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A specific take on a universal experience, April 15, 2021
A Blank Page is an appealing game that I suspect will resonate with most folks who’ve tried to create something. It’s exactly what it appears to be – a Twine game about writer’s block – but with a well-observed take on the subject that provides lots of specific details to flesh out this universal experience.
It helps that the presentation is attractive – black text on a clean white background matches the topic at hand, of course, but there’s also a nice blinking-cursor effect that underlines the anxiety of starting to write. The prose could use an additional editing pass, as there’s more than one typo or infelicity of language, but it’s also effective at conveying the subjectivity of the protagonist:
"You really like this old keyboard. Its soft touch caresses your fingers. The tapping sound it makes when typing accompanies you in the solitude of the apartment… But, like a curse, everything changes as soon as you stop using it to play or chat or whatever and start using it to write your projects… You notice the roughness of some of the keys and how some of them offer more resistance, slowing you down when typing. The sound starts to be annoying, like a little hammer incessantly beating your ears, reminding you that you are not quick enough, that you are wasting time."
The game’s structure is pretty standard but with just enough of a twist to be interesting – slight spoiler here: (Spoiler - click to show)as the game opens, you’re given several choices for how to try to write or procrastinate. None of it works, and when you go to sleep, you wake up the next day faced with exactly the same text and exactly the same options, with the only difference being the weather’s gotten worse – it’s Groundhog Day, more or less.
Again, the details are a lot of what makes this work – beyond the keyboard description excerpted above, I also really liked the notebook, which has a series of prompts and ideas you can cycle through, half or more of which are pretty awful while a couple actually have something to them (my favorite was the one about dead gods leaving giant corpses that cults spring up to worship).
It’s all very relatable, including its ultimate take: after trying a bunch of different stuff, including taking a walk, chatting with friends, doing some reading, and just keeping the main character’s butt in the chair, eventually I was able to get past the block and start writing. There’s no indication that that’s because I solved a puzzle or unlocked a magic formula, which seems true to my experience: if you leave space for inspiration, connect with other people, take care of yourself, and keep grinding out and persevering, eventually the block you’re facing unclogs, without any clear rhyme or reason for it.
This isn’t anything revelatory, I don’t think, but A Blank Page is a positive, grounded exploration of its topic, and did pretty much everything I want a short game like this to do.