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About the Story
Laugh, Cry, Troubleshoot
Fix Your Mother's Printer is a "family sim" visual novel where what you say changes the story and your relationship with your mom.
It's Sunday afternoon and your mother is calling you on Swoon, the video conferencing app specifically for moms. She's having a tech emergency and you're the only one who can help! Will you be the golden child and fix her out-of-pocket printer? Make fun of her and watch her fume? What kind of adult child do you want to be? Remember, it's not just a printer. It's an emotional journey.
20th Place - 29th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2023)
17th Place (tie), Best in Show - The IF Short Games Showcase 2023
Number of Reviews: 8
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Sunday afternoon. Lie back in the sofa, get your book and a cup of tea. Aahhh…
Or take a call from your mom who’s desperate because she can’t get her printer to spit out her oh-so-important presentation.
Fix Your Mom’s Printer is short, but it offers a wide range of choices and pathways. Most of your mom’s speech offers three possible replies from you, roughly in the categories Insensitive Jerk, Angelically Helpful, Unwelcome (but often funny) Snark, Uninterested Okay-Mom.
I played through on both extremes (Jerk and Angel) once. As was to be expected, limiting myself to the one category of answers quickly became mechanical, the conversation unrealistic. But I wanted to see the sure paths to the Win and Lose states of the game.
When following the guaranteed winning path, it became obvious that fixing the printer was a case of game-imposed lawnmowering. And also that fixing the printer wasn’t the point.
For my earnest playthrough, I adopted a more natural, organic mindset. I tried to be helpful while lightly showing my annoyance at being disturbed on a sunday by occasionally giving in to the urge to reply in a sarcastic or jokey manner. (“Har-dee-har,” is mom’s irritated answer.)
Approaching the game this way opened up a whole breadth of underlying, never quite explicitated family issues. The relationship between mom and dad, your own relationship with your dad, unresolved tension between your sister and you,…
Fixing a recalcitrant piece of technology together with your mom becomes a way to work towards a better understanding of each other, an honest attempt to (re)connect.
A short piece with surprising depth.
Fix Your Mother’s Printer is a fairly short and linear story, with a visual novel-like interface, where you try to help your mother fixing her printer ahead of an important presentation, through a Zoom-like app. There are multiple points where the game can end: you can go through the whole ordeal and fix the printer, give up before it starts, or annoy your mother and quit half-way through.
Printers are such fickle beings. They always whine and beeps when you don't use them, and refuse to work every time you have an important job for them. And when something goes wrong, they will never tell you what. Is it enough paper? Or enough ink (or the correct one)? Are the cables properly plugged? Is it a computer issue instead? Or [roll dice to select the issue of the day]? It's already a struggle for people who get printers, so when you don't have the magic touch... you just want to throw it at the wall.
Enters you, called through a fake-Zoom app, asked for help. There are multiple ways to handle the call, every as exhausting and anxious-ridden as the next. It brought back the many many times I've been called to resolve computer-related issues for my family, especially the passive-agressive snippy comebacks, the eye-rolls, and the conversation changes half-way through explanations. I seriously wanted to throw the whole printer away half-way through*. But I did like the little vignettes of the mom, especially when reminiscing old memories.
*and of course the solution is dumb, it always is with printers. they are the devil's invention...
The interface was quite playful (you wouldn't have guessed it was made in ink), with your mother's expression changing depending on the situation, moving around when she had to do something, and showing an unexpected visitor at some point. It was nice to be able to just click the text box to advance the story, rather than finding the arrow every time. And the dark mode is great*!
*How are you a tech bro and not using darkmode as your theme from the get go :P
(This is a lightly-edited version of a review I posted to the IntFiction forums during 2023's IFComp).
For its first ten minutes, I was pretty convinced that Fix Your Mother’s Printer just wasn’t going to work for me. The title and blurb instantly convey a compelling comedic premise – troubleshooting printers is annoying enough, much less with someone who’s probably a little out of step with modern technology, much much less via Zoom – but the initial exchanges with my mom seemed to indicate that it was also going to wring some jokes out of not-so-friendly banter and maybe even some passive-aggression; she reproached me for never calling, while most of my dialogue options contained some barb or other to throw in return.
That’s fine so far as it goes, but look, unless I’m prompted to play a specific character, I usually play IF as if I were myself – I mean, I am myself, but you know what I mean. And my mom is pretty great! She likes wine, NPR, and the New York Times games app, and though she lives on the opposite coast she comes out to visit for a couple of weeks every few months to offer free babysitting and cook delicious dinners. So I was already pretty disinclined to be mean to my game-mom, all the more so since she’s drawn to look not too different from my real one.
I was resigning myself to not enjoying this one as much as I hoped I would as I embarked on the tech-support odyssey, trying to at least pick the least-prickly options – when I realized the game was actually following my lead and the dialogue on both sides appeared to soften. I actually wrote in my notes file “seems like she’s getting less acerbic”, and then alt-tabbed back to see that the next line of dialogue involved the mom saying she was glad I was being nice, since “sometimes you can be a little bit acerbic.” Turns out I was on the same wavelength as this game after all! And from there I settled in to have a positive, lovely time.
That is, a positive, lovely time with my mom; the printer was an obstreperous beast throughout. You have to work through checking the power, the print que, the drivers, the toner, the firmware… I’m no longer an expert at this kind of thing, I should admit – I’ve long since experienced the transition that prompts soul-searching for so many middle-aged geeks, going from “I know how to write my own autoexec.bat and himem.sys files” to “can someone please tell me how to turn off the Apple TV?” (that isn’t a randomly chosen example; if any of y’all know, please do drop me a line) – but I thought the troubleshooting bits worked well, hitting the right balance between frustration and at least narrowing down the possible problems. And with me and my mom firmly on the same side, the increasingly-ridiculous lengths we had to go to to try to fix things provided grist for our double act; it was more good-natured than laugh-out-loud funny, but it was still really enjoyably written, and I did giggle when some joint of hers let out a loud crack when she bent down to move the printer, and she told me “you have no idea what’s coming to you, physically.”
The rat-a-tat comedic timing meant that I often was clicking through so fast that I missed changes in the game’s graphics, but that’s my own fault. The interface is nicely set up to mimic a video call while keeping ample screen real estate for the all-important text, and the charming, hand-drawn image of your mom updates as her expression changes, she ducks out of frame to mess with the printer, or Very Good Boy Pawford pops in for a cameo (even though it’s accomplished vicariously, petting Pawford was the best bit of doggie tummy-rubbing I’ve seen in a piece of IF in quite some time). They’re never overbearing, and as my experience indicates, you can pretty much ignore the visual elements if you want, but they do add a really pleasant vibe to the proceedings.
So all was well that ended well; we did manage to fix the printer, and despite what seemed at the beginning of the call like a threat to discuss your dating life once the tech support was done, actually that part was really sweet too – as was another sequence involving talking to her about her in-progress divorce or separation from your dad. I was not expecting Fix Your Mother’s Printer to be gently emotional, but turns out that was my major takeaway vibe. What’s even more impressive is that there seems to be significant branching – from reading other folks’ experiences with the game, it’s possible to fail to fix the printer, to have a way more conflict-oriented conversation with your mom, and generally have a completely different experience. Still, I’m quite satisfied with the ending I got; how can you expect a printer to play nice if you aren’t going to?
Outstanding Slice of Life Game of 2023 by MathBrush
This poll is part of the 2023 IFDB Awards. The rules for the competition can be found here, and a list of all categories can be found here. This award is for the best Slice of Life game of 2023. Voting is open to all IFDB members....
Outstanding Ink Game of 2023 by MathBrush
This poll is part of the 2023 IFDB Awards. The rules for the competition can be found here, and a list of all categories can be found here. This award is for the best Ink game of 2023. Voting is open to all IFDB members. Eligible games...
Outstanding Short Game of 2023 by MathBrush
This poll is part of the 2023 IFDB Awards. The rules for the competition can be found here, and a list of all categories can be found here. This award is for the best short game of 2023, where the definition of 'short' is left up to the...