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About the Story"The original Pascal's Wager was essentially a cost/benefit analysis of religious faith. However, Blaise Pascal (a 17th century Catholic) disregarded the possible existence of non-Christian Gods. This game examines the consequences of Pascal's Wager on the player character's simulated life, if one of several other Gods occupies the high seat of judgement.
The game is medium length, with a number of basic puzzles integrated into the story. Though it has a philosophical theme, my writing style is on the lighter side."
- from the game's readme file
Winner of the Spring Thing 2008.
1st Place - Spring Thing 2008
|Average Rating: |
Number of Reviews: 4
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At first blush, it might appear that this is an invitation to explore or express one's own personal morality through the player character, by choosing and acting out an alignment. In practice, PW doesn't work this way. A specific god is selected as the true god on any given play-through; this is really a re-playable puzzle game where the desirable goals, and the correct solutions to puzzles, depend on which god currently rules the universe. Even if you pray to the right deity, he won't accept you as a true worshipper unless you've also lived by his precepts -- i.e., accomplished the correct goals in each scene, and performed them in the correct way. Viewed as a puzzle game, it's lightly amusing; the puzzles themselves are not usually very difficult in concept, but require rigorous exploration and occasionally feats of successful guessing, because the game does not always point the player at the relevant elements of a given scene. (I particularly had to rely on hints during the third of the game's three scenarios, because there are several items that are under-implemented and don't give the player enough feedback about what's there and how it can be used.) There are also some cosmetic flaws, such as erratic spacing, missing punctuation, and typing errors, which are occasionally distracting. The implementation in general is of a spare, old-school variety, with a few items per room, and the expectation that the player will explore a lot before expecting to resolve any puzzles.
Even so, I found Pascal's Wager moderately entertaining as a puzzle game, and increasingly so as I replayed the scenario a number of times and became familiar enough with the environment to guess what I should be doing.
I had a bit more trouble with it as a philosophical experiment. Pascal's wager is firmly grounded in the Christian idea that one will be judged in the afterlife on the basis of one's faith and behavior. Other religions and philosophical systems have very different ideas about the soul's journey; early Greek thought, for instance, tended to assume that only very major sinners were actively punished in the afterlife, and that one didn't dishonor the gods by worshipping the wrong ones, but by leaving some out. Greco-Roman religion was syncretistic and inclusive; it tended to accept foreign gods as versions of members of its own pantheon, and to blend and combine cults extensively.
The game also reveals its strong ties to Judeo-Christian tradition when it insists on assigning every religion a sacred text, and assumes that private prayer is a chief measure of devotion. Neither is especially true of classical paganism, at least: there was no sacred text about the Greco-Roman pantheon; priests did not have the job of interpreting and expounding dogma or giving worshippers instructions about how to live; and religion was a highly public affair, involving participation in the public sacrifices and festivals. (Spoiler - click to show)And arguably Mammon and Cthulhu work in quite different ways as well.
Finally, there's a lot more to the specific deities than these caricatures suggest. I don't know enough about Tenjin or Hanuman to have opinions about the way they were treated in the game, but it shortchanges Bacchus quite a lot to depict him as a god who simply wants to see humans drunk/stoned as much as possible (though I admit that this made for some mildly subversive gameplay). (Spoiler - click to show)Among other things, Bacchus is a god of escape; I felt that by rights I should have been able to pray to him in the prison section and have the doors of my prison fly open. I realize this goes against the idea that god never tips his hand to humans, implicit in the original Pascal's wager -- but on the other hand, I have this handy ivory die that is apparently a foolproof method of aleatory divination. So...
This may all be needless nit-picking, depending on what you are looking for in "Pascal's Wager". It is not an effective exploration of what it would mean to live by the religions it depicts (and, indeed, for all I've been complaining about the Christian assumptions applied to non-Christian cultures, even its version of Christianity is caricatured -- what happened to all the forgiveness and redemption business if you can only get into heaven by having lived a sinless life?).
It is also not a highly polished piece of interactive fiction. People who get bothered when some of the furniture can't be sat on will be unhappy with this game; it could have stood some more beta-testing, I think, especially in the last section.
It is entertaining as a re-playable puzzle game, and one which occasionally leaves the player with the pleasant sense that he's allowed to do whatever he wants, in accord with whatever morality he chooses.
That sense wears off again once you've explored enough of the game to understand how the mechanisms work -- but for a while it's good fun.
So in this game, a random God is chosen, and you have to lead a life that would please that god.
However, this game is more about wandering around than worshipping your God. The hints are adaptive at least, but it's hard knowing what you're supposed to do (that's the point). Your family worships one god, but that might not be the right god.
There are 3 scenes you play in. I've found ways to progress in them, but never got into heaven. Mostly because I'm not familiar with each God's Dogma. (Never really studied Cuthulu, or Mammon for that matter). That being the case, I'm not sure what my goals are. When God is catholic, should you get a part time job, or join the baseball team, or finish your homework?
As far as implementation, some things could be more polished. Attempting to take chemicals form the janitor closet even goes so far as to say "That's just scenery". There's also some books you can read as a child, and others you can't. I accidentially entered my own locker, and you can't move in a compass direction without first typing >GET OUT. A simple (first leaving the locker) would have been better.
Some of the hallways are too long, and could have been combined. I did find a very horrendous scene (Spoiler - click to show) in which a child puts his baby brother in the fridge which makes me wonder which God gives this as the "supposed to" ending.
With all the randomness, each playthrough offers something new, but it makes it very hard to know if you are doing anything right, and replays are re-randomized, so it's tough even to brute force your way through it. And in order to find out what God is in charge, you have to roll a magic die, and then figure out what the symbol on it means. Yes, in life you don't know which god is in charge, and that's the point, but the game could have focused less on solving puzzles (like getting a bat for the baseball game or getting into the library) and more on simple choices. (like whether you get a job or try out for baseball, without making it into a complex puzzle). The puzzle of pleasing a given god is enough without making the way you please them a puzzle as well.
I would definately be interested in further stories along this line, or other works from the author. I just think he was trying to do too much at once here, and it got away from him.
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