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About the Story
You can go home when you learn to be good.
Winner, Best Game; Co-Winner, Best Writing; Winner, Best Story; Nominee, Best Setting; Nominee, Best NPCs; Winner - The Bogeyman, Best Individual NPC - 2018 XYZZY Awards
2nd Place overall; 3rd Place, Miss Congeniality - 24th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2018)
McT's Interactive Fiction Reviews
What begins as a fairly unsettling depiction of this child’s imprisonment by the bogeyman, turns into something darker. And then darker again. It builds slowly, this horror. It pulls no punches – all your worst imaginings of what might happen to children who can’t learn to be good are here. All moving towards an inevitable, uncompromising conclusion.
...If I had a criticism of this game, it would be that I would have liked to have had more in the way of a result of some of my choices – there are many times when I can make a decision to be, for example, nice or nasty to the other children – it would have been nice to have had those choices gradually reflected throughout the game.
This is my favorite choice game of the competition so far. 9/10
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The Interactive Fiction Community Forum
Bogeyman postmortem (by the author)
Hey! I’ve written a long, spoilery postmortem about my ~process.~ [...] I have a lot to say. I hope somebody will find part of it either interesting or useful.
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Number of Reviews: 8
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OH, MY WORD. I'm tense by the third screen or so of this game. I'm still a little tense, having played through it twice now. I'm so glad I played this game in the morning. I think it would have given me nightmares if I had experienced it right before going to bed.
Bogeyman is a choice-based horror game. Horror is one of my least-favorite genres. When horror doesn't work, it usually just feels dumb to me. If it does, then why am I reading fiction or watching a movie, just to be scared? Real life is scary enough as it is (just glance at a random day's headlines); why should I seek it out? But I'm playing through the games in this Comp and trying to give feedback, so I played Bogeyman anyway.
Maybe because I don't seek out horror in fiction much I'm more sensitive to it. Whatever the reason, I am still tense, even though I'm now three paragraphs into this review. Okay, deep breaths. I'll try to be objective from here on.
The blurb and cover hint well at the menace to come, especially the tagline: "You can go home when you learn to be good." Then you start the game, and you're faced with basic white text on a black background. This, the simple font, and the spare writing together just ooze menace. Something about the choices being in all caps enhances it, too.
I don't know that I want to say much about the content, other than that it is terrifying. For some reason (Spoiler - click to show)the prayer at the table, "We are truly grateful for what we have," was one of the worst moments. I suppose it's that effect of "Not only can I make you physically experience these horrifying events, I'm going to twist your soul so much that you'll be thankful for the horror." Then combine that with the fact that it's being done to children, in a perversion of a simple act of gratitude that many of us daily choose to make... Shudder.
The absolutely worst thing I've done in IF - ever, in any game - in terms of how it made me feel, was (Spoiler - click to show)eating Grace. Eating Grace! After saying grace! It would be kind of funny if it weren't so awful.
Despite my dislike of horror as a genre, I don't think I regret playing this game. Even while I'm feeling what I'm feeling, I'm thinking, "Wow. What an amazing piece of art, to be able to produce this reaction from me."
My conclusion: Bogeyman is an excellent horror game. Play it, and experience it for yourself. Just not right before bedtime.
I wrote the above review on the authors' forum during IFComp 2018 right after playing Bogeyman. It led to a discussion among several of us about the themes in Bogeyman, as well as horror in general. I had always thought that the primary (sole?) purpose of horror is to frighten or disgust people, and those are not experiences that I've ever been interested in seeking out. However, the authors' conversation convinced me that horror can be used effectively in the service of worthwhile artistic goals.
For example, Chandler Groover argued that Bogeyman does an excellent job of making the player feel what it's like to live with an abuser. It's not a pleasant experience, but it's true, in the sense that there are people who do live under an abuser's power. It's important that we know this - and that there is art out there like Bogeyman that can dramatize it for us.
So, I no longer stand by my dismissive comments about works of horror in the second paragraph of my original review. Horror is still not going to be my go-to genre, but I have a much deeper appreciation for it than I did before I played Bogeyman.
That makes Bogeyman one of only a handful of works I've experienced that have been integral in changing my view of an entire genre.
(Warning: This review might contain spoilers. Click to show the full review.)[Abduction, violence against children, abuse]
Although the titular character is framed as the bogeymen of children’s stories, to another eye - an adult eye, probably - he is a more quotidian, though no less terrifying variety of criminal. Fairytale elements meld easily with real-life methods of cruelty and control: the strange food and drink; the deserted cabin in the middle of the woods; turning frightened people on each other.
Bogyeman is largely linear, but where there are choices, they are difficult - emotional dilemmas most of them, choices between self-gain and protecting your fellow captives.
In other aspects, it’s simply a good game. Its slick design reminds me of A Good Wick, though much more readable. The layout of choices, especially where they concern exploring a space, are laid out to reflect that space. This has been one of the things that I found difficult when building a map of the story world during choice-based games. The directions I can explore are almost always laid out in lines of text, which I must translate in my head to how they would look on a diagram.
Bogeyman is certainly not an easy-going read, but grim and focused and well worth playing.
I first had the pleasure of playing Bogeyman in an IF Meetup group, and of meeting the author, Elizabeth Smyth. Before the playthrough, she felt the need to give us a trigger warning. The game does indeed include scenes of cruelty towards children.
What impressed me right away about the game was its presentation. A choice-based game, Bogeyman’s links are presented at the bottom of each scene in a grid formation, separated by white lines, which is very effective. A glow effect around the text of each link on mouseover was a nice touch. The choice of a fixed width font for the Bogeyman’s dialogue was less successful, however. There are also a few illustrations, of which I would like to have seen more, and some suitably eerie music.
One thing that parser-based games tend to be better at than choice-based games is creating a sense of place, but Bogeyman, a choice-based game, left me with a very clear mental picture of the Bogeyman’s mountainside hovel and its surroundings. The child-kidnapping title character on the other hand is more of a cypher - we are given only glimpses, and this also works very effectively. One gets the feeling that description is absent because none of the children can bring themselves to look at him.
Also well evoked was the sense of a daily routine, which serves as a reminder of how quickly we tend to normalise a terrible situation.
Bogeyman is a long game, and I only had time to play through it once during the competition, but I’ll certainly be returning to it now that the comp is over.
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