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About the Story
In this satire, you play as a young American man who loves old puzzle-based IF. You are also racist, sexist, and prone to believe in conspiracies. While playing Infidel, you learn that a secret society called the Cabal is behind the trend to make IF more story-based and a lot less fun. Learn who's in the Cabal and stop their evil schemes!
Nominee, Best Story - 2004 XYZZY Awards
"The Cabal is a hilarious and highly polished game, one that should be played by anybody who has more than a passing interest in interactive fiction." (Greg Boettcher)
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Number of Reviews: 6
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This game has a lot going for it in respect of craft: it's well-written by someone with a keen sense of humor; the characterizations are often amusing; though the game is quite linear, the pacing works pretty well and I rarely felt bored.
The problem with it is its huge self-indulgence. This is a work, now several years old, about contemporary rec.arts.int-fiction politics. It is peppered with endless references to newsgroup personalities and squabbles that people outside the IF community are unlikely to understand, and even for those of us who were around at the time, it ages badly. A few years down the line, it's likely to need a critical commentary to make sense.
I don't have a ton of conspiracy theories, myself, but for so long, I was simply unable to tell theorists to stop with that nonsense, already, whether it was about workplace, classroom or global politics. It's so tempting to listen, because that stuff's imaginative if you haven't heard it, yet it dies out.
Fortunately, conspiracy theory is fertile ground for satire, and The Cabal hits a lot of good points. It collapses several favorite political theories, places and lore into being about text adventures. This highlighted, to me, how conspiracy theorists like the me-me-me angle while really it's just more about an uncaring world and people willing to accept how things are to get by.
There's only one potentially vicious part. Though most characterizations are clear jokes, one personality is depicted as living at Ruby Ridge, which left me uncomfortable enough to look for an explanation. I got one here--well, at an archive.org copy of it--and was impressed. The essay's worth it even if it's a necessary distraction from an otherwise free-flowing game, because it hits on conspiracy theories some writers have when really it's about laziness or time limitation. It's also nice to have conspiracy literature that actually cleans things up.
I found the puzzles worked as conspiracy debunkers by giving you the opportunity to go off on useless tangents. So many of them (Spoiler - click to show)give the solution up front, then provide absorbing writing so it's possible to get caught up in details that utterly don't matter. The final maze is particularly funny, as (Spoiler - click to show)the game seems far more likely to trap you if you map it by UNDOing.
The author did the right thing by throwing a large chunk of this work into multiple-choice conversation. It establishes the character-player as someone with bizarre thoughts but never really kicks him--it's more about outlining your basic conspiracy theory fallacies. It's good for a thoughtful laugh, even for someone who wasn't present when the game was released.
This game was one of my favorite types of IF: fast, action-packed thriller games. It is a string of conversations mixed with intermittent, simple puzzles.
The plot is just references to old IF groups. The idea is that there is a cabal of authors that all support each other and hang out and act as gatekeepers. To some extent, I think this is true. IF is a small group, all the big authors and many others know each other well, and they organize stuff with each other. But this is normal; everyone craves companionship and wants to be part of a group. Cabals and cliques form in the academic world for the same reason. And the IF cabal seems to have open membership. If anything, I think the cabal(s) wish that everyone would join them.
I wasn't around during the events of this game, but it didn't diminish my enjoyment of the game. The game parodies right wing sexist men, which I think anyone can enjoy. It mentions Graham Nelson and Andrew Plotkin, which are still fairly familiar names. And everyone is characterized in such a silly way that it really doesn't matter who they are. There were two or three characters I never heard of, but it doesn't matter.
Overall, a fun game. It really does spoil Infidel by Mike Berlin a lot, so watch out for that.
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