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About the Story
Sometimes talking is easier said than done.
16th Place - 29th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2023)
|Average Rating: |
Number of Reviews: 5
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This piece was good for me, I think. I’ve encountered different people with stuttering over time, and some of them I was kind too and some not. I had a group when I was younger that was both in church and scouts together. I never hung out with them alone but it was essentially my “friend group”. There was one guy who had a strong stutter. As a whole we often didn’t treat him well, and I regret it looking back.
Now I have a student who stutters a lot, due to having a stroke in his youth. I find it a lot easier to have patience with him and listen to his thoughts. He’s also an incredibly prolific writer (having written over 200 scripts each over 20 pages for a tv show idea he has.)
This game presents the experiences of one person with a stutter. They have a day to go through a list of chores and tasks.
I thought it was effective. It does have timed text but I made it work by playing it on my phone during a very boring work meeting where having it long and drawn out was a benefit. And I imagined the game itself as someone with a stutter and practiced being patient with them. After all, a lot of things that you would never do or like normally are acceptable or good when dealing with disabilities (like someone with IBS having frequent smelly farts).
My ex wife and son both use wheelchairs so it was interesting to see how similar some experiences are across disability, especially with other people under or over estimating the difficult of tasks. (Like “come to my house! It only has one step up, a few inches, that shouldn’t be a problem, right?)
So overall, lots of polish and good work and helped me reflect on life and saved me from a boring meeting.
The main thing I knew about this game going in was that it makes significant use of the "timed text" mechanic. While I did find it slightly too slow at times, and wasn't sure it was needed as prevalently as it was used, it didn’t impact my enjoyment of the game, and definitely served the author's intended purpose. It's also very nice to be able to turn it off on subsequent playthroughs.
Anyway, on to the rest of the game! I felt for the protagonist a lot; the game seemed to really capture what it’s like to go through life with a stutter, and how difficult it can make everyday interactions. The flashbacks to childhood were quite sad, witnessing this struggling child be ignored and othered (the My Cousin Vinny one especially...). I enjoyed the gameplay, and how it was never a matter of picking the “right” option--rather, it’s left up to the player to decide if they’d prefer to stumble over ordering their favorite food, or smoothly order a food they hate. The color coding of the choices was a good way to indicate how fluently each option would come out.
Ultimately, the game isn’t about beating the stutter; you’re simply experiencing what it’s like to have it, and coping with it however you think is best. I played through four times, interested in seeing the differences between a covert, overt, and middle-of-the-road approach, and enjoyed each playthrough (and getting all but two of the achievements!).
One point of critique is that, regarding the job interview plotline, I would have liked some more background on the PC’s adulthood experiences, in addition to the childhood ones. I wondered if the stutter played a role in them leaving their previous job, and what it might mean for future job prospects. I think more of an exploration of the PC’s dreams, and to what extent the stutter has impacted those dreams, would add a bit more depth. But on the whole, a great game that accomplishes its purpose very well.
Allison's game is a very effective piece that puts you into the role of someone who stutters, as they get through a day in which they need to perform several tasks that involve talking. Interactivity is key. By giving you the choices that the protagonist faces, and letting you live through their successes and failures, Dysfluent does more to generate understanding of what it's like to stutter than a non-interactive story does. The use of slow timed text, usually a big no-no, is actually something you are not allowed to complain about in this case. To complain about it would be to refuse to put yourself in the protagonist's shoes -- and while that's fine for, let's say, some random horror game, it's not fine for a piece that is all about generating understanding of a real-world phenomenon.
I love the use of colours in this game: green dialogue options are easily said, yellow ones will come out with some difficulty, red indicates a full-on block. I assume that it's a good reflection of how the protagonist experiences their stuttering. It's not a complete surprise; there's some premonition of what you'll be able to say, and what you won't be able to say (as easily). And it generates some excellent dilemmas. The best of those is during the job interview, where you can choose fluency (green) or accurateness (yellow). Of course you choose accuracy. And then you get another choice, but not fluency is green and accurateness is red. Ouch. What do you do? It's a tough call, and of course that's precisely the point. (I also enjoyed the sense of dread when, after telling the game what my favourite food was, I also had to tell it what my least favourite food was...)
If I have any criticism, it might be that the way the world reacts to the protagonist is so insensitive that it strains incredibility. Especially the flashbacks are all just straightforwardly horrible. I hope they weren't taken from real life, though they have something of the autobiographical about them. It seems to me that even when I was a kid, stuttering was explained to me in terms that were far more nuanced than those used by the supposedly professional specialist we meet here in the therapy scene.
But overall, I think this is simple a very good piece of interactive fiction. It's solid as fiction, built on smart design decisions, and it's effectiveness as a tool for generating understanding boosts it further.
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