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About the Story
The meteorite could hit tomorrow, or in an hour, or six months from now. No-one seems to know, and so life goes on as normal. Although, for Alix, normal is relative.
27th Place - 24th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2018)
The Gaming Philosopher
At that moment, I formed a hypothesis about the work, which is apparently part of a PhD project. The hypothesis was this: the game gives a random story fragment to players at the beginning of the game; it asks them to rate it; it then shows us the writer’s response to the rating, engaging our mechanisms of personal sympathy; it shows us another random fragment and asks us to rate it; and finally, when all the data is in, the researchers will check whether people give higher ratings to the fragments after they’ve become aware of the fact that the writer will respond emotionally to the rating, that is, after they’ve become aware that writers are not strangers.
It was a good hypothesis, but also totally wrong.
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Writers are Not Strangers is a story about Alix (a writer), Alix's dying mother, Alix's aunt, and a meteorite that's threatening Earth.
But the plot seems to me to be less important than the overall theme; namely, how readers can affect writers' lives. As the player you rate stories that Alix has written, and Alix responds emotionally to them. Then at other times you select actions for Alix. So you switch back and forth between playing as one of Alix's readers and playing as Alix herself.
In addition, Alix responds to the ratings you give her when you're playing as a reader. For example, the first story of Alix's that I read I had trouble following, so I gave it a very low rating. Then I watched Alix go through a difficult visit to the hospital to see her dying mother. Afterwards, she checks her ratings and is quite upset by the low score. I felt like I had just punched her in the gut after she'd already been through this emotionally-wrenching experience. But at the same time I was Alix, as I had directed several of her actions while she was in the hospital. So in a sense I had gut-punched myself with the low rating.
This continues throughout the game, as you keep rating Alix's stories and watching her respond to them. In addition, her later stories are actually affected by your ratings. I found myself trying hard to be honest and give her writings the scores I thought they deserved, but I definitely felt the temptation to give her high ratings just to make her feel better. I think this is a tension many players will find themselves in.
I found it all quite moving. Alix is a stranger at the beginning, but you come to know her better as you play through the work: both through her writings (when you're the reader) and through her life (when you're Alix herself). So, by the end, Alix the writer is definitely not a stranger.
In real life, though, we don't get to play as our favorite writers. We are only the reader, not Alix. And how much can you truly get to know someone through their writing? Some writers you probably can come to know - at least somewhat - through their writing. More often, though, I suspect that when we think we're coming to know someone through their writing what we're experiencing is actually an illusion of familiarity. If this is the case, then most of the time writers do remain strangers; the claim in the work's title is not actually true. But what is definitely true, and Writers are Not Strangers succeeds in dramatizing this, is that writers are real people, with real feelings.
Some of Alix's stories are mashups of famous works. Readers may have fun playing "catch the reference" on replays. I know I did: Pride and Prejudice, A Tale of Two Cities, Anna Karenina, A Confederacy of Dunces, and Kafka's Metamorphosis were ones I caught. In one of the stories there was also, oddly enough, a hint that you're a character in the old arcade game Centipede!
I think Writers are Not Strangers is definitely worth a play for the way it dramatizes how readers can affect writers' lives.
This is a complex game, which makes sense as it is part of a thesis. Unlike many IFComp games, it's less of a short story and more of a novella that should be played slowly, perhaps overall multiple days. It's not as long as a full-length Choicescript game, but it's still very hefty.
Such longterm playing is facilitated by the excellent save feature, one of many advanced design features. This game has been heavily modified from baseline Choicescript.
The main conceit of the game is that you are asked at several points to evaluate the quality of writing, and the game looks deeply into the relationship between reader and writer. The first few short stories are takes on famous writers, and some of these are just fantastic (I especially enjoyed the riff on Metamorphosis).
It also includes science fiction elements and some post-modernism.
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