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1981

by Anonymous

Historical
2001

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Number of Reviews: 4
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Psychologically strong, though not very interactive by majority standards, May 20, 2013
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: Inform, thriller
In 1981, you play a man stalking a woman. If "play" sounds light, perhaps it's more accurate to say you are almost chained to the actions of a man in the grip of erotomania (a deluded and obsessive romantic fixation). Due to the shortness of the experience, I will omit further description of either of the main characters, as I can imagine how some players may prefer not to know certain fundamental details of the setup going in. What is certain is the strength of the writing, which thoroughly sinks you into the headspace of the obsessed protagonist, and into his vivid fantasy life.

At the rawest level of game mechanics, 1981 caters to very few player actions; it is what is typically called linear. The obsessed PC imparts clear thoughts in the prose about the next important course of action, and it's generally a waste of time trying anything else. What's interesting is the extent to which this approach could be considered to work well with the subject matter of this game. The psychological disorder at work here is characterised by the subject's complete resistance to all attempts to convince them that the situation is other than they believe it to be. Perhaps this is the best "excuse" for linearity that there can be.

This raises the question of what the player's role is here. "Creepy" and "uncomfortable" have been common review descriptions of the experience of playing 1981. Players tend not to like playing "bad" characters in realistic situations, or even facilitating their actions. I think this remains a difficult or weak point for the prospects of certain kinds of storytelling being done with IF. 1981 may again supply its own solution with its subject matter. With the PC's character being presented so monomaniacally, the player is likely to feel a degree of separation from the PC's actions. If you try to break off the path, the PC either doesn't want to do your thing because it's irrelevant to his plans, or your thing isn't implemented, or both.

It would be difficult and tedious for me to try and describe how 1981 could work as easily as a short story as IF. I think it could, and in that form it would be clear of the "playing a villain" hurdle. But it works in this form with the caveats that you must play the villain and accept mechanical linearity, positions which are unpopular and still querulous to many, respectively. What you will get for this is the sensation that you are shackled to the PC's ruinous path and that there's no getting off. This kind of story trajectory fascinates me because being privy to the amount of effort that a human can devote to going entirely the wrong way in life is strangely illuminating about our capabilities as a species. 1981 is a psychologically strong excursion into this territory though with little extra implementation and also an interesting demonstration of one way to traverse a lot of difficult IF terrain to do with unlikeable protagonists and realism.

Spoiling background on the game: (Spoiler - click to show)This is an imagined recreation of the real case of John Hinckley Jr. and his obsession with actress Jodie Foster, resulting in his assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan. I knew about the case before playing the game, but the game doesn't reveal who the parties are until halfway through. I experienced a minor letdown at the moment of revelation, to an extent, only because I then felt I knew what was going to happen. But inevitability is such a strong part of this game anyway - this was really just my idiosyncratic reaction and no reflection on the game.

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Wade Clarke, May 20, 2013 - Reply
Thanks Peter.

Re: the second point - I wasn't talking about this game, but IF in general. I was saying that I think some stories are difficult to tell in IF because of player aversion to playing bad characters. This isn't a problem (or at least as much a problem) for a novel or film where you don't have to play them yourself, though a lot of people still don't want to watch films driven by unlikeable characters on a case-by-case basis. So I do consider that a weak point of this medium,At least as a person interested in telling those kinds of stories from the inside, and feeling like I wanna try doing it in IF, maybe just because of the challenge of working out how.

To use a quite blatant example, an IF game with a serial killer protagonist may repel all players before it's even begun. I wouldn't blame 'em. In a basic sense, who wants to participate in torture and murder at length? Even if these events comprised 10% of the game and 90% was about the life that turned down this path, that'd be enough to repel a lot of people. I was personally surprised when players were reluctant even to slap a pig in "Sentencing Mr Liddell", but I don't doubt that they were for the reasons they said they were.

So it's not that you can't make a game involving a serial killer (EG you could play the detective), a murderer or just a bad person, but I believe it's hard to make a game where you play one in a not-entirely-resistant sense. At least in a realistic setting.
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