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Two Gems from 2019’s Interactive Fiction Competition
2019-12-11 · by Anya Johanna DeNiro
Congratulations to all the entrants in this year’s Interactive Fiction Competition, the 25th year it has been run (which also deserves congratulations). No matter where people placed, finishing and entering a game into a competition is laudable. So many hard drives and cloud drives are littered with unfinished games (my own included).
There were 82 games entered this year. With this embarrassment of riches, some curation is required to find games that might speak to you. Fifteen years ago, there was a much more centralized lexicon (if not quite a canon) of what constituted interactive fiction. Today there are many interactive fictions and many ideas of what it should be and try to accomplish, and all of this heterodoxy is presented together in the Competition. Which is not to say that it’s not valuable to venture outside your comfort zones once in a while. I am guilty myself of scanning the list of authors for familiar faces in the Comp. But very few people are going to be able to play all 82 games.
On that note, I wanted to focus on two games that didn’t make the top 10 that—while not perfect—really struck me, and definitely warrant your attention.
This game is essentially what I imagine Emily Is Away would look like if it wasn’t borderline toxic and manipulative. It’s also delightfully weird in its recursiveness. You are a neophyte poet logging into a poetry chat room and engaging in critiques. Much like other conversation-based games, the inflections of tone and responses will have a huge impact on the kinds of interactions you have with the other people in the chatrooms, who definitely (in quick brushstrokes) have their own sense of agency. What powers this narrative is the soap-bubble intensity of a tiny community, for better or worse. There are a ton of rich endings available, so if you are looking for a game with a wide variety of choices available to you to unlock, as well as a subversive musing on the power of creativity in a tight-knit circle, you might really enjoy this game.
This extraordinary game is one of my favorites in recent memory, and I’m stunned that it didn’t place higher. You and your partner Alice are traveling to an ancestral, abandoned place. Your relationship is strained; your choices when talking to Alice are tightly constrained and pointed. But the further you dig into the stories of the places your family told you about—filled with both poignancy and terror—the past begins to rush towards you, and the questions you have about your relationship with Alice and your own identity begin to multiply and unravel. Flawlessly implemented with a variety of complex text effects (which is no small feat to pull off smoothly) that complement the emotional arc of the piece where appropriate, The Good People is a powerful meditation on the ghosts of home and family.