I Should Have Been That I Am

by E. K. Wagner

Science Fiction
2018

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Number of Reviews: 3
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2 of 2 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.