IF Comp 2014: One Night Stand

onenightOne Night Stand, by Giannis G. Georgiou, is a parser-based comedy about a young woman who wakes up in an unfamiliar man’s bed and decides, for Reasons, that she won’t leave until she remembers the guy’s name.

This appears to be trying for something in a Leisure Suit Larry kind of idiom: cartoonish adolescent humour with gross-out jokes and mild voyeurism, occasionally titillating but in no way jerk material; ‘harmless good fun’. 

The protagonist, Sandy, wakes up in an unfamiliar man’s bed:

You wake up in a half lit room, early in the morning, with a horrible hangover. “I’ll never drink vodka again,” you think. Yet, you know you are probably lying. Wait a minute. Where are you? What happened last night? And why are you completely naked? You look around looking for clues.

Early on you realise that while your random hookup can remember your name, you can’t remember his: this triggers an epiphany that you have to reform your casual-sex-having life, and as a point of pride, therefore, you have to figure his name out before you leave.

Other people have pointed out with some force that this is a pretty implausible premise; I’m not sure that matters, entirely, because a lot of comedy is based on people doing ridiculously unlikely things. There are two ways that this can work, though. In version A, people do ridiculously unlikely things as the desperate extension of motives that we’re meant to identify with. In version B, people do ridiculously unlikely things because they represent hypertrophied versions of awful people. Homer Simpson is a slob and a fool, but ultimately we’re meant to recognise his flaws in ourselves and to sympathise with his troubles: Mr. Burns is a shitty person who deserves only ridicule. We’re not meant to identify with the things he cares about; we’re meant to laugh at them, because he’s an awful person who cares about awful things.

From the outset, I got the strong impression that Sandy is not meant to have sympathetic motives with risible execution (version A): rather, she has laughable motives with laughable execution.

It’s not a game anymore. You are starting to feel bad about this. This young dude probably had the night of his life with you. He worshipped you. He honoured you. If he were awake, he would probably offer to bring you breakfast in bed. But you… You don’t even remember his name. What kind of cynical bitch are you?

Oh my! It is true. You have turned into a serial sex machine. You have been wasting yourself, from one night stand to one night stand, from coctail party to orgy, without a single clue about whom you share this experiences with. You have been consumming men like nachos, not giving a second thought about their feelings.

Nor about yours! That’s right! You have feelings, too! And you have been suppressing them, because of some twisted self image, which pushes you towards numb and quickly consummated relationships.

No more! This is a turning point! You take a deep breath and decide something very important (or so you think): You HAVE to remember this guy’s name. You will make it your quest, finding out this guy’s name. There is no way you leave the house before addressing him with his name. You will treat this boy with respect. And then, you will change your life.

I can imagine games which might share the underlying premise and yet take Sandy seriously. I can imagine it done as a considerably darker piece about compulsive and self-destructive behaviour; I can imagine it as a quirky, offbeat comedy with a wryer and more self-aware Sandy. (Mostly when I do this I’m imagining a female author, but no matter.) But the tone of the quote above makes it very clear that this is not going to be any of those games, principally because Sandy’s portrayed as vapid and flighty: there are abundant signals that we’re not meant to take her motives, her objective or her commitment seriously.

Sandy’s shallow, promiscuous and vain, and when she attempts to be serious, it’s only to highlight that she’s a fool. That’s not a character: that’s a trope. The trope is bimbo.

So, okay, the bimbo trope is gross not so much because it is about women who are vain, shallow and promiscuous; people exist who are some or all those things, and some of them are women, and presumably we can have stories about them too. And yeah, it’s a stereotype, but stereotypes are just tropes and tropes are an inescapable part of stories, so if stereotypes are bad they have to be individually bad in some specific way, right?

Right. It’s gross because it demonstrates both a contempt for such women and a strong investment in them being that way. It’s something a little like what Fred Clark describes here, on a different topic:

But if, instead, your uncle gets angry when faced with such evidence, if he defensively dismisses that evidence, or even the possibility of such evidence, then you can know that he was never really upset at the prospect of the horrible thing. He was excited by it and excitedly for it. He wanted the nightmare to be true — needed it to be true. He prefers a world in which such a thing were true.

The purpose of the bimbo trope is as an object of simultaeneous contempt and lust. Fans of the bimbo trope don’t want women to become less contemptible; they would not be happy if they woke up one morning in a world in which women were all intelligent, capable and demure. They want bimbos to exist so that they can deserve to be scorned, shamed and humiliated. I’m not going to delve into why contempt+lust is a sought-after combination – I’m no psychologist, it’d be total overreach – but regardless, it’s deeply unpleasant stuff.

The upshot of all this is: if you have a female character who comes close to the bimbo template, you need to take a great deal of care to treat her as an individual rather than as a trope, and to avoid reveling in contempt. Julia, the minor antagonist of Violet, is a fairly good example.

Comedy is an imperfect shield. ‘But it’s not meant to be serious!’ is not in itself an adequate defence. There are, absolutely, ways in which comedy can defuse things which would otherwise be problematic – but this is not an all-encompassing excuse. Some of the most vicious prejudice in the world is delivered as jokes. In particular, comedy doesn’t defuse bad tropes based on animus unless the thrust of the comedy specifically negates that animus, rather than ignoring or magnifying it.

(There is an certain degree of Poe’s Law at work here. It is fine for Stiffy Makane to have sex with a mummified corpse: necrophilia is bad, sure, but it’s not something that anybody really thinks is OK, so you don’t need to tread carefully around corpse-fucking jokes. On the other hand, there are a great many people in the world, in our culture, who really want to believe in the bimbo as the typical woman, and who dedicate great efforts to promoting this view. It’s not a trope you can present neutrally.)

Anyway. Look. The short version is, our culture has a lot of sexism in it. So much sexism that if you try to light-heartedly assemble a sex comedy without worrying very much about it, it is very, very likely to end up containing some awful things, in much the same way that if you make a sandwich with random food you find in the trash, you’ll probably end up with a sandwich that mostly tastes of mouldy bread and used kitty litter. You might, or might not, have actually intended to make a kitty-litter sandwich. But if you’re sharing the sandwich with anyone, it’s kind of your job to make sure that you didn’t.

*

Sexism aside, this is not the world’s strongest game. The writing suffers from flat affect, and it has already been pointed out that the setting is a standard-issue My Shitty Apartment, complete with cat that shits everywhere. The puzzles are not enormously complex, but they rely on NPC behaviour that is kind of hard to anticipate until after it has actually happened.

There is a walkthrough, but it’s not the kind of walkthrough that makes it any clearer what you’re doing at any stage of the action. Stuck about halfway through, I picked it up and got stuck again after a few steps – obviously I had missed some crucial step, but I couldn’t figure out what on earth it was, and the next few steps in the walkthrough seemed so unmotivated that I had no idea what route to take. So… I’m going to have to put bleach on the neighbour’s bra, because she hates me because she had a thing with the random I boned, and that will… somehow lead to a situation in which I know random guy’s name? This feels strongly like a read-author’s-mind puzzle, except that the author’s mind is playing Carry On repeats. I couldn’t get past this point, and didn’t have much inclination to restart and play from the beginning.

What I’m getting at is: I can see how the premise makes a certain kind of weird sense – it gives a reason to be poking around for clues in an unfamiliar environment, which is a good solid IF mechanic. The trouble is that it then takes a hard left turn into a puzzle that’s all about figuring out and tampering with NPC motivations, which is something that is considerably more difficult to accomplish.

There is a real-time component, which I first noticed because I stepped away from the window for a few minutes and returned to a screen full of messages about how it was so cold my nipples could pierce through wood. It’s an odd choice – the effect doesn’t seem to happen anywhere else in the game, and I’m not sure what it adds to have the messages show up this way rather than being generated at the end of each turn.

The presentation is generally good: as everyone has pointed out, the cover art is among the more professionally-executed of the comp, and the game itself is presented in a way that is, if not exactly what I’d have chosen, at least eye-catching and distinctive with a consistently-chosen palette.

Score: 2

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One Response to IF Comp 2014: One Night Stand

  1. Pingback: IF Comp 2014: One Night Stand (Giannis G. Georgiou) | Emily Short's Interactive Storytelling

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