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My Pseudo-Dementia Exhibition

by Naomi Norbez (call me Bez, he/they) profile


(based on 13 ratings)
5 reviews

About the Story

a personal & public museum

If you want a swashbuckling adventure game, or exciting puzzles to solve, then I apologize, but this game doesn't have that. This Twine contains a museum, which consists of items notable to me during my long period of mental health recovery. I wanted to share my journey in some form or fashion, and this Twine is the result.

This game is a museum, so treat it as such. Peruse slowly. Stop and listen to the music. Linger on an exhibit that you like. Exit whenever you feel ready to. And do leave your name in the guestbook, won't you?

(P.S. I strongly recommend you download this game. The browser is not always the nicest to it in terms of loading pages & images.)

Content warning: This game explores my personal experience with a serious health crisis that affected me physically & mentally. I discuss my terrible mental health at the time, including my intense suicidal ideation & depression. See more in game.

Game Details


29th Place - 29th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2023)


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Number of Reviews: 5
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Most Helpful Member Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Design, mechanics and interactions bring life to a deeply felt text, November 29, 2023

Not in a thousand years I would have thought a mechanism to let this story, or essay, be told as interactive fiction. The exhibition concept is a brilliant way of allowing significant interaction with an static text. Nothing like “choices matter”, it’s not that kind of game; but your interactions matter, in the sense that they shape the way you receive this narration.

The exhibition format has another good effect: as in a real exhibition, it kind of gives you permission to overlook items that don’t catch your fancy. I’d always be hesitant to do that in a more standard game, afraid of losing information; but this being an exhibition, I behave as I do in exhibitions: I look and read at what I find interesting and ignore the rest. (In reality, I read more than 90% of Bez’s exhibition, but the freedom makes the whole thing more relaxed).

The stuff Bez tells is relevant, and deeply felt, and should be known. Bez's talent to use design, mechanics and interactions to enliven the text is proven (play Lore Distance Relationship if you didn’t do it yet).

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Memory boxes, December 19, 2023
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2023

(This is a lightly-edited version of a review I posted to the IntFiction forums during 2023's IFComp).

I’ve found myself increasingly interested in non-fictional IF over the past few years, and not just because of a love for lexical paradoxes; the gotcha of pointing out that “interactive fiction” is underbroad as well as overbroad has long since grown stale, after all. No, what’s unique about these games is that they’re the logical end point of quite visible, longstanding trends – I’m thinking here of the decades-long shift towards more personal IF, which was of course turbo-charged by the rise of choice-based games but does have roots that predate it, as well as the significant increase in the prominence and respectability of the memoir in the broader culture – but by this sensible extrapolation, they wind up putting revelatory pressure on the “interactive” part of IF.

If a game is telling a true story, after all inviting a player to interact with it, allowing interactivity to directly change the narrative would be self-undermining (…though it occurs to me that could be a viable strategy; we’re still waiting for the IF equivalent of Adaption). But there are other approaches available; You Couldn’t Have Done That, an almost-memoir with an autistic protagonist from a couple years ago, offers multiple choices at key decision points but redirects the narrative onto the critical path if the player strays from what’s possible for the player, providing a concrete but frustrating look at unrealized alternatives. And my own game Sting from a couple of years ago lets the player act in the gaps in my memories, where I don’t fully recall the order that things happened or the exact details of conversations I had. One could argue these are bits of sleight of hand, and I suppose that’s true. But at the same time, it’s also the case that regular fictional IF very rarely allows for anything like true player agency. The illusions provided by nonfictional IF may put these tactics on more obvious display, but to my mind that’s a virtue, not a vice – part of what I enjoy about games in this subgenre is that they require authors to think more creatively about interaction, and help me better understand what’s going on when I engage with an author’s mind via a piece of IF.

I’m writing this overlong, probably over-theorized, introduction because I think it would be easy to write a review of My Pseudo-Dementia Exhibition that focuses just on the content, because it is searing and intense: the game chronicles the author’s year in several treatment facilities as they worked to survive a severe mental health crisis that, among other impacts, dramatically reduced their cognitive function. That crisis by itself would be more than enough to carry the game’s weight, but the author also experienced – and writes about – parental abuse, transphobia and misgendering, suicidal thoughts, and the bureaucratic nightmares of America’s heath care, insurance, and housing systems. But the narrative isn’t misery tourism by any stretch of the imagination, as the author throughout highlights the things that helped them hold on and survive, the art they continued to create despite the incredible limitations they faced, and the authentic moments of connection and joy they found along the way.

The writing tells this story in direct and affecting prose that’s confident in its power; it knows that a specific, well-chosen detail evokes far more emotion than purplishly exaggerated language. I have a lot of these in my notes, but here are a few examples from the early parts of the game:

"[The pseudo-dementia] even affected how I could eat food: because of the high executive dysfunction that was now in my brain, I could only eat food that was simple in texture, simple to prepare, and easy to eat. I ate a lot of cups of Kraft Mac and cheese at that time.

"When I was in the ER, they couldn’t give me access to a pen due to my suicidal ideations—they were scared I would hurt myself. But I was desperate for a writing utensil, and they were able to give me a little crayon pack: one that you would give to children, with the colors yellow, red, blue, and green. I was very grateful to receive it."

There are also some wry bits that made me laugh – a quartet of paintings depicting the author, their twin, and their parents is titled “Leo Tolstoy Was Right About Families.”

So yes, the narrative here deals with very weighty subject matter, and is very well-told. But I was just as impressed by the structure the game uses for the story. The “exhibition” referred to in the title is entirely literal, as you’re positioned as a visitor to a museum that houses a collection of concrete artifacts from the author’s odyssey. A lovely dual-window view displays text in the right window, and images in the left – the interface elegantly recreates the quintessential museum-going experience of moving your eyes back and forth between an object and its informational label. The game goes even further by embodying the player; rather than flicking through a catalogue of items, you’re given a map of each wing of the show, and use directional navigation controls to decide where you want to go. This means the player can decide to go back to look at a previously-visited object if a later one recontextualizes it, or choose when they feel ready to move on to the next collection. And critically, there’s a small bit of friction at every step – walking around is quick but not instantaneous, and the sound of footsteps imposes a short but noticeable delay when moving from wing to wing.

The effect of all these choices is to create distance, but it’s not the kind of distance that keeps the player at arm’s length; rather, it’s a reflective distance that invites the player to engage with what they’re seeing and reading, and then think about it. There are certainly moments when the exhibition is overwhelming, like long screeds of journal entries written in the throes of crisis, or when a piece of art that depicts a source of chaos in the author’s life fills the screen. But these are balanced by moments of peace and isolation, which I found made the moments of intensity even more impactful since they had time to land. It also helps draw attention to some of the subtler aspects of the game’s design, like the clearly-intentional way that a positive COVID test kit is tucked away in its own isolated niche.

The way the presentation focuses on a selected set of the impedimenta of the author’s journey is also a smart way of acknowledging that the full experience can never be communicated to someone who hasn’t gone through something like this: this approach provides concrete, tangible examples and then leaves space for the player’s mind to fill in the gaps. Sure, some examples had more personal resonance for me than others – the author’s practice of writing themself a letter on an important anniversary date is one I’ve used myself, for example, whereas I’m pretty sure I would dislike all the anime series that get mentioned – but that’s not the point, because the game’s methods of fostering engagement don’t rest on anything so flimsy as relatability.

I find it can often be challenging to write good criticism of works like this that engage – often uncomfortably – with intense, personal trauma. Beyond the obvious tendency to softpedal critiques (“your suffering was insufficiently entertaining” is not a sentence anyone ever wants to write), I think it’s also often the case that reviewers overemphasize the bravery of the author for sharing their story, without acknowledging that bravery all by itself doesn’t make for a good work of art. So while I do think the author is brave and have intense empathy for what they’ve gone through, I also wanted to spell out very clearly that I was very impressed too by the craft that went into this game, both as to writing and as to design; I’ve written down a 9 for it in my rating spreadsheet, which is as high as anything else I’ve rated this year, and I might adjust it upwards when I do my final scoring. This one’s not to be missed.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A museum display of a non-fictional mental health journey , November 22, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This game was good to read. I’ve known Bez for several years, and while I have not been able to be as helpful as some of his other friends, I’ve been able to watch his journey over time and follow along.

This is an interactive museum of Bez’s experiences through several different locations, with one exhibit per living location. There are photos, transcribed documents, and music from several indie musicians, which sounds good.

The museum is a well-written and fascinating look into the life of one individual. It is frank and open about challenges like debilitating illnesses (the pseudo-dementia, for instance), suicidal thoughts and impulses, homelessness, unsupportive staff and family, and so on. The fascinating part is how relatable it is; this is a very specific life with considerations that aren’t universally applicable, and yet for me the writing was relatable and approachable, and I could connect with it and consider similar challenges in my own life.

It’s not all challenges though. There are many successes and realizations and small happinesses mixed together with the hard times.

Bez has written solid games before with interesting mechanics, as well as interactive essays that are more limited in scope and linear. This game combines a lot of the best of both, with a non-fiction emphasis but with more ways to interact. There’s no need to make autobiographical fiction ‘fun’, since it’s just a story of life, but I think that the features like graphics, music, and navigation improve the reader experience and increase the connection between writer and reader.

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My Pseudo-Dementia Exhibition on IFDB

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The following polls include votes for My Pseudo-Dementia Exhibition:

Outstanding Twine Game of 2023 by MathBrush
This poll is part of the 2023 IFDB Awards. The rules for the competition can be found here, and a list of all categories can be found here. This award is for the best Twine game of 2023. Voting is open to all IFDB members. Eligible games...

Outstanding Slice of Life Game of 2023 by MathBrush
This poll is part of the 2023 IFDB Awards. The rules for the competition can be found here, and a list of all categories can be found here. This award is for the best Slice of Life game of 2023. Voting is open to all IFDB members....

Outstanding Use of Interactivity in 2023 by MathBrush
This poll is part of the 2023 IFDB Awards. The rules for the competition can be found here, and a list of all categories can be found here. This award is for the an outstanding game of 2023 that felt truly interactive. Voting is open to...

See all polls with votes for this game

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