Saturday, October 14, 2017

"The Adventure of Esmeralda and Ruby on Magical Island" (review)

We had a conflict over the computer last night. My daughter (eight year old Addy) wanted to play ABCya! and I wanted to play interactive fiction. Reminding her how much she loved last year's "16 Ways to Kill a Vampire at McDonald's" I cajoled her off her game site to the IF competition page. My window was already opened to "Eat Me". Addy was intrigued by the cover art. I thought she might enjoy that one, but I'd already played it.

"The Adventures of Esmeralda and Ruby on Magical Island" by Marco "Eric108"Anastasio is the first in the alphabetic series which says "made up for children" so we launched that one.

In a non-specified period of time, once upon a time there were a brother and a sister.

Perhaps English is not the author's native language. I cringed at the opening line which is vague, redundant and cliched. Mind you, this is an entry for the 2017 Interactive Fiction Competition, not the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Competition. But as I was reading to my daughter, I silenced my criticism. I was reading for her, wasn't I? That's what I kept telling her.

I read aloud, hoping that once we reached a choice point she would feel engaged enough to take over. "Dad, this is boring. It's not active (interactive)". I was feeling the same way. How long would it take to reach a choice point?

On the upside, Addy enjoyed the art: vivid crayon and marker drawings rendered by a child's hand to illustrate the story.

On the ninth page, we reached a branch choice. As I hoped, Addy seized the computer and took over. She paused to read the choice options. Then raced through the text which followed, barely reading, just clicking and clicking trying to find another choice point. Again she criticized "This isn't active!"  She paused only for the art, "cool", "that's nice".

An important use of choice in children's lit is to teach active reading skills. To make the reader reflect on what they know and make a deliberate decision from that information. "Esmeralda" has effectively only one branch point: a choice between three locations with no previous context to make an informed decision. The choice is random. The branch later repeats itself two more times, forcing the reader to follow all three paths. "Esmeralda" could be improved with increased interactivity and reflective choice.

The graphic art was the bright spot of this game.

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