Keys Of A Gamespace

Keys of a Gamespace

A short while back, a link was posted on an academic games listhost to a title developed by a French academic who used to work for Ubisoft. Here’s how I parsed that: Expect slightly contorted language, obvious metaphors, taboos, and a fairly clear message from what should be a reasonably well constructed, if short, game.

I wasn’t wrong, but I certainly didn’t grasp all of what I was walking us into. For example, I wish I had known to post this:

Trigger warning: This game involves meeting a man who admits to photographing himself sexually abusing female children. Although the abuse itself is not depicted, the scene of the crimes is shown.

I think that we were mostly too stunned to talk very seriously about the game once we’d experienced it. Here’s a short synopsis of the game on a couple levels, which I’ll follow with some thoughts and questions.

Synopsis:
A man’s female significant other (his “princess”) is angry that he spends too much time on his computer (he’s starting a raid at the time). She wants more attention, and she wants a child. She offers an ultimatum and leaves to spend the night at her mother’s house. The man then walks out of the room into a series of four doors. The first three doors bring the man to a scene from his past. The fourth door is locked, but when unlocked leads to three “deeper” doors. Through completeing one or two short andventure-game puzzles, the man receives a key to unlock the fourth door. Along the way, the player/man faces two sets of choices. He can either forgive the apologizing pedophile or kill him, and the man can respond that he believes in free will or that he believes that humans are victims of larger forces than themselves. As the game ends, text briefly analyzes the two choices and confronts the player with the philosophical stance that the two choices represent.

The specifics of the story are ... heavy. It’s reavealed at the end of the game that the man is not just playing games, but he’s struggling with very serious questions about his past, his future, and whether he should be part of creating and rasing a child. Ultimately, he decides to make a game to help explain his situation and the questions he’s struggling to answer.

We had some trouble with the broadcasting program I used, but you can see clips of our screening here.

Discussion:
I am struck by the notion that such a short game having such emotionally weighty content may distract players from engaging. While the game ends up directing you to confront the philosophical ramifications of your choices, it has already gone through a diamond-smuggling father who abandons his family in order to live in a cabin where he abuses girls. Then there’s the choice of stabbing your father with scissors, and finally a floating fetus connected to a giant clock via umbilical cord. This all seems to be a bit too raw to allow for the sort of carefully removed consideration that I would normally associate with the Free Will debate. It feels like the game overextends itself in an effort to prove that games can tackle disturbing social issues and high-minded intellectualism. But all that in a game that takes maybe 30 minutes?

The game’s mechanics include perhaps four straightforward puzzles and two binary choices. There’s no challenge, and nothing that I would explicitly call a “win” state. So I wonder: Is this a game, or more an interactive narrative that asks two big, blunt questions? I don’t presume that one is more valuable a format than the other, but I feel that the interactive format isn’t put to much use here. Feel free to disagree.

Next time:
This week, Allen “Pyroman” Cook will lead a screening of ParaNoir, a surrealist Noir interactive fiction game. Keep an eye on our Fringe Busters Twitter feed for details.

Comments

This sounds horrifying. I watched some of those clips and, well, the guy with the camera was definitely creepy. Don't know why you didn't stay and get your photo taken.

Hi,

Thanks a lot for this interesting review. One more thing that has to be mentioned is that the game is available for free in three different languages (French, English, Portuguese) at http://www.expressivegame.com

Sébastien.

I played through this shortly after the screening and found it to be more like an interactive storybook than an actual game. Here's what I got out of it:

+ It's not a bad format for telling a story.
+ The length is right. 30 minutes is about all I'd want to go through if I wanted to go back and see different endings.
+ Graphics and sounds were well done. The music in particular stood out.
+ It was very artsy.
+ It was adult oriented without being purely sexual in nature. That can be difficult to find these days.

- I felt more like I was being led by the nose than like I was exploring. The latter would have made the experience more enjoyable. As it is, there's a thin illusion of choice throughout, with very few actual choices.
- There wasn't much of a "game" quality. A sense of challenge or fun was non-existent, though there was a sense of interest.
- The fetus clock stuck out like... well... a fetus clock. I don't think that portion fits in well with the rest, though the dialogue is fine.

LouZiffer wrote:

The fetus clock stuck out like... well... a fetus clock.

There's your box quote!

The game had an instructional feel to it. I think that the game was designed as a demonstration of the literary merits of the video game format, aimed at those who are interested in literature, and yet game illiterate. Which is why it must apply such a crude, blunt hammer.

What is the literary equivalent of a tech-demo?

wordsmythe wrote:

the game doesn't esteeming you very highly as a player

You were once my hero. You're dead to me now.

Nathaniel wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:

the game doesn't esteeming you very highly as a player

You were once my hero. You're dead to me now.

Oh man! That's what I get for rephrasing a sentence and not checking.

RoutineMachine wrote:

The game had an instructional feel to it. I think that the game was designed as a demonstration of the literary merits of the video game format, aimed at those who are interested in literature, and yet game illiterate. Which is why it must apply such a crude, blunt hammer.

What is the literary equivalent of a tech-demo?

I've heard terms like "vignette" and "sketch" used.

I think you're right. To a certain extent, the game spends enough energy trying to prove points—points that I would concede as basic assumptions about the medium—that it loses something. I felt a tension because the game doesn't esteem you very highly as a player, but it also goes further in terms of metaphor in the adolescent-door scene than I would expect from most games.

Oh man! That's what I get for rephrasing a sentence and not checking.

That's OK. Really I still esteem you a lot.

I feel it. I feel esteemed.

I deesteem you, words.

Quintin_Stone wrote:

I deesteem you, words.

Look me in the mustache and say that.