Saturday, October 12, 2013

IFComp 2013 Reviews--Imposter Syndrome

IFComp is an annual competition for short works of interactive fiction. "Imposter Syndrome" was published by Georgiana Bourbonnais, which is the pseudonym of an author who says they will reveal themselves at the end of the competition.  This is one of two games this year which mentions a tech conference in the blurb. It interests me to see which themes appear multiple times in the competition entries, something which happens every year without intentional planning.

"Imposter Syndrome" puts you in the shoes of a speaker at a tech conference. You are a skilled programmer, but you suffer from a crippling lack of self-confidence. Your fear of public speaking seems well justified, since you can't keep the audience's attention and your own mind wanders all over the place. Later in the presentation you are victimized by a cyber-bully, which ruffles your confidence even further. Your response (depending on your choices in game) is to either bottle up your feelings completely, or air them in an uncensored and largely ineffective way "ranting, almost shouting.... none of it is coherent."  In other words, you are a good programmer with weak professional communication skills.

I played several times. The hyper-text interface imposes some limits on player agency. However, during the end-game there are opportunities for multiple possible outcomes. The arguably "best" outcome is also the most difficult to find. The writing is good. The protagonist is well characterized through the writing, though with her many personal weaknesses, I don't find her a very admirable person.

Did I say that "you" (the character you play) is a black woman? Apart from any preconceptions you might have about the way a black woman behaves as a professional, those details aren't really relevant to the characterization.  However, the story puts that information front and center, framing it as an explanation (maybe even an excuse) for the character's myriad professional shortcomings. To me it felt like a 1970's cliché of an unconfident female professional. Something I'd expect to see in one of the periphery characters from a rerun of "That Girl" or "The Mary Tyler Moore Show".

I felt discomfort for this character during her presentation, and pity for her after the bullying. I would have liked to have found an ending where I could feel a little more respect.  But the writing is solid and I think this might finish in the top half of the competition.

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