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About the Story
Your job is to talk to people. Interview three patrons of the 'Mental Entertainment' virtual reality entertainment center in Dayton, Ohio, and determine if they have a problem. Conversation-driven parser IF.
Nominee, Best NPCs - 2019 XYZZY Awards
45th Place - 25th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2019)
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Number of Reviews: 3
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This is a conversational game, a difficult genre to do well. I was pleased at how this game handled the difficulties.
The game puts you in the role of a 'dependency evaulator' who must decide if people are unhealthily addicted to VR or not.
Each of the three people you discuss has strong opinions on political issues that are important to us and exacerbated in their future. Climate change, privatization of police and military, and war have made their mark on this world.
You are not required to feel any particular way yourself. If you hear someone go off on an opinion you don't think is justified, you can put their file in the 'bad' bin. The game doesn't judge you. It doesn't comment.
I liked it. Parser needed some touching up, especially dealing with names and their possessives (for instance, "Brian" wouldn't be a synonym of "Brian's file").
Conversation is usually hard because its either too linear or the state space grows too quickly. This game restricts the state space by telling you what to start with and that all new topics will be nouns in previous replies. Wonderful! Similar to Galatea in that respect.
I enjoyed the plausible and coherent fiction that held this game together. The environments were detailed and immersive, exploring three different realities that appeal to different characters. Each one is recognizable as “the kind of place you’d want to visit online,” but they have all been given enough description to prevent them from feeling washed-out and generic.
The game encourages you to talk with the characters to learn more about them and their motivations. Those conversations gradually reveal details about the world outside the simulation and why the characters have been flagged for being at risk of addiction.
In my opinion, the interactivity and the fiction worked well together. It gradually presented different parts of the story and allowed me to piece things together at my own pace. There’s no massive info-dump that screams “HERE IS THIS WORLD’S STORY.” Instead, you pick up on keywords and encourage the characters to provide more detail about those concepts.
If I was going to grumble, I’d say that it didn’t feel like I could *change* anything. I walked around, I looked at things, and I asked questions. And that was an appropriate stylistic choice! (Spoiler - click to show)All the characters were frustrated by the feeling that their actions in the "real world" couldn't make any lasting change. My powerlessness put me right there alongside them. And I questioned whether the assessor should actually be trying to change these characters — they might need to decide on their own that they have to change.
Mental Entertainment was a curious piece of IF. It is essentially puzzleless, and although conversational you don’t really get responses to anything but the set of keywords listed in ‘about’ and whatever the replies are to those. You are assigned the heavy task of assessing three people’s mental states and deciding whether they are addicts or not. However, the outcome is the same regardless of your decision; you do not get to see the consequences.
As such, as a work of IF, Mental Entertainment doesn’t really reach very far. What we are left with then is the fabula, the story behind the plot. In this, Mental Entertainment is slightly unique and somewhat cliché; we are exposed to a world of the future where everything right and real is gone, and where VR is the only reasonable escape. To me, this is a decent premise, and the world has been crafted with passion and care, but the IF aspects, or rather lack thereof, left me somewhat dissatisfied.
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