Friday, October 23, 2015

A Figure Met in a Shaded Wood (review)

"A Figure Met in a Shaded Wood" is a web based interactive fiction by Michael Thomet entered in the 2015 Interactive Fiction Competition.

The PC is a vagabond, asked to make a series of choices during his journey through the woods, prior to an encounter with the figure described in the title and blurb.  I played three times, and then began to develop some new understanding of the meaning of the blurb.

The writing was good enough to hold my interest through what was only about a fifteen minute game (depending on how many times you replay, your times may differ).  The vagabond character is described in what I thought were self-consciously gender neutral pronouns.  I guess that's the trend in writing now, but I thought the prose would have read more smoothly with "he" or "she" rather than repeatedly "they".  There appeared to be some minor bugs in tracking the players choices.  But the players choices are tracked, which makes this a more sophisticated programming effort than many of the Twine games I've played.

Major Spoilers after the break.

I played three times before taking another look at the "hint" in the blurb.  Another reviewer, Alexander Yakovlev, has decompiled the code and confirmed my suspicions.

The blurb says
Those brave enough to approach the figure are never heard from again, and those who ignore the figure never have the encounter again.

The player is mislead into believing that the Vagabond can escape death by changing their choices.  At a certain point, the author breaks the fourth wall to begin addressing the player directly, teasing the player to try other choices, to help the Vagabond escape death.

But the Vagabond really has no agency.  They can do nothing that the player hasn't instructed them to do.  Only the player has agency or free will.

The only way to escape death in this game is for the player to ignore the encounter, to turn off the game.  It is not possible for the Vagabond to ignore the encounter, or change the outcome, as long as the player continues.

I had some respect for this meta-game design.

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