[center]"Somewhere else is, perhaps, understatement."
-- Aaron A. Reed, Blueful[/center]
What the hell is Blueful?
On the surface, Blueful--half-short story, half-viral marketing--is a surreal, follow-the-link-style scavenger hunt.
As the "player"--and I use that term very loosely--you cruise Web 2.0's most familiar destinations, searching for prose fragments and story snippets among the user-created content. Like a tourist on vacation, you make momentary pitstops at Cafepress.com, Google Calendars, Livejournal, Flickr, Last.fm and more, all the while piecing together a broken narrative. Essentially, Blueful uses the Internet itself as a mechanism for its storytelling, which is weird and brilliant and makes you wonder why nobody has done it before. Go check it out. It only takes 20 minutes, from start to finish. I'll wait.
Done? Okay. So: What the hell is Blueful?
Technically, I suppose, Blueful is interactive fiction, but only in the most literal of senses. While you can "flip the pages", so to speak, you can't influence the narrative at all, except for a single choice at the end of the game. In some ways, this linearity reminds me of the classic Photopia, one of my favorite interactive fiction games of all time.
But for interactive fiction, Blueful's narrative is woefully inadequate.
As far as I can decipher, Blueful is about an artist who loses his mind and decides to retreat into his paintings. While fleeing fame and generally exploring the joys of lunacy, he shacks up with a mysterious woman in the mountains. Then he struggles with commitment issues, while watching a wolf kill a moose.
It didn't make sense to me, either.
Of course, I admit I may have entirely misread the plot of Blueful, as the narrative itself is a mishmash of obnoxiously self-aware poetry and nonsensical metaphors. For a Vladimir Nabokov fan, I have startlingly little patience for pretentious art; I only played about five minutes of Braid before rolling my eyes and switching to Lumines.
With its e.e. cummings-esque presentation and florid adjectives, I found Blueful especially frustrating. As soon as you think the narrative has finally become clearer and more intelligible, it swerves right back into whackadoo territory.
What's worse is that with all the clicking and cutting and pasting (Blueful forgoes embedded hyperlinks), it's almost impossible to hold onto the thread of the story – or even what you read just five seconds ago. In particular, I found it difficult to remember plot points when the pages transitioned from sound to text, like the switch from Youtube.com to Zoho.com. Thus, you’re left with only the vaguest flash of plot and character, which doesn't offer much context for the overrought, surrealist imagery.
It's almost funny: Here's a piece of interactive fiction where the story sucks, but the gameplay really sings.
Perhaps I'm being too harsh on Blueful. After all, it is just a viral marketing stunt for Aaron Reed’s new work, Blue Lacuna. But I'm disappointed by its wasted potential. As an interactive fiction writer, Aaron A. Reed is brilliant; his previous game, Whom the Telling Changed, is one of those rare knock-your-socks-off, can't-stop-thinking-about-it-even-at-3-AM kind of titles. And while it's just as heady and intellectual as Blueful, it suffers from none of the same pomposity. I hate to think that Reed was being intentionally obtuse here, in the hopes that players would download Blue Lacuna just to find out what the heck is going on.
But what bothers me more is that, even if Blueful is just a marketing tool, its gimmick is genius. This rambling tour through Web-icana, passing through the Internet's best landmarks and tourist traps and hidden gems – it really makes you feel like the virtual world, in which we spend so many hours and days, is a real, physical landscape, one that could be captured on a postcard and sent to Grandma. It's like a love letter to the Internet, in the vein of Shadow’s romp through American roadside attractions, or Steinbeck and Charley’s jaunt on the Rocinante. Even though I hated the story, I never wanted the telling of it to end.
But interactive fiction hinges on the strength of its narrative, and a gimmick will only last you so long.
Blueful is fiction that fails at its basic function, like poetry without rhythm or a play without dialogue. And yet, it also transcends that function, pioneering genuinely unique storytelling possibilities that I hope others will explore further. Despite all its flaws, the exercise is worth checking out.
What the hell is Blueful? I have no idea. But I want to do it again.