Saturday, October 10, 2020

You Couldn't Have Done That

"You Couldn't Have Done That" by Ann Hugo is a short (fifteen minute) Twine story which puts the player into the shoes of teenager on the autism spectrum, who has just begun her first day on the job at a shopping mall clothing store where she doesn't know anyone. She is anxious. Who wouldn't be on their first day? But her spectrum diagnosis adds another layer to that anxiety. (limited spoilers below the cut break)




Interactive Fiction (and Twine specifically) has long been a vehicle for helping the player connect with other marginalized people. For a while there, games of this sort seemed like a Twine cliché, much as dungeon crawls were a parser fiction cliché. But to the extent that there are as many types of marginalization as there are people, this theme doesn't have to be cliché. Indeed, I've had trouble finding other IF titles that tread on the subject of autism. There are no lists in IFDB that include the term. While searching, I did find this article by Adam Cadre relating parser fiction and autism

Regarding "You Couldn't Have Done That", the characterization is mostly subtle. A description of colors or sounds, without directly saying "this triggers the PC". A different author might have used bright backgrounds and timed text to disorient even the neurotypical reader, the way the stage version of "The Curious Instance of the Dog in the Night" uses flashing lights and loud sounds to bring the audience closer to the experience of the autistic protagonist. In "You Couldn't" the author has chosen a neutral background and large font text which varies from black only at the links. The writing is descriptive, but concise.

The game is linear. Often there is only a single clickable link. Early choice points seem inconsequential: whether to eat a donut or a cinnamon bun. I played through mostly in character, so I missed the meaning of the title "You Couldn't Have Done That" until late in the game.  If the player does something out of character for this atypical protagonist, the story forbids the action "You Couldn't Have Done That". Late in the game, there are points where all available actions deliver this response, representing the PCs sense of increasing helplessness.

I appreciated that the content warning appeared in-game (not on the competition site) and that reading the content warning is optional. I read it, but at the end wondered whether it enhanced my sense of foreboding or simply spoiled the conclusion. For the general reader, I recommend skipping the spoiler. There is enough foreshadowing within the text, you won't need the content warning.

This game has been entered in the 26th annual interactive fiction competition.  More interactive fiction can be found at the interactive fiction database

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