The Gostak

by Carl Muckenhoupt profile

Wordplay
2001

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Number of Reviews: 9
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
The map is not the territory, March 26, 2014

This is a game for experienced players, not just because it practically requires knowledge of genre conventions, but because the way The Gostak obfuscates its output is pushing directly against an old-school drive: the player's desire to construct a mental model of the game world. For old-school games, this often also means drawing an actual map on paper. Here, there are only a handful of rooms, but you have to start taking notes and make your own little dictionary before you can start connecting any of them, let alone visualize what's supposed to be in them. Understanding the language is the main puzzle of the game, and it's a great one. As you build your vocabulary and your understanding of objects and the relationships between them, descriptions that were impenetrable nonsense at first glance become more and more sensible until you're reading fairly naturally and typing back commands that would seem like crazy talk to anyone looking over your shoulder. It's extremely satisfying.

Of course, you have to constantly remind yourself that your model is only a model. The world of The Gostak is an alien one, and although there are many terms that seem to have close analogues in our reality or other games, there's never enough information to really know what anything is like. To some extent this is true of all text games, with many details left up to the player to fill in mentally, but in The Gostak you're painting with broad strokes. Abstract splatters, really. And no matter how vague and fuzzy you try to keep the picture in your head, you'll almost certainly over-imagine things and make assumptions about concepts that lead you astray. A particular term can turn out to be dual-purpose in a way you wouldn't expect, or a physical action may be only superficially similar to whatever you were thinking of as its equivalent. In a longer or crueler game, this tension would be infuriating. Here, the push and pull is a dual pleasure.

I do have gripes about two puzzles. One relies on a word that I felt was too obscure (it was barely present in any of the output, as far as I could tell), and another has a solution that doesn't match well with the information provided (there are sufficient clues to reach the solution through experimentation, but it was not clear to me why that particular action was necessary or why it would be that effective). I regret being so late to the party for this game--it would be interesting to play this one at the same time as someone else and see which details stuck out to them, and to have them describe the particular way they imagined this weird world in their head.