"The skinny one" is a Twine game written by Annie Zinnen for the 2017 interactive fiction competition. According to the author's notes this game was written for a University funded summer research project. Together with "Bookmoss" that makes at least two competition authors who received university grants to write interactive fiction. Interesting development.
"The skinny one" caught my attention early in the competition. Prior to a mid-life career change I worked in university food service as a management dietitian. I did not provide direct treatment to students with eating disorders but I worked closely with others who did. It can be an emotionally wrenching subject and this was not the first game I wanted to play.
The "about" section describes the author's goals.
Ultimately, I hope that reading Claire's story gives you a better understanding of the mindset of those with EDs. While a "game" like this cannot act as a "mental illness simulator," and that is indeed not remotely my intention, I hope that experiencing Claire's story in this immersive genre will help illuminate the complexities of this disorder and raise awareness for it.
Given the immersive nature of the medium, I think the author should have aimed for more. "Mental illness simulator" sounds a little crass. But a great work of IF can put you into the mind of the specific PC. I can't help comparing this to "Will not let me go" which succeeds in making the player feel connected to a PC with Alzheimer's. The writing in "skinny one" is adequate, but I never really felt connected to this PC.
On the first play through I tried to save the PC from her eating disorder by making her eat whenever I could. On the second play through I made the opposite choices. In both cases I was just an outside observer trying to manipulate the PC one way or the other without ever feeling much of what she felt. Perhaps unintentionally this game worked as a "sociopath simulator" bringing out the manipulative worst in my own nature.
The story design is a heavily branched pathway, resembling early CYOA children's books in the sense that a seemingly minor choice (whether or not to answer a text message) can fundamentally change the direction of the story. In one game the PC volunteers at an animal shelter. In another she goes to class and gets in an argument. I didn't feel a lot of agency, meaning I didn't see a connection between the choices I made (whether to study or socialize with friends, whether to eat small portions or nothing) and the endings I viewed (whether to seek professional treatment or not.) The lack of agency contributed to my feeling of disconnection from this character.