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Nominee, Best Game; Nominee, Best Writing; Nominee, Best Story; Nominee, Best NPCs; Winner, Best Individual PC; Nominee, Best Use of Medium - 2000 XYZZY Awards
13th Place overall; 2nd Place, Miss Congeniality Awards - 6th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2000)
You're an unhappy teenager in an unpleasant Irish boarding school, remembering your happier younger days and putting up with the present as best you can. It's not very interactive, but it's an noninteractivity that serves the purposes of the story--the central character doesn't have the courage to speak honestly with others, so he hardly speaks at all, and the frustration the player feels mirrors the PC's frustrations. There are no puzzles, and the game essentially progresses whatever you do, but as a story and a characterization, it works extremely well.
-- Duncan Stevens
Play This Thing!
Fiction of Constraint
On the whole, Rameses is a better game to remember than to be playing. I remember it as a masterpiece, but part of the mastery has to do with the ruthless way it imprisons the player in its protagonist. Alex Moran is one of the most nuanced viewpoint characters in my experience of narrative games, but he's not fun to be. And yet, through the constraints of the game play, Rameses does trick the player into some tiny sympathy with him. In static fiction this person would simply be intolerable. As an interactive character he's also pitiable, and that's a major improvement.
-- Emily Short
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[...] Rameses manages to find the balance between turning the trials in question into melodrama (by exaggerating them) and making them too trivial to be compelling. Specifically, you're a teenager at a boarding school, enduring your two unpleasant roommates and your own homesickness, or something akin to it--and the roommates aren't monsters, they're just obnoxious. Nor is your character a misunderstood saint--he's flawed in many respects. The protagonist manages to elicit the player's sympathy despite (or perhaps because of) the game's refusal to demand such sympathy.
-- Duncan Stevens
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The writing is solid and has a lot of character -- in some places, possibly a wee bit too much character. Still, as in several other offerings this year, the style fit perfectly the mood and environs. It reads, to my mind, something like those TV shows where a character chooses to narrate the goings-on would were they in a written format, a trick that works with the right characters and situations... which this game has.
-- Tina Sikorski
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It is implemented well-enough but it is not a happy story. It wades through unpleasant adolescent experiences, and being stuck with a bunch of stereotypical boarding school students doesn't appeal to me at all.
-- Dorothy Millard
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>VERBOSE -- Paul O'Brian's Interactive Fiction Page
Playing this character is an exercise in frustration. Every command you enter that might stand up to a bully, or leave a bad situation, or just let the PC take charge of his life in any way is wistfully brushed aside with a message like "Yeah, that'd be great, wouldn't it? But I'll never do it." Annoying, yes, but it's also the very soul of the character, and the very point of the game. In a sense, Rameses turns you into Alex's real self, struggling to get out and be heard, struggling to make a difference, only to be smacked down by fear, insecurity, and sometimes outright paranoia. In his climactic speech, the PC voices the exact torment that the player feels at every prompt -- it's an agonizing experience, and that's the point.
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Number of Reviews: 6
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Most Helpful Member Reviews
Rameses is a day in the life of a disaffected, alienated teenager at an Irish boarding school. Appropriately enough given its protagonist, it's a study in constraint. As you pass through a series of increasingly squirm-inducing scenes, you the player will try again and again to break Rameses out of the rut his life has become, only to have the game -- or, rather, Rameses himself -- refuse your requests with a variety of lame excuses. The game thus manages the neat trick of using its facade of interactivity to make its point -- said point being Rameses's refusal to recognize the control he has over his own life. The game is as railroaded as they come, but the mechanics serve the theme of the game.
None of which means this is a pleasant play. There are no happy endings here. Rameses is unlikable even to us who have privledged access to his real thoughts, and exasperating in that way that only a clinically depressed person can be. And yet, even as we want to slap him repeatedly, we also can perhaps begin to understand what it must be like to live in the prison he has made for himself. His one saving grace is that, unlike the bullies and fawners who surround him, he at least feels shame at his repeated moral failings.
I never want to play another game like this. Its central gimmick -- and I don't mean that word perjoratively -- will work exactly once. Here, though, it works brilliantly, even movingly.
The short version of this review: in Rameses, you wait around and talk to some people where the conversation is pretty much already decided, and life stinks, though it's way less blunt than that. I've written shorter reviews about much longer games.
It's certainly less blunt than my college-years "I can't move" style fiction. I wrote long stories and short stories, sure there was a much bigger difference than there really was. I probably had the right idea why I shouldn't write too much of it--it's just no fun for anyone involved, done straight up, though all the same, having a more public outlet might've helped me move on earlier.
And Rameses does capture this frustration, much better than so many recent Twine games that discuss emotional issues. It's beyond just useful therapy. I admit I shut the game down twice when starting just because I didn't want to put up with a bunch of profanity TODAY, if you please, even in a short game. So I had my own Rameses moments with respect to something that is not really a great task, abstractly.
What gives Rameses most of its success is how the conversations are structured--there is only one end, regardless of how many clever things you may think up that you could say, or someone more spontaneous could say. It deflates a convention of text adventures where someone's funneled into asking about something, and we sort of buy into it for plot purposes, or suspend disbelief, or appreciate a fourth-wall joke. But here, there's a helplessness whether you go with or fight the flow, like when (Spoiler - click to show)you're forced to guess the price of a pair of a rich fellow student's jeans, which he may be lying about anyway. This was the high part for me--NPC "lets" the PC and the player have "fun," or pretty much all the fun they deserve to have, and they have nothing better to do...right?
Now pretty much any work can shut off hope and it'll be given some credit for ripping open the honest underbelly of human nature by some crowd. I've read far too many of them, but I think Rameses deserves good credit for the brief episodes where you daydream, or observe things you can't speak about, or have chances where it'd make sense to say the obvious, and fail. It's just that Rameses's scope is limited by its own subject. There are only so many ways you can say you utterly have no choice. Rameses finds many and executes things well without overstaying, but my snarky side has to wonder how many people who hail it are partially praising themselves for getting through it unscathed, because they remember being a bit like that in college or high school, whether or not they swore too much in public or in our minds.
Not that I'd have the courage to say this to Stephen Bond's face, mind. I'd be too worried he'd laugh and, truthfully, say "That's the point." Or something even cleverer.
This isn't really a game, and as the author says in the ABOUT, it isn't really a story either: "All I can call it is a Thing." There is very little interactivity; your agency basically consists of what order to look at things in, and your conversational choices make pretty much no difference to the story. There are reasons for this, particularly as regards the conversations, but I did find it a bit frustrating sometimes, as if I was being made to type meaningless strings of characters before being rewarded with the next section of story.
The writing and characterisation are both very good, and Rameses does seem to be very well-regarded, but it just didn't do it for me.
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