IF Comp 2014: Laterna Magica

lanternaLaterna Magica, by Jens Byriel, is a choice-based piece about meditation.

While I’m not generally very interested in arguments about Is X A Game? or Is X Interactive Fiction?, there are some things of which I’m pretty content with saying This Is Not A Suitable Work For The Comp.

2000’s What-IF? is one of the most-repeated examples of a comp entry that utterly Fails To Get It: it is a series of speculative essays about alternate history, linked together by a menu and implemented as Z-code.

Laterna Magica is slightly more IF-like than that, but only slightly. It has an introductory frame in which a second-person player-character begins meditation. After that, it comprises a linked selection of the author’s thoughts about Hindu/Buddhist-derived spirituality, posed as questions and answers. There are always two answers to each question, but rather than presenting genuine alternatives, they present different aspects of the same worldview. This is rendered in a style likely to be opaque and off-putting to anybody not already immersed in its particular community of use. There is, as far as I can tell, no ending or progression; the choices continually circle back on themselves.

Again, this has slightly more justification for being made in a choice-based platform than What-IF?; perhaps the author felt that a non-linear structure better-represented the structure of their beliefs than a linear essay. But it has another strike against it.

Religious games are an inherently difficult subject – here’s what I said a while ago about another unpopular comp entry, the Christian Jarod’s Journey:

In other words, unless you are already familiar with the author’s very specific theological concerns and idiom of interpretation, Jarod’s Journey is not just unfair as a game but incoherent as an argument.

This is particularly true of games which have a primary focus on details of theology or religious philosophy, and on advancing a particular set of concerns. Bee is welcoming because it raises the significance of religious experience within a detailed personal context, and doesn’t force answers on the player; Cana According to Micah has a more specific theological argument, but rather than leading with it, spends most of the game on humanising its actors to the point where it’s no longer an abstraction. Laterna Magica, on the other hand, is a lecture.

Score: 1

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2 Responses to IF Comp 2014: Laterna Magica

  1. Jason Dyer says:

    There’s an ending. (The fact that this is essentially a maze-puzzle does not make it a good game, however.)

  2. Pingback: IF Comp 2014: Laterna Magica (Jens Byriel) | Emily Short's Interactive Storytelling

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