Tag Archives: Interactive Fiction

Interactive Fiction: Proteus

Proteus is the sixth piece of interactive fiction I’ve played.

Interactive fiction can be thought of as on two dimensions, the extent to which the game focuses on the “player” (who he is, why he is there, and so on) and the extent to which the game focuses on the environment (the emotions it evokes, the thoughts it provokes, and so on).

This allows us to create a simple 2×2 matrix

Not Player Centered Player Centered
Not Environment Centered N/A The Novelist,
Depression Quest
Environment Centered The Stanley Parable, Proteus Dear Esther,
Gone Home

Like The Stanley Parable, Proteus focuses exclusively on the environment. But while The Stanley Parable is cognitive, subverting the expectations of players, Proteus is emotive, building up a perfect child-like world with no rules, no enemies, and no protagonists — only delight.

Most reviewers of Proteus, whether their impressions are positive and negative, play Proteus for less than an hour. Whimsy without people or danger may be a hollow emotion indeed.

I played Proteus in Steam Edition on my Surface Pro.

Interactive Fiction: The Novelist

The Novelist is the fifth piece of interaction fiction I’ve played, after Dear Esther, The Stanley Parable, Gone Home, and Depression Quest.

The game is not as beautiful as Esther, not as subversive as Stanley, not as political as Home, and not as spartan as Depression. Rather, it strives for realism and universality. In The Novelist you play a disembodied spirit capable of reading the minds, and impacting the choices of three characters: a novelist, his wife, and their child.

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The entire game takes place within a house. Additionally, information is limited. For instance, is the novelist’s goal of writing the novel simply self-actualization nonsense (which implies one set of choices) or the only hope of a family for income (which implies a dramatically different set). How accurate is your ability t read minds, and how much veracity do the thoughts of the family have? These questions are unanswered and, largely, unaddressed.

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Many reviewers noted they cried during the game (See Rock, Paper, Shotgun‘s review). Perhaps I’ve listened to many hours of Dave Ramsey, but I interpreted the opening scenario as a looming economic and relationship disaster, and proceeded accordingly. Without spoiling the ending, if you consider the advise of Penelope Trunk, I achieved a happy outcome for all involved.

I played The Novelist in the Steam Edition on my Surface Pro.

Interactive Fiction: Depression Quest

After reading about The Vanishing of Ethan Carter from Game Informer, I came across “Depression Quest.”

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“Depression Quest” is a hypertext-based depression simulator. Unlike the interaction fiction I recently reviewed, there’s no graphics engine: the “game” is a series of pages with a sound-track.

But it’s quite moving. The game shares themes with both Dear Esther and Gone Home, but by firmly placing the events in the real world the themes of sadness and loss are reinforced by an alarming veracity.

Depression Quest” is free, but you can pay what you want, and any funds go to a mental health charity.

Reviews of Interactive Fiction

Reviewed in this post:
Dear Esther
The Stanley Parable
Gone Home

I had the three best days of computer gaming in my life.

I used Steam (an app store, mostly used for Windows games) for the first time when it was required to use Half Life 2. My experience was so bad I’ve not touched it again for a decade.

But in ten years, a lot have changed.

Steam is now an awesome app store for computer games of all sorts, including interactive fiction. Unlike game which focus on fighting, shooting, or twitching, Modern interactive fiction focuses on telling a story thru the interface of a computer game.

Each of these “games” took between 2 to 5 to play. All were haunting.

The Most Haunting: Dear Esther

Dear Esther, a gorgeous video game that takes place outdoors on the Hebrides, revolves around three texts. The first appear to be written by the protagonist to a woman, Esther. The second is a fictitious history of the island, written by Donnelly. (A similar device is used in The Third Policeman, which constantly refers to works by the imaginary de Selby). The third is a passage from the Acts of the Apostles

Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.g

After finishing Dear Esther I felt much older, and much sadder. The feeling stayed with me for some time.

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The game has a beautiful soundtrack, that you can listen to for free on Spotifiy.

The Most Thought-Provoking: The Stanley Parable


(note the trailer above starts like a typical review. It’s not. It’s made by the people who created the game itself)

It’s extremely hard to describe The Stanley Parable without giving it away. The game is subversive in that word’s best sense — the best description I have heard is “Stanley is game that knows it is a game being played by those who know they are playing a game that knows it is playing a game.”

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Fortunately, Stanley Parable also has an amazing and free demo, which teases the meaning of the game without giving it away. You can play the free Stanley Parable Demo on Steam.

The Most Political: Gone Home

If I had not played The Stanley Parable and Dear Esther the day before and after I played Gone Home, Home would be one of the top games I’ve played in years. As it is Home is a fine game, and the story stays with you.

You begin Gone Home on your parents front porch after a trip abroad. A note from your sister tells you that she has left, and not to follow her. The dor is locked, and no one is home. While walking through the house you gradually discover what has happened — both in the last year and the last decades — with the artifacts left behind by the overlapping stories of your father, mother, and sister.

gone-home

As the pieces fit together, Gone Home takes on an increasingly strident tone, and you’re left with a very clear impression of which politicians and issues the authors support, and which they despise. The focus on issues that matter a great deal to many now — and will be largely irrelevant to those in the future — limits the appeal of Gone Home both to those who are around now (effectively excluding those of different voices) and in the future (who simply won’t care).

Conclusion

Interactive fiction is a beautiful, moving, and even controversial form of art.

The first video game was made in 1947. That means video games are 66 years old. By comparison, the first moving pictures were shot in 1841. 66 years later was 1907.

We are in the 1900s of video games.

The future is going to be incredible.