author, since the writing skills are certainly here.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A philosophical short story, December 31, 2020
by autumnc
Related reviews: ifcomp 2018

This is a philosophical short story about free will and AI, told through a poker game. Despite the short length of one playthrough, this game is surprisingly deep, with a lot of paths through the story and some replayability.

You play as a robot casino worker who has also been employed as a sex worker. The game takes place entirely within one round of poker, with a few flashbacks and optional digressions. There are at least 8 possible outcomes of game.

The cards that are dealt can differ between playthroughs, and this affects the outcome of the story. At first I thought it was random, but it actually depends on your first three choices in a pseudorandom manner, as described in the spoilers below. It feels like a commentary on free will and the nature of "randomness".

(Spoiler - click to show)
- recognize, answer yes, deal the turn: 8 of clubs -> get drink for sunglasses man -> 10 of clubs -> girl with hood wins
- recognize, answer yes, donít deal the turn: Jack of hearts -> Ace of hearts -> man in sunglasses wins
- recognize, answer no, deal the turn: 2 of hearts -> husband asks for water -> 2 of clubs -> husband wins
- recognize, answer no, donít deal the turn: 7 of hearts -> 2 of hearts -> wife wins
- donít recognize, answer yes, deal the turn: 3 of hearts -> kiss the singer -> 7 of hearts -> older woman wins
- donít recognize, answer yes, donít deal the turn: 5 of spades -> 4 of spades -> newcomer wins
- donít recognize, answer no, deal the turn: Queen of spades -> wife discovered cheating -> 8 of diamonds -> singer wins
- donít recognize, answer no, donít deal the turn: 7 of diamonds -> man cursing -> Jack of diamonds -> slot player wins

I like how the choices (or lack of thereof) interfaces with the themes of the story. This game makes a great use of the forced choice technique: you can choose to not deal a card, but youíll always be compelled to deal eventually. Your programming as an AI leaves you no choice but to fulfill the directives that your employer imposed upon you. Thereís also a lot of talk of binaries. Humans always think in binaries. You as an AI are programmed to work in binaries. And thereís always at most two choices, until the very end.

Also I liked the writing style. The diction seems ďroboticĒ and unemotional on the surface, but thereís always the sense of deep internal turmoil. The robotís programming controls her internal thoughts/analyses as well as actions, but the writing creates a sense that thereís something going on inside her mind that was unanticipated by the programmers.

If thereís any criticism I have for this game, itís that the game is much too short, and re-playing feels repetitive. With only one playthrough, itís easy to miss a lot of interesting content. And the open ending, while it makes sense from a thematic point of view, is unsatisfying if one is more interested in the character or story.

Thereís some uncomfortable content here. The robot protagonist is often the victim of violence, especially sexual violence (there are also references to domestic violence not involving robots). Robots in this world have become receptacles for the worst of humanity. As often happens with can-robots-be-human stories, there are parallels with working class experiences, especially in the women-dominated service industry.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A short game about autonomy and robots with one big moment, January 7, 2019
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

Zarf/Andrew Plotkin has said before that he thinks about a certain interaction he wants players to experience in a game, and then builds the game around that.

This game was built around one interaction at the end. Itís a cool interaction, but the rest of the game doesnít do enough to build up to and support this special interaction at the level it deserves. Itís like having a small 1-tier cake with a huge crystal wedding topper that it canít quite support.

The cards were a nice visual feature: this is set in a futuristic Vegas casino, and you can see the cards being dealt.

Overall, this shows a high level of craftsmanship, and I anticipate that a longer game by this author would be great.

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This is version 2 of this page, edited by Doug Orleans on 18 November 2018 at 9:19pm. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item - Delete This Page