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by Emily Short profile


Web Site

(based on 336 ratings)
27 reviews

About the Story

Emily Short's description:

A conversation with a work of art. "47. Galatea. White Thasos marble. Non-commissioned work by the late Pygmalion of Cyprus. (The artist has since committed suicide.) Originally not an animate. The waking of this piece from its natural state remains unexplained."

Galatea is my first released foray into interactive fiction. It is a single conversation with a single character, which can end any of a number of ways depending on the player's decisions. Despite its age, I continue to get strong reactions to it in my email inbox on a fairly regular basis. Some people love it; some people find it annoying or distressing.

Galatea has what I call a multilinear plot: unlike traditional IF, it has no single path to victory. Instead there are a large number of endings, some more satisfactory than others, of which many could be considered "win" states. It takes only a few minutes of play to arrive at an ending, but considerably longer to find all of them.

The game also takes an ambitious approach to NPC (non-player character) conversation, both in terms of volume (Galatea has many hundreds of things to say) and complexity (she keeps track of the state of conversation and reacts differently according to what has already been said and done).

Game Details


Best of Show, Portrait - 2000 IF Art Show

Nominee, Best Game; Nominee, Best NPCs; Winner, Best Individual NPC - 2000 XYZZY Awards

16th Place - Interactive Fiction Top 50 of All Time (2011 edition)

41st Place - Interactive Fiction Top 50 of All Time (2015 edition)

4th Place - Interactive Fiction Top 50 of All Time (2019 edition)

49th Place - Interactive Fiction Top 50 of All Time (2023 edition)

Honorable Mention - The Top Five IF Games (Adventure Gamers, 2002)

Editorial Reviews

Baf's Guide

Retells the myth of Pygmalion, the sculptor whose statue came to life; here, you're interacting with the statue herself (she's on a pedestal in a museum as an "animate"), and getting her perspectives on a wide variety of things. As such, this is a one-room game that consists entirely of interactions with one NPC--but what an NPC it is. This is the only IF I've ever seen that tried to give an NPC a thoroughly complex psychology--the same question can elicit a wide variety of responses depending on the character's mood, which in turn depends on a variety of things, including the progress of the conversation up to that point. Nor is this simply a portrait of a complex character--your developing relationship with her affects both how you see her and how she reacts. There are no puzzles as such, but the game offers numerous endings that resolve the conversation one way or another, and some of the endings are more satisfying than others. A hint at what NPCs can be with enough attention; considering that the Z-machine code runs to nearly 260K, bigger than many good-sized games, Galatea also suggests that the amount of programming needed to achieve this degree of complexity is not small. Intriguing and rewarding.

-- Duncan Stevens

Dreams, Hubris, and Getting Away with Both
And so perhaps we have a trinity collaborating on this work: the Author, the Reader, and the Subject, Galatea. We affect her by what we choose to write and what we choose to read, but she affects us too, when we see what story we have written and ponder what it can mean.
-- Jonathan Rosebaugh
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Jay Is Games
No foray into the realm of interactive fiction would be complete without playing this game.
-- JohnB
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Galatea is an exploration and a treatise on what art is. It repurposes the original myth of a creator and his art, which had come to life, and tells the next step in such a process, one in which the created work moves beyond the artist and meets the audience.
-- Eric Swain
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A 300K-plus Z-machine file that essentially consists entirely of one character should give any designer pause, if that's the standard for realistic NPC design. It 's unquestionable, though, that this character represents a quantum leap--in intelligence and in vividness of personality--and that the author did it with essentially the tools that every author has. Designers, consider the goalposts moved.
-- Duncan Stevens
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Electronic Book Review
Galateaís Riposte: The Reception and Receptacle of Interactive Fiction
Each time I access ďGalatea,Ē Emily Shortís fabulous piece of interactive fiction, a supple string of text hails me, flirts with me, and stops just short of calling me by name. Strictly speaking, this mode of address should not be possible, at least not according to the familiar conventions of literary tradition... [W]orks such as Galatea function both as operative images in Wienerís terms and as receptacles, peculiar intermediaries between form and copy. More than mimetic, more than metaphorical, such works donít merely simulate responses; through a perspectival process of reciprocal second person, they enact them.
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Rock Paper Shotgun
Letters of Love: Galatea
From this perspective, itís all about growing up and learning to understand whatís alien. Itís about dropping pretenses, egos and prejudices. Itís about realising the value of othersí creations, and never losing sight of your own role relating to them. Itís about learning to accept criticism, even as a critic. Itís about becoming more measured, but also understanding that wearing your heart on your sleeve is okay. It is, in essence, the same journey Iím having to embark on, as I take my first steps into this scary world of writing about videogames.
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Adventure Gamers
The titular NPC has more complexity and psychology than any NPC in the history of IF.
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She will become your creation the longer you engage her, putting you in the Pygmalion position, which can be just as uncomfortable as her pedestal...
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80% Relatable
Two Queers Play Galatea: Statuesque
August is nearly over, and this month, our patrons asked for us to play a game from famed interactive fiction author Emily Short! We went back to some of the earliest work in her catalogue to find Galatea--a short character piece that features several different permutations on a conversation with the titular sculpture. It's the first time we've played a proper text-based adventure game on the channel, so we hope you'll enjoy!
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50 Years of Text Games, by Aaron A. Reed
When Marnie Parker announced the third IF Art Show in early 2000, Short decided she would enter. A handful of intriguing Still Life and Landscape entries had appeared in the first two shows, but no one had yet attempted a Portrait. Short decided she would try.
In the spirit of the Art Show prompt, she conceived of a premise that stripped interaction down to a single conversation: a parser game with most of the standard verbs removed, no puzzles nor inventory items, and a single room containing nothing but a woman on a pedestal [...]
The game grew to encompass hundreds of possible responses and at least seventy distinct conclusions, with far more possible paths to reaching them. And not all the Galateas you meet across the overlapping space of possible playthroughs are the same.
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Number of Reviews: 27
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Most Helpful Member Reviews

31 of 33 people found the following review helpful:
Overrated among Short's games, July 28, 2008

Galatea is an intricately detailed work of high concept. I wanted to like it - I can't get enough NPC interaction, and this has somehow acquired a reputation as the best NPC out there. Despite this, I found this to be deeply flawed and ultimately unsatisfying, both as a character and as a work of IF.

There is really nothing to interact with except for Galatea herself. Her presentation as an animate statue is a clever vehicle for metatextual commentary, but it is also a bit of Turing-camouflage. This is just fine; it comes with the territory. But I found that it gave me little motivation to interact with Galatea except to test her repertoire and see what the fuss was about. Unfortunately, I felt that my options were limited (once I had guessed that they were possible) and that Galatea's repertoire - though larger than perhaps any other NPC I have encountered in a game - often felt canned.

That may be why I began to find it more satisfying to treat the whole thing as a story than to talk to Galatea as such. So I began to look for interesting endings. This was tedious because it required me to explore an apparently tractless space of possible conversations with few-to-no systematic clues. And this tedium was amplified by the amount of repetitive manipulation required to move Galatea's meters around to get into new combinations. These issues might have been addressed by a shallower conversation-tree, requiring fewer moves to get to endings, or by more systematic relationships between available actions and where they sent the game; either one amounts to handing over more control over where the game goes in the end. But this is also contrary to what I've gathered to be the basic philosophy of the game - to be deep and unpredictable, not to yield up all the endings. Beyond relatively unimportant bits like poor information on my options, I think it is this mismatch which made my response to Galatea so tepid.

Nonetheless, I doubt this would have become a factor if I had not felt that the process of talking with Galatea was only instrumentally worthwhile, as a way of getting paths through a game. Context - to be specific, the lack of it - may be part of that problem. I felt a nearly equivalent impact from Bob in She's Got a Thing for Spring even though his "mind" must be far smaller and less complex than Galatea's. Seen critically Bob is a largely unresponsive scriptoid, absent-minded and repetitive. But he has things he does, even if only in fiction; he lives somewhere, walks around, owns things, asks and offers, and speaks just enough of a social past to be a person rather than a a book. As a result, one is inclined to think that his mind is (or was). In the harsh spotlight, Galatea's glitches and her total absorption in her own memories make her more of an object than even a fictional and manufactured person.

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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful:
Giving Meaning To Art, December 4, 2009
by TempestDash (Cincinnati, Ohio)

On the surface, Galatea is a relatively simple game. You are an art critic, and you are standing in one room of a gallery observing a piece of art. The piece of art and its podium are the only things in the room, and you canít leave the room or the game ends. So there is really only one thing you can do: interact with the piece of art. Fortunately, the piece of art is Galatea, the statue come to life of the Cypriot sculptor Pygmalion from Greek myth. In the game, Pygmalion is gone now, for reasons not initially clear, but Galatea has a lot to say about him and herself if you choose to ask.

The gameís simple structure belies its careful construction (much like the eponymous statue herself). Nearly all of the gameplay involves asking Galatea questions and turning her answers into more questions to ask. Through discussion, you learn about Galateaís past, how she was created, and, depending on what chain of dialog you choose to follow, what might be in her future. There is not a singular solution, but dozens, and most are distinct from each other, rather than variations on a theme.

I enjoyed the game thoroughly, though I did have to turn to a walkthrough to get more than a handful of endings. Ultimately, who Galatea is and why she exists is not predetermined. As you play the game, and approach certain paths, her responses change and she starts to more firmly manifest a single form. But the next time you play the game, sheíll be back to a blank slate again and your questions may push her destiny in another direction.

In concept, I find this style of gameplay intriguing. The idea that a character is nobody until she is interacted with; it definitely has potential as a metaphor for human existence and bears similarity to the idea of tabula rasa, first posited by Aristotle, another Grecian historical figure. Unfortunately, the concept is not directly embodied in the game very much Ė at least to my recollection Ė and is more of a meta-concept than a deliberate one. I would love to see a game use this idea more overtly, where a series of blank forms are given purpose and even history by the player through their interactions with them.

In any case, the execution of this idea is entertaining for a while but starts to lose its novelty the longer you play and start to see the seams at the edges. Once you start to understand how certain discussions lead to certain endings, you can see more clearly where Galateaís purpose seems to shift dramatically from one question to the next if you donít follow the preferred line of inquiry. So, in the end, the game glows with the wonder of possibility at first... then rapidly fades the longer you play with her.

Which is a shame, really, because that is the exact opposite of the progression of the player character Ė the art critic Ė in the game. It seems his initial reaction is one of boredom, but the longer he talks with Galatea, the more his interest grows and he begins to realize how much more she is than the simple plaque beside her podium states. Iím almost envious of the critic by the end, because in the endings where his life seems to progress alongside Galateaís, itís clear his eyes have been opened to possibilities that were never there before. It makes my growing awareness of the limitation of the game feel depressing in contrast.

But, then again, I cared what happened to Galatea, and thatís really the goal of any artist, right? To get me to care about their creation? Regardless of the ending you reach, Galatea has a strong voice that I really took to. I just wish we could both have reached a satisfying end.

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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful:
Interesting Experiment, June 9, 2010
by tggdan3 (Michigan)

There are two ways to take Galtea- like there are two ways to take most IF nowadays: as a game, and as an experiment.

As a game, this offers very little. You try to come up with things to ask Galatea, and she will respond, and you can ask her more, or tell her things.

As an experinment in NPCs, this goes very deeply, and offers a lot for a writer of IF to learn when programming his own NPCs.

There is very little to do except to speak to the statue, and the statue (as far as I've seen), doesn't speak to you on her own, except for before you speak to her, kind of as a hint that this is what you're supposed to do. The author provides a good RECAP command to help you learn what topic you've covered and if there is more to cover on the subject.

The NPC is tragic, and you can't help but feel for her- which is the point, I suppose. It gives a lot to live up to in form of an individual NPC, and it's something anyone thinking of writing IF should play, if only for inspiration, and anyone interested in IF as an art form should definately look at. People who prefer games over story might be disappointed.

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The following polls include votes for Galatea:

No Mazes, please! by AndyC
I am a returning player to IF (which I loved 30 years ago) having recently discovered the fantastic Frotz for the iPad. Looking at some of the old games again has really blown me away. I don't enjoy drawing maps but I love reading good...

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I'm pretty new to IF and am having a lot of fun, but in between a toddler and a job and other real life stuff, I'm having trouble finding time to finish many of the longer games I want to play. Can you please recommend me some fun and/or...

Emotional IF by Sorrel
I'm looking for IF that inspires one or more strong emotions in the player Ė an IF that pulls on your heartstrings a little.

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