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Unicorn Story

by Conrad Cook

Fantasy
2012

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Number of Reviews: 1
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A proper unicorn., February 27, 2017
by CMG (NYC)
This is short hypertext fiction that takes less than ten minutes to play. It's not a game exactly. It was written with a system called Ramus that functions like the Jonah format in Twine. When you click a hyperlink, new text appears at the screen's bottom, but the old text remains visible above. Hyperlinks that haven't yet been clicked also remain active, which means that the player needs to go back and click links they've previously passed.

The result is a textual jumble. Links will appear that you can open in any order, and the text segments they spawn don't line up and organize themselves. Navigating these links in various orders will not lead to different outcomes either. You always reach the same conclusion. Rather, the intent is to create a jumble.

That's because the game takes place almost entirely in mental space. There are only a few lines of physical description, but otherwise everything is internal dialogue.

What has happened is this: a unicorn has put its head on a maiden's lap. According to legend, the best way to bait a unicorn is with a maiden, and this maiden is being used as bait. With its head on her lap, the unicorn can read her thoughts, and its thoughts become jumbled with hers during their mind-merger.

That's what the interactive hyperlink format accomplishes. It mirrors the mind-merger in the story. Although the story has a traditional beginning, middle, and end, presenting it as static fiction would not have conveyed the same concept.

Now, with the technical side covered, what about the story? It's very simple. A one-act play, if you will, with two main characters. But a lot is going on in this small space.

I'm a unicorn fan. Not the rainbows-and-sparkles unicorns. The haughty, wild unicorns that gore and trample people. Those are the ones I like. There is so much bound up in legends about them. Slice through the unicorn and you'll expose strata about gender, class, public and private power dynamics, sex, spirituality, and I could go on, etc. And all these things come to a head when a maiden encounters a unicorn during a hunt.

Both maiden and unicorn in Unicorn Story are archetypes, but both are also real characters with real conflicts. Both have their own voices. I'm particularly happy with the unicorn's characterization, because this story gets it right. You won't find any innocent forest creature here. Instead the unicorn is arrogant, vicious, manipulative (it can read the maiden's thoughts, but she doesn't know this). The maiden, meanwhile, is no shrinking violet. She has her own stakes in the hunt and grapples directly with her role as bait.

It's fascinating to see these two characters twist and turn to alternately accept, deny, and justify their motives for putting themselves into this situation. As I said, the story's very short, and yet in its small space there are revelations and double-crosses. But nothing is rushed. Nothing is heavy-handed. More is packed into each line of dialogue, and especially into its tone, than you might realize at first.

Just like the legends it's based on, you could mine Unicorn Story for a long time and keep finding new things to say about it.