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About the Story'Castle, Forest, Island, Sea' is a choose-your-own-adventure story that explores key questions in philosophy. Where will your chosen path lead you? From bickering birds to scary monsters, choose your quest and find your way out of the castle.
There are nine chapters exploring key questions in philosophy and it will take approximately 30-60 minutes to complete your adventure. As you navigate through the story, the game will build up an idea of how you feel about these questions, and at the end of the game you'll receive an analysis of your choices and a map of how your opinions compare to different philosophers through the ages.
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The game's presentation via Twine is clean and sharp, with clear navigation and strategic use of images that almost look like woodcuts from a book of fairy tales. The writing is also very strong: lyrical without being forced, and--an important point in a game like this--not overly didactic. That is to say, I didn't feel throughout that I was somehow stuck in a philosophical experiment. Yes, the narrative was always informed by Big Philosophical Questions but the consistent tone and pacing gave the narrative a warmth that gave these questions more emotional weight. The birds who are your companions--blackbird and robin--take different sides of philosophical questions and what's fun is how you as a player/character feel like you've stumbled in media res into their own (rather friendly) arguments.
Besides that, the game meanders through many locations and scenarios, and one's choices always felt effective in moving the story forward in interesting ways. Some of the settings were from Fairy Tale (and perhaps Interactive Fiction?) Central Casting but it works in a game like this. There's a lot you can get away with when the writing is good.
My only real criticism:
(Spoiler - click to show)The game uses the "cycling link" macro in Twine, which allows one to scroll through various potential choices before settling on one--these are indicated in yellow. Here, I didn't quite understand how my choices in these links really affected the story. It didn't really indicate, if I settled on choice A, B, or C, how that moved the story forward--since there were OTHER choices (in blue links) that were the main story branches. And they were usually in the middle of a paragraph; so, for example, you'd give a response to a 3-headed giant but he would have the same reply to you, no matter what your choice was.
Although I only went through this once, it seems like this would have high replayability, which several alternate paths to take. The ending (Spoiler - click to show)also has a GREAT mapping function which showed you the paths you took through the story--and displayed which philosophers from history your choices aligned or clashed with. The connection to Open University's philosophy department didn't feel forced at all--this in itself is a fantastic achievement.
With lots of food for thought, a compelling story, and a strong sense of design, Castle, Forest, Island, Sea is well worth your time.
Like many online personality tests, Castle, Forest, Island, Sea suffers from the fact that life is too complicated to be boiled down into a questionnaire. This game does succeed in blending the questionnaire with the narrative so that you flow right along with the story. However, in many situations, the choices the player can select are too limiting for the game to generate an accurate analysis about the player's philosophical outlook.
For example… (Spoiler - click to show)after a man-eating three-headed giant has been defeated, the player is asked to either forgive or condemn one of the giant's heads. That head was a pacifist that disagreed with the other two heads for behaving violently. But without any detailed insight into this giant's history, into what arguments the third head had previously made against the others, into how much control each head truly exercised over the body, into how necessary meat-eating was for its diet, etc., I personally found it impossible to pass a judgement. There wasn't enough information. Of course, I had to pass a judgement to continue the game anyway.
Likewise, when confronted with a princess whose governing policies had allowed the giant to run rampant, the player must either criticize the princess for being too rational in her policy-making or agree with her that a person cannot be too rational. This seems beside the point, since one can implement poor policies while still attempting to act rationally. Again, without learning more details about precisely why and how the castle had been governed and what alternatives there might have been, I found it impossible to judge the princess.
When the game ended, my analysis was filled with unhelpful contradictions. I was told that sometimes I judge people harshly and that sometimes I'm forgiving. I agreed with the blackbird more often than the robin, but I also agreed with the robin and the blackbird about the same amount.
I suppose this muddled analysis does reflect my ambivalence toward many of the choices in the game, but it doesn't say anything. Despite that, I can't fault the game too much here, because I don't believe it's really possible to construct an accurate personality test. At least not in this fashion.
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