Interactive Fiction Database Roundup

…in which I go back through my long-neglected IFDB to-play list and tick a few entries off.


dirtywordsdirty words in the dictionary (hcgoldsmith): an exploration of gaps, omissions, lacunae, and loops with regard to sex-words in Samuel Johnson’s 1755 “Dictionary of the English Language”. This does (almost) precisely what it says on the tin: it is a linkified version of a subset of the dictionary, plus some marginalia-like notations representing the thoughts of a reader, which suggest other cross-references.

Poking around in dictionary-like things can be fun; Diana Wynne Jones’ Tough Guide to Fantasyland could probably be considered as a CYOA (if so, it’d be one of the better ones). There, however, a lot of the enjoyment is of the discovery kind. This is more of a twinebound (adj. used of any work of choice-based interactive fiction in which the player’s experience of constrained or denied agency is a central rhetorical point) piece, the dictionary looping back heavily on itself in circular definitions and elision, relying on cultural assumptions which it avoids explaining.

I enjoy digging through old books dealing with sexuality – one of my most prized books is W.J. Truitt’s Nature’s Secrets Revealed: Scientific Knowledge of the Laws of Sex Life and Heredity, a Christian eugenics health-manual published in Ohio in 1916. The fun, there, lies in discovery: you know in general the variety of awfulness that it’s going to express, but the pleasure lies in finding strange extended metaphors, over-the-top illustrations, turns of phrase, weird theoretical deviations from the expected script. The much more constrained forms of dictionary entries means that DWitD doesn’t really provide any of that.

Magical Makeover (S. Woodson): A familiar tack of Twine advocacy pieces: take some problematic social issue, particularly as expressed through games, and make it grotesque and unsettling. In this case, it’s a satire/re-appropriation of beauty-oriented games targeted at young girls: beauty products are presented as uncanny magic, and have actually-transformational results with strange consequences. There is a judgy magic mirror.

Mechanically, it’s a Sorting Hat kind of game: your choices of beauty product determine which of several branches you find yourself going down, most of which are pure-choiceless. Although the results are weird and are at least informed by Twine’s strong taste for body-horror, they don’t get so visceral as to make the piece unsuitable for its ostensive audience; and the story progresses away from its beauty-myth opening into fantasy adventure that’s only tangentially related. The on-the-nose theme and long linear sections could easily have rendered the piece tedious, but it’s buoyed up by a pleasant Diana Wynne Jones-ish ordinariness-of-the-fantastic charm.

internment(Inside The) Japanese American Internment (tfickle): A school-project-feeling piece about an important topic; incomplete. At least in the early game, the writing has a tone of terse, bored diligence about it:

You step off the bus and are greeted with a sign: “Central Utah War Relocation Center.” There’s barbed wire everywhere, and a bunch of barracks. This is it. You’re now a prisoner in an internment camp.

However, once you get past the relatively weighty decisions during the war itself, the experience shifts somewhat; you develop a host of connections to family and friends that were never mentioned before, and the writing takes on a more descriptive (sometimes over-wordy) quality.

It occupies that uncomfortable space in between first-hand personal account and impersonal factual account. I found myself uncertain about lots of details of accuracy; I think it would have been stronger with inline quotes from primary sources, or at least a bibliography. The author suggests that they’re aiming to expand the work with (among other things) a parser-based section of the camps themselves, which may go some way to explaining why this section is so minimal.

This entry was posted in cyoa, interactive fiction, review. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Interactive Fiction Database Roundup

  1. Molly says:

    Aw man, I loved Magical Makeover! I thought it was adorable, and the charm you mentioned had a lot to do with it.

  2. Lisa H. says:

    Diana Wynne Jones’ Tough Guide to Fantasyland could probably be considered as a CYOA

    …you mean I wasn’t supposed to read it straight through?

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