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About the Story
Magpies from the forbidden woods like to steal things: coins, jewelry, your gender identity. It's starting to get dark, so you'd better find your gender fast.
43rd place - 27th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2021)
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Number of Reviews: 4
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(This is a lightly-edited version of a review posted to the IntFict forums during the 2021 IFComp. My son Henry was born right before the Comp, meaning I was fairly sleep-deprived and loopy while I played and reviewed many of the games, so in addition to a highlight and lowlight, the review includes an explanation of how new fatherhood has led me to betray the hard work the author put into their piece)
My Gender is a Fish is a short, surrealist Twine game thatís hard to characterize. Itís not quite an allegory, nor a fable, but neither is it tied to the concrete in any meaningful sense (the inciting incident is a magpie swooping down and yoinking your gender identity). A sui generis work like this is usually, I find, either really good or really bad; happily, this time itís the former. Since this is a short game with only a few choices and I donít think any state changes, its success is pretty much 100% down to the writing, which is playful and thoughtful in equal measure.
The notional action involves the protagonist embarking into a dangerous forest in search of what theyíve lost, and considering whether various objects and creatures they run across are their lost gender, but whatís rewarding is the ruminations triggered by considering each possibility. While the subject matter is clearly serious, the tone here holds possible meanings or conclusions lightly, raising questions rather than driving towards any plodding conclusions. I found this approach really effective Ė as the worldís most boring cis straight guy, I think I sometimes come to art thatís about issues of gender from a more intellectual angle, but while the game probably most directly speaks to trans or genderqueer folks, I found its way of opening up these topics was sufficiently broad to resonate with me on a more personal level too.
Highlight: Itís hard to pick this one apart into component pieces, but I will say the way the opening smoothly slips from grounded description to the protagonistís new metaphysical predicament was deftly done.
Lowlight: I maybe wish thereíd been a little state-tracking, so that earlier choices had more of an impact on later ones? The fact that I canít immediately tell what that would look like, though, means this might be a knee-jerk idea more driven by the conventions of choice-based games than something that would actually improve the game.
How I failed the author: Since this is a 10-minute game thatís making thoughtful points, but not in a needlessly obscure way, even I was incapable of messing this one up.
I was glad I wasn't the only person worried this was a troll entry along the lines of the "clever people" who write "gender: attack helicopter" in their twitter profiles (thanks to PopeHat for this specific examples) and I'm also glad it's clearly not. I suppose to a certain extent, categorizing gender is tricky. It shouldn't be black and white. Yet making an involved taxonomy for its own sake is just exhausting all at once. Yet at the same time, people who criticize it the loudest have no problem discussing the difference between Alpha, Beta, Omega and Sigma males.
Abstractly, the game tracks your gender. It starts with boy or girl. Then it asks eagle or fish. Then a pebble or sun. Then a bit of a false choice before the final one, with an explanation. This all feels pretty simple. There's no overboard mysticism, and I appreciate MGiaF giving me a new way to think instead of telling me to.
I also think MGiaF shows a certain evolution from some of the more confrontational earlier twines that just flat out tell you you're not considering gender hard enough, you privileged cis white male, you. I mean, this is just heckling as opposed to outright abuse by cis white males, but if we're trying to make art, let's make it accessible even to those who might not be our target audience. And I appreciate feeling included, as someone who's heard I didn't try to be masculine enough, or why the hell was I trying to be macho, I wasn't fooling anyone.
I wanted a new way to look at things. MGiaF provided that. It's not the only way, but it helps reaffirm wishes I had long ago. Wishes that people who classified me as Not Masculine Enough (but don't try being as masculine as us!) would just clam up, or that there was indeed a third way, and there was far more to seeing yourself than being ranked by masculinity or desirability.
And it also provides a good contrast to the usual dialogue we hear in general. One particularly bad passage from a Reality TV show sticks in my head. I was only watching it because it was on the screens at my local athletic club. A bunch of guys were competing for one woman (the very worst kind of Reality TV, because shocker of shocker, relationships built on competition and the excitement of the chase don't last,) and the narrator asked "can the sensitive guys do man's man things like get a high score at the rifle shooting range?" Maybe this wasn't exact, but it was bad enough and obviously a very shallow exploration of our roles and who we are. We obviously can do better, and that MGiaF did so much better in under 15 minutes pleases me greatly. I can't speak precisely to how good the symbolism is, but it seems to me that we respect (or find wonderfully mystifying) the concept of spirit animals or objects or even corny tattoos in languages we can't speak, and it shouldn't be something to make people ooh and ahh, but something we can internalize and share as we wish. And MGiaF having nothing too exotic helped it feel accessible to me.
So I walked away wishing there was more but not feeling there had to be, despite my earlier-mentioned aversion to taxonomy. The old saw about how there are 2 times to walk away, too early and too late, apply here, and MGiaF walked away well before drowning you in pointless possibilities. I've certainly had that feeling of "I think I'm X, wait, no, that doesn't fit, more like Y" and so forth, and realizing that no labels fit, but reasonable ones helped me find who I was. And I appreciate having that experience sped up with little to no risk.
I can't offer any detailed literary analysis. This is out of my realm in many ways. There's a nonzero (but low) chance MGiaF is just random mysticism or parts are way off-base and I glossed over them and it successfully BSed me. But in that very unlikely case, I got a lot out of it. It left me writing and remembering a good chunk for something that took 15 minutes to get through. And I have a feeling I missed something, too, but these are blanks I'll fill in later.
In this very short, choice-based game you go wandering in the woods, looking for your gender after a magpie stole it. The game is very straight-forward, with just a few scenes and a few choices. It begins with the aforementioned humorous scenario and ends in a metaphor about how finding your own identity isn't always so simple. The writing was simple, but good. I played through it twice to see how different choices would affect the story. Worth the short time it takes, but not much more than that.
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