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About the Story
What's left of a man after he buries his past deeds?
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Number of Reviews: 3
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A neat 500-word short story from 1916 about a skinflint who suddenly becomes generous, now in the public domain so available for reproduction. The modern co-author adds an impressive cover art image and a short bonus section in the middle of the story, where the interactivity lies. A text-box lets you type an appropriate noun to end a sentence. Contextually, this should presumably be a synonym for "miser" but it also allows many other words (and will tell you if it doesn't recognize what you type). The result is a short chunk of text with one line of dialogue altered depending on what you wrote. It then proceeds with the rest of the story, unaltered and unaffected by this little interactive detour.
Why the extra section is presented in a different form to the rest of the story (a play script instead of prose) is difficult to fathom. Why this interactive section is supposed to elevate the original short story is equally difficult to fathom. As an overall concept, there is potential in a twine-like choice-based system that hides the explicit choices behind a type-what-you-want text-box, but it definitely requires a longer work, with multiple choices that matter, to do it justice.
This game is part of a group of similar stories. Other such games by this author have consisted of a classic short story with modern additions by the author where people comment on the story, including a text box where the reader can type something which the game then interprets using sentiment analysis to change some subsequent text.
This game is no exception, although it is smaller than the others. It is also different from the others, in that its 'meta-commentary' is no longer a separate, modern story; instead, it's an addition in-universe, still with the sentiment-analysis text box. However, due to this being a speed-IF, only one text box is included.
The short story chosen this time is obscure; I only found one 'hit' when searching, on an internet archive of an old magazine.
My view on these games has certainly changed over time. I went from believing they had no interaction to believing that they are excellent at hiding all the interactivity.
A game that makes you think its responding to your actions, even if it doesn't, is a game that is very fun to play, if only for one time. (For instance, see Attack of the Yeti Robot Zombies). But the converse is true; a game that does extensive work, but leads the player to think it does none, is not fun to play. Simply putting a message next to the box that is, as the author once said, metaleptic (or maybe extra-diegetic???) saying 'positive sentiment detected' in green and then highlighting the subsequent changed text in green or using red for negative sentiment would instantly improve reaction; this is just one idea, there are many ways to make it look like the game is really thinking.
Like a character says the movie The Prestige:
"The trick was too good, it was too simple. The audience hardly had time to see it[...]he's a wonderful magician; he's a dreadful showman. He doesn't know how to dress it up, how to sell this," and I think that applies to this whole series of games.
As the author explains on the main page:
This is a study in stateful media with an emphasis on narration-based agency. To avoid breaking a reader’s suspension of disbelief, this work eschews story-based agency.
What’s this mean for you? An interactive fiction experience that is more “literary” and less “game” made by combining quintessential elements of parser-based, choice-based, chat-based, and templated-based works under a new theory of agency in stateful media.
In other words, this is an experiment, intended to explore a new style of interactive fiction. Rather than giving the player any influence over the story (which risks “breaking a reader’s suspension of disbelief”), they’re allowed to choose which word is used for certain descriptions—changing the way the story is described to the audience.
It’s an interesting idea, and indeed the same basic story told from different perspectives could give an entirely different result. But after that grand, artistic description, I couldn’t help feeling disappointed by the work itself.
As best I can tell, it’s a short story published by Charles Henkle in 1916. One noun has been deleted from this story, and the player is encouraged to fill in the blank. The following paragraph changes depending if a positive or negative word is used.
The problem is, this one noun—and the following paragraph—doesn’t really have much impact on the narrative. It shows us what one character thinks of another character for a brief moment, and that’s it. It was a good, well-written short story, but it certainly didn’t seem like I had much agency over the narrative at all. My personal thoughts on the character aren’t any different than if I had just read this short story in a paper-and-ink anthology, and the narration’s viewpoint on him isn’t really either: would the experience have been much different if the author had just omitted that character’s thoughts completely, letting the reader fill in the blanks in their mind?
While I liked Henkle’s writing, and I’m glad to see people pushing the bounds of the medium and testing new types of “agency”, the interactive parts of this work just didn’t really work for me. To put it bluntly, it just didn’t feel different from reading a non-interactive short story, any more than a “click to turn the page” prompt would change the fundamental experience of a book. I do look forward to seeing further experiments in this vein, and what “narrative agency” will look like once the concept has been further developed.
I would also like to invite comparison with Something Blue, a game from the same ECTOCOMP that gives the player a similar degree of agency. It's told through a series of letters, and all you can do in the game is edit certain passages, changing the tone of what you're conveying. Yet it ends up feeling significantly more satisfying than Restitution did. Is it because of the story-based agency in the ending? Or simply because the interactive and non-interactive parts mesh together seamlessly, and it gives the player so much more authority over the story's tone?