Tuesday, October 05, 2010

[IF Comp] East Grove Hills

A socially awkward male teenager in the company of a somewhat less socially awkward girl he probably secretly likes? Right, let's choose MC Frontalot's Goth Girls as background music... and let's then become aware of the obvious truth that you cannot listen to rap music and play interactive fiction at the same time. "I avail myself of the local cafe, light a clove up, / thumb through Camus (in French, which I can’t read, but so what)." Okay, song over, I put on some instrumental music (Vivaldi), and finish this spoiler space paragraph. How informative!

Ahem. East Grove Hills is a game about a socially awkward male teenager who experience a school shooting -- which reminds me of another rap song, even though I am not into rap all that much... "When a dude's gettin bullied and shoots up his school / And they blame it on Marilyn". (You know that rapper. He's a tiny bit more famous than Frontalot.)

Uh, anyway. A socially awkward male teenager who experiences a school shooting in which he loses his sister. Afterwards, he bonds with another girl, a friend of his sister's. This is a momentous event in his life, since he has never bonded with anyone outside his family.

But it's not a momentous game. This is one of those pieces where the player doesn't really get to do anything, and one is left wondering why it was created as interactive fiction at all. One's helplessness during an episode of violence could have been communicated very well using our medium, but that doesn't seem to be the focus of the game. The extremely limited and awkward set of conversations options you are often stuck with is effective in giving us a sense of social awkwardness, but it is not, in my opinion, enough to justify the choice of medium. (See, when you write IF, you are asking me to do more than read the text; I want to be rewarded for that extra effort. A piece must show me that it is better as IF than it would have been as static text.)

The premise is good, but the writing isn't quite up to the job. Telling me that I am socially awkward already seems to be breaking the "show, don't tell" rule; but telling it a hundred times is simply a bad idea. Socially awkward people don't go around thinking about nothing but how socially awkward they are. (And if they do, they probably think about specific past or future situations, not about the abstract concept of being socially awkward.) The plot needs work as well: we've got a mildly effective build-up, but the final scene doesn't even come close to being a narrative climax. At first I couldn't believe that the game was really over, but yes, it was.

East Grove Hills is harmless: there is nothing that it does terribly wrong, and it's too short to get on your nerves. But there's nothing it does really right either, and that makes it quite forgettable.

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