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A random maze and an interesting premise, January 7, 2023
Adapted from a review on intfiction.org
Best I can tell, You May Not Escape! is a parser-based IF built around a random map generator and a premise.
The random maps are the less-interesting of the two cornerstones. Notably, the author has asked that players not share their maps online as “getting lost and the entering the unknown is part of the point.” That leads to the second notable foundation of YMNE!: It’s premise.
You start in an outdoor maze of high plaster walls, too high to scale, which you must navigate while the weather grows worse and worse. A purported guide named John Everyman (not terribly subtle) acknowledges your obvious questions—Why am I here? What is this place?—while sidestepping to offer any real answers. Intriguingly, he suggests many others (“billions”) have or are traversing their own mazes while you walk yours.
Then the conversation lulls, your questions bruise Everyman’s feelings, and there’s nothing left to do but traverse the labyrinth.
Walking the maze is minimalism itself. Locations are described in fleeting, often incomplete, sentences. Occasionally the stingy maze generator manages to cough up a park bench to sit on, or a closed-circuit camera spying on you, but most locations don’t even offer those variations.
At this point, YMNE started to look to me to be little more than an exercise in Inform coding–until I encountered the LED ticker-tape-style wall displays. Each offers a different message, sometimes taunting, sometimes misleading, sometimes patronizing. The messages serve to frustrate and confuse in an already frustrating and confusing game. (The ticker machines do serve one handy purpose: They tell you when you’re walking in circles, or have returned to a previously-visited location.)
Game play develops into the monotony of a foot soldier’s patrol as you wander in search of an exit. With each scrap of new information found, one will naturally try to piece together What It All Means. Some of the details hint at modern controversies, such dead-naming. Others offer empty sentiments for your predicament. Others still are accusatory and self-righteous. The game is patently designed to wear down the player (at one point, giving up is a formal option). It’s a bleak ride.
So: What does it all mean? Just as the author asked not to share maps online, I’m reluctant to share my full interpretation. I do think YMNE! is a reaction to social media and toxic culture online, although the abuse could be sourced from any number of dysfunctional situations. One of the ticker messages is political speech transcribed, the “thoughts and prayers” mantra rattled off after every tragedy:
"The phrase 'thoughts and prayers' is grating in part because it has become a victim of semantic satiation, a phenomenon that occurs when a word or words is repeated so often that it loses its meaning. Thoughts and prayers has become a little bit like saying 'bless you' after someone sneezes…"
That said, I do wish the game had been a bit more ambitious. I would gladly have given up a freshly-minted maze with each quarter dropped for a richer world and more immersion. I think that could have been achieved without losing the stark economy of the prose and setting, which is game’s calling card. More tongue-in-cheek, I was tempted to shave off a point for the use of an exclamation point in the title, but I won't do that.
Bottom-line, I found myself chewing on this game after I finished playing it. A little more oomph would have left me chewing on YMNE! much longer, though.