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.
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.
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.